There Is Nothing That Fails Like Success

A few weeks ago, someone in a comment thread mentioned G.K. Chesterton’s Heretics, which I’m finally getting around to reading. Right there at the beginning there was a passage that struck me as worth considering during our post-election wandering in the desert:

Neither in the world of politics nor that of literature, then, has the rejection of general theories proved a success. It may be that t…

  1. Donald Todd

    There is a consideration involving the fact that people have held to their principles and abandoned Republicanism, in large part because Republicanism has abandoned (or does not stand for) those same principles.

    I don’t believe that Republicanism qua Republicanism can be shaped into the requisite site for those principles.  As a party it merely stands for the desire to be elected in sufficient quantity in the right positions to do something.  What that something is has been the quandary for several presidential election cycles.

    A number of my Ricochet peers and others on the opposite side of this equation seem to exist for Republicanism, no matter what it stands for. We’ve seen the recommendations that “social conservatism” should be dumped.  

    Since I am a conservative, in all phases, I dumped Republicanism.  My vote is not automatic.  My principles come first.  I may be doomed to be a member of a rump party, at best, because winning for the sake of winning is not good enough.    There must be something worthy of fighting to win.

  2. Trace

    You’re talking around something here Mollie. To which abandoned causes are you specifically referring?

  3. Mollie Hemingway
    C
    Trace: You’re talking around something here Mollie. To which abandoned causes are you specifically referring? · 14 minutes ago

    Nothing specific. It’s just the approach I’m curious about.

    I realize that, as a libertarian, I’m on the other end of the spectrum. I approach all policy discussions from a standpoint of principal as opposed to efficiency.

    But I noticed that Republican types have been talking about all sorts of things — from immigration policy to tax policy to social issues — in terms of whether they are winning arguments as opposed to the right thing to do. And there was this open acknowledgement of willingness to trade in an issue for the sake of party demographics.

    Something about that leaves me feeling odd. And yes, I’m totally aware that libertarians don’t have huge electoral victories to point to in favor of our principled stances.

  4. Becky53

    The desert is not so bad to wander in, when you still own your practicality, your scruples and your backbone.  To be resilient is all that is left, since we have been hit with the Hope and Change bomb!

    Donald Todd: There is a consideration involving the fact that people have held to their principles and abandoned Republicanism, in large part because Republicanism has abandoned (or does not stand for) those same principles.

  5. Trace

    I’m sure there is some of what Chesterton is referring to in the mix, but I find the willingness to examine every position rather bracing.

    I think it’s healthy to put immigration on the table and open it for debate for example. And although I agree with him, I am OK with Grover Nordquist being challenged.

    It seems that some basic tenets that we all assumed were understood by everyone are no longer commonly accepted. And so everything should be taken out, dusted, reexamined and debated. 

  6. Innocent Smith

    I often feel that way personally – it is very tempting to shrink, and to question yourself, in the face of defeat. For what it’s worth, heretics is a great book, but unless you are a Chesterton addict as I am, and only plan to read one at a time, “the everlasting man” is very difficult to beat. :)

  7. Mollie Hemingway
    C
    Trace: I’m sure there is some of what Chesterton is referring to in the mix, but I find the willingness to examine every position rather bracing.

    I think it’s healthy to put immigration on the table and open it for debate for example. And although I agree with him, I am OK with Grover Nordquist being challenged.

    It seems that some basic tenets that we all assumed were understood by everyone are no longer commonly accepted. And so everything should be taken out, dusted, reexamined and debated.  · 1 minute ago

    Oh I agree — we must examine our positions, particularly in light of changing circumstances.

    But I would hope that we’d be examining with an eye toward principle as opposed to electoral success.

    Not that I think people who care about electoral success should ignore a plan’s marketability, etc.

  8. Valiuth
    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.

    But I would hope that we’d be examining with an eye toward principle as opposed to electoral success.

    Good principles should deliver good results and therefore will garner electoral success. Are we delivering good results to people with our principles, are our intellectual rivals not? I think this is where we should focus the discussion of our principles. We need to be able to demonstrate they work and that the opposing principles don’t. 

    We can think we have the best most consistent principles in the world and if they deliver nothing good we will be like communists. They always kept their eye on principle. 

