In the past week, I have published in Deliberately Considered and posted on my Facebook page a series of reflections on the implications of the nomination of Paul Ryan as Vice Presidential candidate of the Republican Party. And I have explained that the basis of my understanding of the present situation is a conservative insight concerning the dangers of ideological thought. The replies have been quite illuminating. The discussion starts with an interesting American irony: amusing, perhaps more.
Ryan’s nomination, I believe, assures the re-election of President Obama. The basis of my belief is a judgment that Americans generally are guided by a conservative insight, an American suspicion of ideological thought. Conservative insight defeats the conservative ticket.
Yet, on the intellectual front, there are few conservative thinkers who would illuminate this. Exceptions? Andrew Sullivan, perhaps also David Frum. (Anyone else?) But because these two are so guided, few, if any, conservatives recognize them as comrades in thought.
Aron Hsiao in a reply to one of my posts on conservative intellectuals explains the factors involved:
“The essence of the moment is that the mainstream demographic blocs of the Right have, as an ideological move, adopted anti-intellectualism as a central tenet of conservatism. Any marriage of democratic practice and political epistemology at the moment therefore precludes the conservative intellectual; if someone is intellectual in the slightest, the Right will disown him/her. They are the oft-maligned “RINOs” (Republicans in Name Only). To make matters worse, any intellectual at the moment of any value is loathe to be associated with the totality of the present (i.e. recent form of the) conservative project in America and thus tends to gravitate toward the (D) party. My suspicion is that rationally informed self-selection (they have careers and statuses, after all) results in a state of affairs in which few serious intellectuals can be found in the (R) party…”
Aside from the way he uses the term ideology, I agree completely with Hsiao. The implications are indeed scary. I explained my understanding in my . . .
Read more: Reflections on an Irony of American Conservatism: More on the Ryan Nomination
Governor Romney’s selection of Congressman Ryan as his running mate assured the re-election of President Obama. Will Milberg already explained this from the point of view of the politics of economics a year and a half ago, while I first suggested my reasons in my review of Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address and Ryan’s official Republican response.
Romney has now firmly identified himself with a true-believing ideologist. The Ryan – Romney budget proposals, empowered by Ryan’s ideology, will hurt the guy who wanted Obama to keep his dirty, government hands off his Medicare, and many more people who depend on social programs in their daily lives. Thus, Milberg was quite sure when the Ryan plan was announced that the Republicans were finished.
And even though the nation is very divided, ideological extremism, even when it is in the name of the core American value of liberty, turns people, left, right and center, off, as the Republican nominee for president, Barry Goldwater learned in 1964.
Ryan’s ideology is not completely coherent. It has three sources: libertarian thought, a fundamentalist approach to the constitution, and a narrow understanding of natural law theory and the theological foundations of modern democracy. He recognizes tensions between these positions, but it doesn’t seem to bother him or slow him down. He still moves from theoretical certainty to practical policy as a true believer, and he does it with a happy and appealing smile on his face, which would be quite familiar to Milan Kundera, as he depicted such smiles in his novels A Book on Laughter and Forgetting and The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
The Congressman’s libertarianism comes via Ayn Rand, revealed in a speech he gave to the organization dedicated to keeping her flame, the Atlas Society. He explained:
I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit . . .
Read more: Paul Ryan: Ideologist-in-Chief (Obama Wins!)
In a recent post, Jeff frames the troubling inflexibility in contemporary American politics in terms of our fallibility as political actors, and the need to recognize it, concluding: “Compromise between two fallible competing opinions is a virtue. Compromise of a perceived truth is a vice.” This leads me back to the thought left open at the close of my last post. There, in the context of my skepticism about the deployment of the trope of “growing pains” in political affairs, I called into question the “epistemic certainty” that such a narrative entails. Fairly often, we hear that such certainty is impossible: this position can be called one form of “political fallibilism.” In this first sense, “political fallibilism” means something like the conscious cultivation of not being too certain about things political, about one’s views of what is, but also about what must be done. That is, one knows that no matter how right one is, one is at least a little bit wrong. And one knows that, however much one knows about what is happening, there is even more that one does not know, and probably still more that one doesn’t know what one does not know.
We can call this first form of political fallibilism, as our sitting President has, self-conscious humility. Jeff has highlighted what is good and worthy in this practice, especially when compared with strident ideological inflexibility. This argument has also been forcefully put forward in a long-standing controversy about the existence and nature of an “Obama Doctrine.” Some commentators approve of this policy, and others don’t; all agree that the Administration is trying, anyway, to strike a balance between “realism” and “idealism,” between Kissingerian realpolitik and George W. Bush’s “Freedom Agenda.” In other words, the Administration’s policy in Iraq, Afghanistan, and more recently (and more tortuously) in Libya, is all about recognizing political fallibilism, even if not always put expressly in those terms. More recently, over the past weeks, with the circus over the debt ceiling . . .
Read more: Two Forms of (Political) Fallibilism