Friday, September 4, 2009

Conservatism or Republicanism?

A few days ago my daughter told me that when I rail against Republicans, I should really be railing against conservatives, because there are many different kinds of Republicans. I have thought about this a lot since, and I have concluded that I must disagree.

I have long enjoyed the writings of George Will and Pat Buchanan, who are conservatives by anyone's measure, and this past week my interest was again aroused by several of their columns. A few days ago Will wrote we should get out of Afghanistan. He quotes de Gaulle as saying that "genius sometimes consists of knowing when to stop." And now today his equally long and thoughtful column advocates the U.S. leaving Iraq.

I submit this is in the true conservative tradition, the tradition which supports self-determination, as I do. It is in the tradition of the great British statesman Edmund Burke, a conservative who opposed going to war with the American colonies, and who pushed for the impeachment of Warren Hastings for misdeeds committed while governing India. He pushed for this even though Hastings was no longer serving as Governor General of India when the impeachment process started. For you see, to a true conservative it is the principle that matters; it was the principle of accountability which Burke worked his butt off to establish, the principle that misdeeds should be brought to light and punished, even if the impeachment process takes nine long years, as it did with Hastings.

That principle of self-determination pops up in a recent column by Pat Buchanan, in which he questions whether the war with Hitler was really necessary. He points out numerous facts about Germany's lack of preparedness for war which establishes that in the 1939-1940 time-frame war could easily have been avoided. But the specific item of interest here is the German-Polish conflict; Germany was trying to re-take the relatively small city of Danzig, which was 95% German and wanted to be part of Germany, but which had been taken from Germany under the Treaty of Versailles, in violation of Wilson's principle of self-determination.

(A side-note here. I recently read the book "The End of Order: Versailles 1919", by Charles L. Mee, Jr. This is a very well-researched and well-written book on the Paris Peace Conference, at which the victorious allies met to decide on the terms of the peace with the defeated Central Powers. The underlings, i.e., the career diplomats who knew what they were doing, in contrast to the leaders, Wilson, Clemenceau and Lloyd George, assumed at the outset that at some point the Central Powers countries would be brought in to negotiate terms of the peace. As time dragged on, it gradually became obvious that the leaders had no such intentions; they simply were going to come up with the terms and present it to Germany on a "take it or leave it" basis. The German viewpoint was that they had surrendered based on an understanding that the peace terms would be based on President Wilson's 14 points. When the Germans got the proposed treaty, they systematically went through and demonstrated how it violated the 14 points on almost every one of its many pages. At the end, Germany was given a deadline and told the war would be continued and Germany would be invaded, if the treaty was not accepted by the deadline. Based on the country's desire not to go back to war, it was accepted. Taking of territory from Germany, not to mention Hungary, was a major part of the treaty terms.)

Buchanan demonstrates that what Hitler was doing in the 1938-1939 time period was trying to undo the injustices of the Treaty of Versailles. He was not trying for world domination.

The writings of Will and Buchanan show how a true conservative approaches these world issues. When George W. Bush went to war in Iraq, he was being a Republican, not a conservative. When Richard Nixon used the CIA, FBI, and IRS to spy on, and harass, the American people on his "enemies list", he was being a Republican, not a conservative. When Richard Nixon had the CIA overthrow the democratically-elected government of Chile, he was being a Republican, not a conservative. When Ronald Reagan funded guerrilla groups in Central America who were terrorizing the people there, he was being a Republican, not a conservative. When Ronald Reagan tripled the national debt, he was being a Republican, not a conservative. No, I have no beefs with conservatives, only with Republicans.


Philip Weaver said...

I have to agree with you, too. Your beef is certainly with the Republican party more than with conservatives.

My gut reaction to the word "Republican" is far more negative than to "conservative". And of course, there are many people who call themselves true conservatives and do not identify with the Republican party.

chessart said...

And there are many Republicans who mistakenly call themselves conservatives. A true conservative would be aghast at the direction the Republican party has taken, a direction which finds them wanting to inject the government into our personal lives in all sorts of areas like drugs, abortion, prostitution, gay marriage, and the dreary litany goes on and on.

Libertarians are probably much closer to being true conservatives than Republicans these days.