Ask Josh Barro Anything: The Recent Evolution Of Conservatism

Yesterday, Josh explained why he still had hope for the GOP. In today’s video, he gets into his own ideology, as well as surveys the past few decades of conservative policy thinking:

I would add that Burke would not have been a Burkean as Josh describes it (and he accurately details the common perception). Yes, Burke was one of the first to realize that social organisms are resistant to intellectual overhaul based on external, abstract principles – and that the sunny view of the Enlightenment needed some necessary correction.

But he was more like a neo-liberal than Josh notes. Burke was not a Tory, after all, but a Whig. He supported American independence, he defended religious toleration of Catholics, and was a ferocious critic of the burgeoning occupation of India, and its concomitant abuses, an enterprise, he said, which “began ‘in commerce’ but ‘ended inempire.'” The key to Burke, it seems to me – and I recommend the new compulsively readable biography by Jesse Norman – is that he saw society as always changing, and the statesman’s role as understanding those changes, and NPG 655,Edmund Burke,studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds adjusting policy to meet them. What Josh is doing is adjusting to the realities of our time, as Burke would have.

There  are two kinds of “conservatives”at large in America today. The first, and most prominent, are those whose worldview stems essentially from the pivot of the late 1970s and those – far fewer in number – who are actually grappling with the world as it now is. We are not in an era of stagflation as we were in 1979; timidity abroad against another dangerous super-power is not our challenge; a churning multicultural society cannot be shoved back into the tiny-necked bottle of the late 1950s.

Our predicament today is one of post-depression recovery, soaring social and economic inequality, imperial over-reach, energy policies that could change – perhaps permanently – the conditions of life on this planet, and the collapse of the very economic structures that once made a prosperous middle class possible. A real Burkean would be doing exactly what Josh is doing: tackling these problems, rather than chasing abstractions down the Ailes rabbit-hole. And he would not in any way be ashamed to be called an educated man, prepared, if necessary, to tell his constituents to buzz off. When you remember all this, you see just how pseudo pseudo-conservatism really is: a cauldron of paranoia, bile, and ludicrously Manichean ideology.

So let’s call Josh what he actually is: a conservative Whig. Just like Burke. Welcome to the club. And meet the other six members.

Previous Dish on Chait’s recent profile of Barro here and here. Our Ask Anything archive is here.