Conservatives, labels, and war

I have been reading William S. Lind on and off for several years now. He is one of the first men to try to teach our military about 4th generation warfare and what it means to the conduct of the modern military, especially in the ongoing occupations of middle eastern countries. I noticed the other day that he was again talking about what real conservatives should value. (Think Sen. Taft type conservatives not the modern war-mongers who call themselves conservatives)

William S. Lind wrote:

One of the odder aspects of present-day politics is the assumption that if you are antiwar you are on the left, and if you are conservative you are “pro-war.” Like labelling conservative states red and liberal states blue, this is an inversion of historical practice.

The opposition to America’s entry into both World Wars was largely led by conservatives. Senator Robert A. Taft, the standard-bearer of postwar conservatism, opposed war unless the United States itself was attacked. Even Bismarck, after he had fought and won the three wars he needed to unify Germany, was staunchly antiwar. He once described preventive war, like the one America is being pressured to wage on Iran, as “committing suicide for fear of being killed.”

Conservatives’ detestation of war has no “touchy-feely” origins. It springs from conservatism’s roots, its most fundamental beliefs and objectives. Conservatism seeks above all social and cultural continuity, and nothing endangers that more than war.

In the 20th century, war brought about social and cultural revolutions in the United States, including a large-scale movement of women out of the home and into the workplace. Nineteenth-century reformers had labored successfully to make it possible for women (and children) to leave the dark satanic mills and devote their lives to home and family, supported by a male breadwinner. The Victorians rightly considered the home more important than the workplace. A man’s duties in the world of affairs were a burden he had to carry to provide for his household, not something women should envy.

This happy situation was overturned in both world wars as men were drafted by the millions while the demand for factory labor to support war production soared. Back into the mills went the women. The result was the weakening of the family, the institution most responsible for passing the culture on to the next generation.

The threat war poses to the cake of custom is exacerbated by one of its foremost characteristics: its results are unpredictable. Few countries go to war expecting to lose, but wars are seldom won by both sides. The effects of military defeat on social order can be revolutionary.

One of the reasons I think that often labels in modern America are not only useless and confusing; but downright harmful to our political understanding is shown by the fact that the “conservatives” who think like the old “Taft Republicans” are called “conservative” just like the “conservative” warmongers of the Republican party today who all called Ron Paul some sort of kook for wanting peace in the world. In other words, the labels confuse rather than illuminate. One group is very anti-war (unless directly invaded) while the other group is pro-invasion all the time — but both are given the same label.

One has to say that Lind has a point when he says that to really be conservative in the original sense then one must want to try to “conserve” our society, and that would lead the rational thinker to see that any war is a disaster. A defensive war thrust upon the society would be a disaster, but to go out and aggressively start a war against some other country that had not invaded your country would be the ultimate in self-destruction and immorality. It would be just as Bismarck said, “committing suicide for fear of being killed.”


So how did the “we are against war” conservatives of old become the warmongers today while the so-called liberals are seen as “anti-war”? It is a mystery my child intoned the Priest. The propaganda of the state seems to have convinced many people that invading other counties is needed to keep them from invading us. This propaganda evidently works in spite of the fact the US has never been invaded except for the time we pushed England in 1812.

It has been said that conservatism is a political ideology which maintains as its defining trait an opposition to drastic societal change. I think that may well be all too true. If it is, then that means that conservatives will be little help to we radical libertarians who want to move from were we are to individual liberty and freedom unless we convince the conservatives that they should be defending the US as it existed at the very beginning when the classical liberals were the ideological majority. It is said that conservatives generally seek continuity of the status quo while the changes they do advocate usually seek a return to some past period which they believe to be ideal. So that would mean we must convince them of a return to the beliefs of 1776 and the Articles of Confederation.

Unfortunately we also note that conservatism has always tried to promote the power of government so that it could use the state as the mechanism for both limiting unwanted change and enforcing change they desire.  For this reason they are the radical libertarian’s enemy most of the time rather than his Ally.

It is a sad truth that the state seems to be able to use political or ideological labels to keep us divided and fighting among ourselves rather than see that the real enemy is the state itself. Murray Rothbard famously asked once Do You Hate the State? That essay was meant to give libertarians something to unify the various factions. Today in the liberty movement, perhaps we should ask, “Do You Hate What the State is Doing in Your Name?” That would be a good essay title. I think I’ll use it in the near future.


Blog Site Note: I will be returning to a slower posting pace next week as my Christmas vacation draws to a close. I thank everyone who visited this site over the holidays and read some of my ramblings. I hope you will stay in the habit of visiting even so.


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