    Chesterton is referring to people who do not know what they want other than approval and instantaneous success and so fly from idea to idea. What are our long term plans? What do we want the nation to look like? How will we structure government to allow for this to happen? How will we structure civil society to allow this to happen? 

    I think the left has a vision and works at all levels to accomplish it. We seem content to let everyone do as they please. 

  9. Devereaux

    I had an interesting talk today with a pastor friend of mine. His comment was that he doesn’t pay much attention to elections. God gives us what we deserve.

    His second observation was that the church was originally in the business of service. It is now more in the business of business. Once we didn’t need government to take care of old people and orphans as the church saw to it. Now it no longer does.

    Perhaps all our “discussions” are more or less for naught. Perhaps we need, instead, to dedicate ourselves to service – to helping those who need help. To reaffirming our Christianity as Christ taught us – by service to others. The Muslim Brotherhood didn’t get the following it has by standing on a corner and preaching; it did it by running the schools and hospitals, by helping the average muslim. People who are aided, especially by strangers, generally remember.

    Donald Todd might simply call that returning to principles. Perhaps. But we talk too little about that, and too much about the “tactics” of winning the next election. Mayhap we just need to help those in need more and dismiss the next election.

  10. C. U. Douglas

    Devereaux:

    I believe much of this began in early Germany, when Bismarck created government welfare programs specifically so that the citizens would look to Imperial Germany for aid rather than the church.  His fear was that the Bavarian Catholics would cause problems for the new state.

    Back on topic:  I’ve noted this need to retreat from what seems any losing argument.  We don’ even have to be losing, we just need the appearance of losing.  The GOP seems to conduct political arguments like Democrats conduct war:  fight as long as you have a clear advantage and run if you start to look bad.

  11. Pencilvania

    I thought the ‘fundamental change’ that this administration has detestably wrought in our country was what prompted us to toy with abandoning certain planks of the traditional platform – for the sole reason of defeating this ideology in the next voting cycle.  A president who advocates voting as “the best revenge”?  Who in previous generations would think a US president could ever use such poisonous language?  And yet by hook or crook his pawns defeated us.  But Mollie’s post reminds me that in our urgency to restore  the country we musn’t leave behind the very things that are vital to its nobility.   

  12. Adam Koslin

    Politics is not like or billiards; it’s not something you can do by yourself.  The call to abandon certain positions isn’t cowardly; it’s a recognition that getting 51% of what you want is infinitely better than getting nothing.  Moreso, it’s an incredibly courageous stance, because it’s an inherently altruistic one – a politician who compromises both recognizes that he and his beliefs are not the most important things around.  Paradoxically, it will also benefit on the long run; compromise on some issues and you’ll find your erst-while opponents willing to compromise on others.  But mostly, and I cannot stress this enough, compromise ensures that we will continue to survive as a major force in the American electorate and political culture.

  13. Donald Todd

    Deveraux: Donald Todd might simply call that returning to principles.

    Recently there was a question about whether God or the state came first, and it included some challenges about the nature of the Church.  Being a convert to Catholicism, I associate the Head with the Body.  The split I thought I saw as an evangelical is not something that I see now.

    If anyone believes in anything, they act on it.  No action, no belief.  The scripture recognizes that principle when James notes that “faith without works is dead.”  So, if I believe in something, I act on it.

    There are people who believe in Republicanism, that is in the well being of a political party, and act on that belief.  What Republicanism represents is secondary to what Republicanism is.

    Being a Catholic, and going back to the early days of abortion on demand, I knew that the Democrat Party, of which I was a member, was keeling over to support abortion.  Abortion is the execution of an unborn child for the crime of being conceived.  Being conceived had never been a crime before.  The child was not responsible.  The Democrats with their lust for votes, caved. 

    continued

  14. Adam Koslin
    Pencilvania: A president who advocates voting as “the best revenge”?  Who in previous generations would think a US president could ever use such poisonous language? 

    Teddy Roosevelt, of W. H. Taft: a “fathead” with the brain of a “guinea pig” and a “flubdub with a streak of the second rate and the common in him.”

    TR, of Woodrow Wilson: “a damned presbyterian hypocrite and a Byzantine logothete,” “an infernal skunk in the White House.”

