Sunday, April 19, 2009

Dead Romans and Live Americans by Thomas Fleming

In every economic crisis, two sets of explanations—and solutions—are proposed. Republican “conservatives” (who used to be known as liberals) say that rogues in and out of government have distorted the market and robbed the nation, while Democratic “liberals” (who are basically Marxists) blame the Republican conservatives (who are really liberals) for refusing to regulate the marketplace, by which they mean the state should control and probably own the major industries and business sectors. For the liberals who are really Marxists, the answer is a second FDR—more regulation and a Newer Deal—while, for the conservatives who are really liberals, the solution is a second Reagan (lower taxes and deregulation). Unfortunately, too few of them are willing to balance tax cuts with budget cuts, without which our children and our children’s children will be crippled by the debts run up by the Bush and Obama administrations.

The debate, in other words, is the same debate Americans have been having for nearly 150 years, an acrimonious dialogue between two sets of radicals: on the one hand, the philosophes and classical liberals who undermined society in the 18th and 19th centuries; on the other, the Marxists who used government to fill the void left by the liberal demolition of the traditional social institutions of family, class, and religion. Anyone who stands outside of the charmed circle of the Revolution is excluded from the conversation.

If we could dig up some old reactionary or prerevolutionary—a Samuel Johnson, or Walter Scott, or even, reaching back still further, a Cicero—what would such a man, supposing he had a comprehensive knowledge of what we have done in the past two centuries, say to us?

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