Monday, December 8, 2008
to Posner’s annoying discussion of the crisis in conservatism got me thinking. What does it mean to say there is a crisis in
at least three ways in which a political movement/ideology can have a crisis:
1. It could have a
theoretical problem – the theories underlying the movement might be unable to
explain what the problems that the society/economy is suffering.
2. It could be a
practical problem – the movement might be seen to propose programs that lead to
3. It could be a
political problem – the movement might be politically unpopular and lose
We can gain
some insight here by examining the last crisis of a movement – the crisis in
liberalism that led to the election of President Reagan. Liberalism, then, suffered from all three
1. It was unable to
explain stagflation. From the Keynesian
perspective, that should not have been happening. Milton Friedman was seen as offering a
2. The liberal
programs, especially as administered by Jimmy Carter, were seen to be inept.
3. Consequently, the
movement lost popularity and eventually Carter lost the election to Reagan.
the conservative movement fare?
theorists can explain some of the problems in the economy, but not all of
them. But liberal theorists, at best,
can do no better.
2. The economy
downturn is the result of both government failure and market failure. While some of the problems are the “result”
of conservative programs, some are not.
3. Certainly, the
Republicans (whether or not the conservatives) have lost popularity and are
losing elections big time.
In my view, it is too soon to know whether there is a “real” crisis in conservatism. It depends, first, on which movement can come up with a better explanation for what is going on in the economy. It also depends on whether Obama and the Democrats are seen as solving the economic problems. If they do, they will be popular, and the conservatives are doomed for a while. But if not, and if the conservatives have a persuasive explanation for our economic problems, the crisis in conservatism will just be a blip.