In the Culture Wars book, Norman Abjorensen describes me as a ‘moral conservative thinker’. Yet again the left’s labels for the right seem chosen according to mood rather than meaning. The footnote at the end of the sentence is to this 2002 Quadrant article on the right’s labels for the left, which apart from its place of publication provides no hint as to my views on moral issues.
So what is a ‘moral conservative’? According to the book’s introduction, the terminology is ‘imprecise’ (an understatement). But
…the conservative side [liberal progressives being the other] tends strongly to an Augustinian pessimism at the base of their thinking about human society, and the necessity therefore for traditional modes of authority, for simple moral codes to maintain order and provide direction for the masses and for a unified, patriotic approach to national identity.
I have hundreds of thousands of words on the public record; these do not strike me as major themes of my writing. Indeed, I have hardly mentioned them. Across the issues that are discussed in the context of conservative politics in this book I am for the most part either not very interested (eg history wars) or opposed to the conservative view (eg euthanasia, family payments, gay marriage, censorship). (Migration is a partial exception to this, but the confused account of this issue in the book, not written by Abjorensen, needs a separate post.)
This lack of support for conservative views is hardly surprising. I am, as my blog says, a classical liberal. I support classical liberal causes. I work for a classical liberal organisation. So why can’t Norman just call me a classical liberal?
I have several (not mutually exclusive) theories:
1) He thinks the differences between conservatism and liberalism don’t matter, because they are both just protecting private property interests. But calling me a ‘moral’ conservative seems to connect the description to social issues with at most very tenuous links to property-related issues.
2) Carelessness. There is evidence for that; but on the other hand surely anyone who had bothered to do enough research to find a 2002 article I wrote for Quadrant would have noticed at least my institutional affiliation, even if they had not read anything else?
3) The conspiracy-theorist mindset. With this mindset, nothing can be taken at face value. So if I say I am a classical liberal, I must really be a conservative. And if I said I was a conservative, I must really be a classical liberal.
I don’t suppose the precise reason matters much. They key point is that Norman’s work – on this subject at least – is hopelessly unreliable, and nobody without the time and skill to fact-check everything should use it.