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BPI-MF-LogoWhy do today's conservatives support ever-greater benefits for the wealthy, yet complain of "socialism" when progressives suggest any benefits for the least fortunate? Progressives, who generally believe one set of principles should apply for all citizens, call this hypocrisy. But that presumes conservatives also believe one set of principles should apply for all citizens. They don't.

Modern conservatism is founded on the idea that there are two distinct classes of human beings: those who should not be expected to contribute to society unless they are rewarded, and those who must be compelled to contribute under pain of punishment. For "the rich and the well-born," society should offer carrots. For "the mass of the people [who] seldom judge or determine right" society should offer sticks.

More below the fold....

Morning Feature: The Beatings Will Continue, Part II - Hamilton, Class, Carrots, Sticks

This week Morning Feature considers modern conservatism as a culture of sadism that sees the suffering of the less fortunate as a worthy goal - not merely a regrettable byproduct - of our political and economic systems. Sadism is the (im)moral core of conservatism. Yesterday we examined its religious rationale. Today we look at its economic rationale. Tomorrow we'll explore whether that (im)moral code worsens the social ills it claims to cure, and how we progressives must reclaim our nation's moral dialogue and compass.

Most of us were taught in school that our nation was created to be a society without class or caste. We learned Thomas Jefferson's "all men are created equal" in the Declaration of Independence, "equal protection under the law" in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, and "liberty and justice for all" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Yes, most of us were also taught women and non-whites were not originally included in "all men," and some of us even learned that voting was originally limited to property owners. Still, we were told, ours was not a society based on class or caste. Except it was, and still is.

Alexander Hamilton: founding conservative.

Alexander Hamilton is widely considered a touchstone of American conservatism. In the National Review Online, Patrick Allitt celebrates Hamilton among those who were "Right from the beginning," writing:

Believers in social hierarchy, class deference, and restraint, they did not think the American republic should become a democracy. It is, accordingly, appropriate to think of them as conservatives, even though it is a word they rarely used to describe themselves.

That is not an exaggeration. In arguing for the creation of the Senate at the Constitutional Convention, Hamilton expressed his preference for the class-based British government:

I believe the British government forms the best model the world has ever produced.... This government has for its object public strength and individual security.[...]

All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and wellborn, the other the mass of the people...The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness of the second, and as they cannot receive any advantage by a change, they therefore will ever maintain good government.

Hamilton and the profit motive ... for the wealthy.

Hamilton's conservatism included a strong belief - expressed in the Federalist Papers - that the profit motive was the best incentive for the wealthy to contribute to society:

The prosperity of commerce is now perceived and acknowledged, by all enlightened statesmen, to be the most useful as well as the most productive source of national wealth; and has accordingly become a primary object of their political cares.[...] It is astonishing, that so simple a truth should ever have had an adversary; and it is one among a multitude of proofs, how apt a spirit of ill-informed jealousy, or of too great abstraction and refinement is to lead men astray from the plainest paths of reason and conviction.

And for the rest?

As for the less fortunate, whom Hamilton saw as possessed of "a spirit of ill-informed jealousy, or of too great abstraction and refinement?" Those who "seldom judge or determine right" can't be expected to take advantage of opportunities, nor should much be offered. For those, Hamilton would likely have cited to Adam Smith and The Wealth of Nations:

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.

In Smith's time, as today, for the ordinary worker - "the butcher, the brewer, or the baker" - the primary "self-interest" and "advantages" were not to achieve wealth but merely to survive. Without that "self-interest" and the "advantages" of not quite starving or losing his home, the ordinary worker would be "lazy, slothful, and indolent."

"Equal protection under the law?"

Of course, so would the wealthy man if he could not profit, but the outcomes are not quite the same. In yesterday's health care summit, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) quoted from this passage by French author Jacques François-Anatole Thibault:

The poor must work for this, in presence of the majestic quality of the law which prohibits the wealthy as well as the poor from sleeping under the bridges, from begging in the streets, and from stealing bread.

That is the predictable, logical consequence of the class-based society espoused by Hamilton and embraced by modern conservatism, what Glenn Beck referred to as "your right to fail." For conservatives, it's not hypocrisy when government coddles the wealthy and leaves the rest to suffer. For conservatism, that is the (im)moral basis of government.

Tomorrow we'll talk about how progressives have been and must continue to expose and push back against that culture of sadism.

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As for sadism, the Janitor Professor of Astrology insists he takes no pleasure from your weekend prospects:

Pisces - Yes, a carrot is kind of like a short stick that you can eat. Kind of.

Aries - No, spanking yourself with a carrot is not obscene. It's just weird.

Taurus - This probably won't be your worst weekend ever. Maybe.

Gemini - All of your weekend incentives point back to your sofa.

Cancer - The stars have good news for you. They're still there.

Leo - Things will get better, or worse. Then they'll get worse, or better, depending.

Virgo - Most of the things you put off weekend can be put off again.

Libra - The cold weather is a good excuse to not do that other thing, too.

Scorpio - Yes, snowmen often do include both carrots and sticks. And don't throw that....

Sagittarius - Your Kossascope is delayed while we wipe the snow off our faces.

Capricorn - The weatherman is laughing with you, not at you.

Aquarius - Look out for that patch of.... Well, we tried.

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Happy Friday!

Originally posted to NCrissieB on Fri Feb 26, 2010 at 04:12 AM PST.

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