Comprehensive Conservatism

One result of the rebalanced political power in Congress and the rise of the Tea Party within the Republican Party is that we are all likely to be spared talk about “compassionate conservatism” for the next couple of years; anyway, until the GOP discovers—as is more than likely to happen in 2012—that conservatism of the other kind cannot deliver the votes in a spoiled, socialized, and overexpectant society.  If so, do not count on many Republicans, or even many “conservatives,” to argue that the old, heartless conservatism indeed is inherently compassionate, while “compassionate conservatism” is really a cynical trick on the society it is supposed to benefit and console.

Mencken described democracy as the theory that the plain people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.  Democrats and socialists have been operating for centuries on this principle, or at least they profess to have done so.  But there is nothing compassionate about government telling people what they want to hear, and giving them what they ask for, when what they want is either unrealistic or bad for them—most likely, both.  Several years ago, Claude Polin, writing in these pages, described conservatism as the necessary medicine for a self-sickened society.  Polin was right about that.  In the medical world, the advocates of homeopathic treatment, besides being mostly cranks, are usually...

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