Harvard law Prof. Cass Sunstein (“20th-century conservatism’s anti-Ayn Rand is worth a read,” Nov. 17) chastens conservatives to reject Rand, “Atlas Shrugged” and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. Instead, he says, conservatives should follow “an important and enduring strand in conservative thought — one that distrusts social engineering and top-down theories, emphasizes the limits of human knowledge, engages with particulars, and tends to favor incremental change. This is the conservatism of Edmund Burke, Michael Oakeshott and Friedrich Hayek.”
According to Sunstein, it is the incremental conservatism of people like Whittaker Chambers, William F. Buckley, Ronald Reagan and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, that have made a national contribution.
But, from our perspective as Christian populists within the Tea Party, Sunstein offers a false choice. He suggests that we must choose between following these right-wingers or those right-wingers. But as Pope Francis recently reminded all Christians, religion is not an ideology.
It is not ideological for a Christian populist today to know with certainty that the federal government is bad, bad, bad, in all three branches of government. The White House has been filled with a string of narcissists since Dwight Eisenhower. Congress for decades has been infested with self-important millionaires who self-finance their campaigns. And neglected U.S. Supreme Court justices, in a smug and elitist way, have decided important cultural issues by 5-4 votes.
To make matters worse, few of the federal agencies deliver. Space shuttles blow up. The federal health care website has “glitches.” Federal antipoverty programs create permanent poverty. The Federal Reserve causes recessions. The Department of Defense is a department for war.
Our Christian populist perspective on the federal government is becoming the general population’s perspective on the federal government. Polls show that federal institutions are increasingly unpopular.
Under these circumstances, it would be political insanity for Christian populists to follow Sunstein’s advice to adopt a Burkean “incremental conservatism.” The federal government is caught in a huge dilemma: (1) double down and grow exponentially or (2) surrender and devolve some of the federal powers back to the states.
Christian populists are in a political position today — because of the work of the Tea Party — to have philosophical and political input on these important national decisions. Why would we want to become incremental conservatives now?
Ironically, it is Sunstein and other establishment liberals who are in philosophical and political trouble, saddled with the task of defending Washington’s failed programs against mobocracy — that is the angry, populist hordes.
Lately, the ideological liberals have encountered more difficulty defending the failed Obamacare rollout because there is no longer a significant Republican Burkean faction in Congress defending the “wisdom” of every federal program. The ideological liberals are the only ones defending the failed federal program now.
But, the liberals should not fret. One political philosophy in America has been effectively used by Republicans like Buckley, Reagan and Hatch to effectively defend persistent federal failures: Burkean incremental conservatism. Ideological liberals must simply build on this intellectual tradition — by making incremental, conservative arguments as Buckley, Reagan or Hatch would do.
So, it’s a changed world — or is it? Are Washington establishment liberals adjusting and becoming Burkean incremental conservatives to defend Washington’s failed programs? You decide.
Erick Kaardal, of Hamel, and Tom Dahlberg, of Shorewood, are coauthors of the “Rebirth Constitution: A Whole New Constitution for the Freedom Loving People of the United States.”