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Old 03-06-2008, 10:10 PM   #1
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Conservatism and free market fanaticism

Some interesting points raised by Professor Roger Scruton here, challenging the idea that conservatism and free market fanaticism must go hand in hand.

MG: What deleterious consequences result from the "free market ideology" you mention? Are there particular economic arrangements that conservatives ought to prefer?

Scruton: The free market is a necessary part of any stable community, and the arguments for maintaining it as the core of economic life were unanswerably set out by Ludwig von Mises. Hayek developed the arguments further, in order to offer a general defence of "spontaneous order", as the means to produce and maintain socially necessary knowledge. As Hayek points out, there are many varieties of spontaneous order that exemplify the epistemic virtues that he values: the common law is one of them, so too is ordinary morality.

The problem for conservatism is to reconcile the many and often conflicting demands that these various forms of life impose on us. The free-market ideologues take one instance of spontaneous order, and erect it into a prescription for all the others. They ask us to believe that the free exchange of commodities is the model for all social interaction. But many of our most important forms of life involve withdrawing what we value from the market: sexual morality is an obvious instance, city planning another. (America has failed abysmally in both those respects, of course.)

Looked at from the anthropological point of view religion can be seen as an elaborate (and spontaneous) way in which communities remove what is most precious to them (i.e. all that concerns the creation and reproduction of community) from the erosion of the market. A cultural conservative, such as I am, supports that enterprise. I would put the point in terms that echo Burke and Chesterton: the free market provides the optimal solution to the competition among the living for scarce resources; but when applied to the goods in which the dead and the unborn have an interest (sex, for instance) it wastes what must be saved.

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Old 03-07-2008, 03:02 AM   #2
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I am not sure the contradiction can be resolved.

It's broken the back of more than one conservative government; this tension between 'unfettered markets' and the rhetorical claim to support traditional family and social values.

For better or for worse, nothing is more guaranteed to tear long-established, traditionally-minded communities to shreds more thoroughly than the demands of a modern market economy.

Your modern messiah of the Right has to either basically shrug his shoulders and say 'tough shit', or distract, distract, distract.

I can't see any way around it, really.

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Old 03-07-2008, 03:08 AM   #3
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In the medium future, I think some modern factions of the right and left may coalesce on the question of human values vs. market values. You already see it in the likes of Australia's Labor Party, which in its present incarnation is basically the old Liberal Party (Australian or UK versions).

It doesn't resolve the contradiction of course, not even close. But it demonstrates, clearly enough, that ordinary people, the ones who actually elect governments, have the same priorities they always have had.
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Old 03-07-2008, 06:15 AM   #4
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Conservative Christian politicians seem to border on socialist policies at times, of course without any progessive concessions.
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