    Supporters of John Adams, of Thomas Jefferson: a “mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”

    Jackson was attacked as a murderer.  William Jennings Bryan was called an anarchist.  John Quincy Adams was reputed to have, while ambassador to Russia, used taxpayer dollars to buy an American girl for sexual servitude at the court of the Czar. 

    Presidential campaigns today are incredibly tame.  And much less imaginative.

  15. Adam Koslin
    Valiuth

    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.

    But I would hope that we’d be examining with an eye toward principle as opposed to electoral success.

    Good principles should deliver good results and therefore will garner electoral success. Are we delivering good results to people with our principles, are our intellectual rivals not? I think this is where we should focus the discussion of our principles. We need to be able to demonstrate they work and that the opposing principles don’t. 

    We can think we have the best most consistent principles in the world and if they deliver nothing good we will be like communists. They always kept their eye on principle. 

    Why have the conversation about principles?  Why not about policy?  Why are we talking about morality and not about the very real, very concrete problems we face?  Every word we utter about the wonders of the free market is one word not detailing, with exacting precision, policy solutions to the debt, defense spending, entitlements, taxation, financial reform, et. al.  The left has policy wonks; we have rhetoriticians. 

  16. Donald Todd

    14 continued

    I had to determine if it was more important to be a Catholic than to be a Democrat.  The Democrats lost me.  I found that being Catholic was more important than being a liberal.  The liberals lost me.

    I registered as a Republican, and voted for Republicans ever since.  However, while the Democrats are pro-abortion, the Republicans are not necessarily pro-life (or for marriage between a man and a woman). The Republicans were becoming malleable over time.  The election results were more important to them than who or what they represented.  

    The send-me-some-money letters from the Republicans revealed their lack of conviction about social / moral issues.  They were generous enough to put a write-in line, like this: _______________ where the donor could enter his or her particular concern.  I began to see that regularly and finally went and registered as an Independent.  Since then the Republicans have had to earn my vote. 

    Last election, Romney’s flip flops were an obstacle to me, James of England’s objections not withstanding.  Romney was preferable to Obama, but I am pro-life.  Romney was as well, sometimes, and sometimes not.  

    continued

  17. Donald Todd

    17 continued

    In the process I recognized something that I had implicitly understood both as an evangelical and as a Catholic.  I worshiped a Being Who lost.  He was beaten viciously.  He was whipped nearly to death.  He carried His cross until He could not carry it a step further and needed help.  He was nailed to that cross and died on it.

    Elections and their results are important.  Politics and political parties are important.  The results coming from elections are important.  The life and death of children, born and unborn, are immeasurably more important.  Those children are made in the image and likeness of God.  Republicanism is not more important than that.  

    While there is a great push for individual rights, we are actually social animals.   We should be born into the family, a microcosm of society.  We learn to interact with mom and dad, with our siblings and extended family.  

    That is more important than Republicanism.

    In the end, as important as the here and now is, this is supposed to be a preparation for eternity.  That is worth fighting for, and subordinating myself to a political party’s success is not something worth fighting for.

  18. Pencilvania
    Adam Koslin

    Pencilvania: A president who advocates voting as “the best revenge”?  Who in previous generations would think a US president could ever use such poisonous language? 

    Teddy Roosevelt, of W. H. Taft:a “fathead” with the brain of a “guinea pig” and a “flubdub with a streak of the second rate and the common in him.”

    TR, of Woodrow Wilson:“a damned presbyterian hypocrite and a Byzantine logothete,” “an infernal skunk in the White House.”

    Supporters of John Adams, of Thomas Jefferson:a “mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”

    Jackson was attacked as a murderer.  William Jennings Bryan was called an anarchist.  John Quincy Adams was reputed to have, while ambassador to Russia, used taxpayer dollars to buy an American girl for sexual servitude at the court of the Czar. 

    Presidential campaigns today are incredibly tame.  And much less imaginative. · 2 hours ago

    Politicians calling each other names is kindergarten.  Publically advocating voting for revenge means the President wants one section of the US populace to take revenge on another.  Have you ever come across that before? 

  19. Valiuth

    I think there are people on our side that disagree with the old positions and have compromised for the sake of other issues we all agreed on. Now we are stuck seeing if we can shift the opinion or at least our approach.

  20. Nealfred

    Beautiful post. Great observation on the way some are desperate and apparently don’t realize their openbookedness.

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