Conservatives, Libertarians, and Big Ideas
By Arnold Kling
it is the Libertarians and the progressives who are Big Idea people. Despite their obvious differences in philosophy, they share the absurd belief that if only their big idea(s) came to pass, society would inexorably progress towards some ideal.
…“A people’s historic continuity of experience, says the conservative, offers a guide to policy far better than the abstract designs of coffee-house philosophers,” as Russell Kirk aptly put it.
Pointer from Megan McArdle, who comments,
Conservatives need to figure out how they are going to roll back the bad ideas and prevent new bad ones from getting through. For that, they need a proposal a bit more eloquent than “Stop!”
It is probably fair to say that libertarians and most conservatives agree that big government causes harm. However, they disagree when it comes to methods for changing it. Libertarians are revolutionaries, while conservatives are…conservative.
The question here is whether Big Ideas are good or bad for those of us who prefer smaller government. Professor Bainbridge convincingly indicts Big Ideas by listing them.
Compassionate conservatism, Objectivism, Deconstructionism, Freudianism, Nazism, Conceptualism, Socialism, Syndicalism, Minimalism, Communism, Functionalism, Postmodernism, Dadism, Fundamentalism, Fascism.
Let me play sophomore philosopher for a moment. The statement “Reject Big Ideas” is itself a Big Idea. So, I don’t think that there is any way to avoid taking the position that Big Ideas are inevitable. The challenge is to find a way for good Big Ideas to drive out bad Big Ideas, rather than the other way around.
The Big Idea that I would like to get across is that voting does not equal sanctification. We need to approach elections not as an opportunity to choose great leaders who will follow wonderful policies, but as an imperfect check against tyranny.
When it comes to curbing abuse and exploitation, I am much more impressed with the tool of market competition than with the tool of elections. The challenge is to convey this Big Idea, so that we start to play down the notion that democracy gives politicians a mandate to implement their own Big Ideas.