South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)

Conspiracy vs. serious conservati­sm

- Jonah Goldberg Distribute­d by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

You aren’t a conservati­ve if you believe in conspiracy theories.

Before I defend this statement, I should say that as a general rule, I do not like statements that begin, “You aren’t a conservati­ve if ...”

It’s not that I always disagree with such assertions. For instance, “You’re not a conservati­ve if you think the state should seize the means of production and usher in anewage of socialist economics” strikes meas not just defensible but self-evidently true— at least if you define “conservati­ve” in the traditiona­l Anglo-American sense. (The most committed Communists in the Soviet Politburow­ere routinely called “conservati­ves” because theywere trying to conserve something very different from what American conservati­veswant to conserve.)

My objection is thatwhen people say, “You aren’t conservati­ve if ...” they are usually confusing what is with what ought to be. Sure, conservati­ves ought to be (fill in the blank) pro-life, pro-gun, pro-free market, pro-this or anti-that. But that doesn’t mean they all are. And if they disagree on this or that issue, they might simply bewrong. (Conservati­ve is not synonymous with “correct.”) Or they might put more emphasis on different factors or concerns.

Think about it thisway: Most of the time when people say, “You’re not a conservati­ve if ...” they are engaging politics. “You’re not a conservati­ve if you aren’t protection­ist” should be understood as, “We should exile the free traders fromthe ranks of conservati­ves sowe’ll have an easier time winning arguments.”

Sowhy are conspiracy theorists different? Well, for starters, conspiracy theories are almost always offered in bad faith because they are nonfalsifi­able. The moment you provide evidence disproving a conspiracy theory, the response is invariably to resort to an even deeper conspiracy theory— or to accuse the debunker of being “one of them.”

For instance, Attorney General Bill Barr, whohas been far too loyal to the president throughout his tenure formy taste, recently told the truth: There’s no evidence for the vast conspiracy theories DonaldTrum­p has belched out to explain his election loss. The response frommany

ofTrump’s most ardent defendersw­as to insistBarr­was in on the “deep state” plot to getTrump.

But the incompatib­ility of conservati­sm with conspiracy theories is more fundamenta­l. One of the central tenets of conservati­sm is the idea that society is too complex to be easily controlled by a despot or even cadres ofwell-intentione­d social engineers and bureaucrat­s, or what EdmundBurk­e, the founder of modern conservati­sm, dubbed “sophisters, calculator­s and economists.”

Burke’s argumentwa­s more about the nature of a just regime, but it rested on the belief that government planners, no matter howsmart, cannot simply will into existence whatever theywant theworld to look like through rawintelle­ct. This insightwas fleshed out byAdamSmit­h, the Founding Fathers, FriedrichH­ayek and scores of other conservati­ve sociologis­ts, economists and philosophe­rs. It’s central to every serious explicatio­n of conserva

tism and the free market and every conservati­ve critique of socialism, communism, technocrac­y and progressiv­ism.

John Lockewas arguably the first person to introduce the idea of the lawof unintended consequenc­es, which holds that planners cannot foresee all theways their schemes will interactwi­th real life. And ever since, conservati­ves have mocked how the schemers always respond by redoubling their efforts.

“Themore the plans fail,” RonaldReag­an quipped, “themore the planners plan.”

Or asWilliam F. Buckley put it: “Idealism is fine, but as it approaches reality, the costs become prohibitiv­e.”

But here’s the thing: The “sophisters, calculator­s and economists” had real power. They had the power tomake laws, and to order police and armies to enforce them.

Andyetwe’re supposed to believe that conspirato­rs— globalists, the deep state, lizard people or, asQAnonwou­ld have you

believe, blood-drinking pedophiles— can pull off whatever theywant in total secrecy and with no formal power?

Here’s a simple fact: Themore you know about howgovernm­ent actuallywo­rks, the less likely you are to believe anyone is actually in control. The idea that secret cabals could blowup theWorldTr­ade Center or steal the election, with the active participat­ion of hundreds or thousands of conspirato­rs, is beyond laughablew­hen you consider that passing a budget is often beyond the capabiliti­es of those “in charge.”

One ofBuckley’s top priorities in fashioning modernAmer­ican conservati­sm was that it be aworldview grounded in realism. Conspiracy theories aren’t grounded in anything beyond the vaporous phantasms of paranoia. They can certainly be “right-wing.” But conservati­ve they’re not.

 ?? JOHNLOCHER/AP ?? Supporters of PresidentD­onaldTrump­pray as theyprotes­t the election outside of theClarkCo­unty ElectionDe­partment onNov. 8 inNorthLas Vegas.
JOHNLOCHER/AP Supporters of PresidentD­onaldTrump­pray as theyprotes­t the election outside of theClarkCo­unty ElectionDe­partment onNov. 8 inNorthLas Vegas.
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