I am not unaware of the evolution of my political, economic and social beliefs in the last decade or so. While less concerned about accusations of flip-flopping (my marketing record demonstrates that at least) I have mulled over why this change occurred and if it was done for good reasons.
David Frum, whose conservative credentials were impeccable until his ostracizing from the right a few months ago, cogently traces his own journey and captures many aspects of mine.
I strongly suspect that today’s Ayn Rand moment will end in frustration or worse for Republicans. The future beyond the welfare state imagined by Yuval Levin will not arrive. At that point, Republicans will face a choice. (I’d argue we face that choice now, whether we recognize it or not.) We can fulminate against unchangeable realities, alienate ourselves from a country that will not accede to the changes we demand. That way lies bitterness and irrelevance. Or we can go back to work on the core questions facing all center right parties in the advanced economies since World War II: how do we champion entrepreneurship and individualism within the context of a social insurance state?We badly need to institute responsible changes to our safety nets, and eliminate the false ones such as farm payments to maintain a working economy. But we now know too much about the intrinsic and engineered market failures to expect even our system to deliver a future we can all live with, if not like.
Those are words I would not have written 15 years ago. I write them now, conscious that I am very far from the first person to write them. Irving Kristol made the point most memorably at the very onset of the conservative ascendancy:
The idea of a welfare state is perfectly consistent with a conservative political philosophy – as Bismarck knew, a hundred years ago. In our urbanized, industrialized, highly mobile society, people need governmental action of some kind… they need such assistance; they demand it; they will get it.Conservatism’s task is to shape that social insurance state, not repeal it.
Yuval Levin knew this truth when I did not. I’ll preserve it here in safe keeping for him and all his friends until they are ready to remember it again. [Please read the whole essay]
Most of all, total dependence on a market culture makes more sense when rising to developed status, and begins to falter when enough wealth has been generated to accomplish most human aspirations if used slightly more for the common good. In other words, economies like ours can afford features finally we could not before, I think.
Perhaps this belief is tied to a post-consumer sentiment (we have a lot of stuff, for the most part) and our aspirations and dreams fix on other desires.