Who is RattlerGator?
My name is J. B. White and I was born in Jacksonville, raised in Orange Park, and educated in the public schools of Clay County, Florida.
Given that so many of us are defined by our work and aspirations, I am a former service member in the United States Army, a graduate of the University of Florida, a graduate of the FSU College of Law, a former analyst in the Florida Legislature, a former management consultant with a local Tallahassee firm, and presently . . . God only knows!
C'est la Vie!
"Life is rarely as we would like it to be; rather, it is exactly as it is." --anonymous
WHAT I BELIEVE
1. I believe in American exceptionalism. This is the idea that the United States is unique among the nations of the world. This uniqueness results mostly from the combination of geography, politics, and culture. The idea of American exceptionalism was first most clearly expressed domestically in the doctrine of manifest destiny. John L. O'Sullivan, editor of the Democratic Review, coined this phrase in 1845. Manifest destiny expressed the idea that America had a special destiny to encompass much of the continent of North America and it inspired many Americans to move into the West, pushing the boundaries of the nation from sea to shining sea.
2. I support the War For Freedom, more commonly referred to as the Global War on Terror and I enthusiastically support President George W. Bush's prosecution of that war. I strongly support the President's focus on better developing within our nation the concept of an Ownership Society.
3. I am a Christian who believes in faith, reason, experience and revelation.
4. In my estimation, human reason must realize its limits if it is to remain reasonable.
5. A belief in the supremacy of human will and rationality leads inevitably to a lack understanding due to an inability to recognize any principle of judgment outside of human will and rationality.
6. African Americans have to come to grips with the fact that one can be historically right on any given subject yet remain absolutely wrong in the here and now. For example, if one stakes out a political position today governed solely by one's ostensibly accurate perception vis-à-vis some wrong committed against African people in general or African Americans in particular -- one is quite susceptible to the ravages of the law of unintended consequences. For a basic definition of this principle, review this link:
It goes without saying that many of the unintended consequences engendered by good intentions boomerang against the party or group supposedly being assisted.
7. Until we make a more mature evaluation of the two major American political parties and the two-party system in this nation, we will stunt our own advancement in the United States and it will be a self-inflicted wound for which we will be solely responsible.
8. We will be solely responsible for our lack of advancement because of the very nature of "responsibility" itself. Namely, responsibility is:
the social force that binds you to your obligations and the courses of action demanded by that force; "we must instill a sense of duty in our children"; "every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty"- John D.Rockefeller Jr
9. We as African Americans must rid ourselves of not only a tendency toward irresponsibility but an actual embrace of it – socially, politically and economically. This has to begin, first and foremost, by claiming ownership of the “idea” of this country -- a nation that is our birthright for the large majority of us. An unfortunate tendency has developed in a cadre of folks who claim to have faith in the African American masses but, at best, believe only in a so-called "talented tenth," who clearly don't believe in the common man and who have unwittingly perpetuated a crab mentality in our community that has stagnated our advancement.
10. We must make the 21st Century our Century of Responsibility -- where we fully engage this country on its own terms, as has every other community of folk in this country who are getting their piece of the pie. This must be done socially, politically and economically. To do this requires that we never lose sight of the fact that (no matter how well-intentioned any proposed action may be) our well-being begins with us. We clearly used to understand this. Well-meaning folks within and without our community have helped us lose sight of that focus. It must be regained.
So . . . the above summarizes basic beliefs. Below, I announce why I am comfortable being a former center-left, now center-right, neoconservative Florida Boy through my take on Politics 101 in 21st Century America.
This is a complete acceptance and use of Tod Lindberg's article in Policy Review titled “Neoconservatism’s Liberal Legacy.”
No single political view ever amounts to the totality of politics. Politics is, in a fundamental sense, about the management of difference and disagreement. If everyone shared the same interests, or thought exactly the same thing about all subjects of any importance, politics would be unnecessary (indeed, impossible). Short of that, if everyone agreed on a method for resolving all disputes that might arise between any given two people, politics would be completed in the sense that relations between any given two people would either be correct (agreement) or would be subject to mutually accepted juridical mechanisms (in short, agreement over what to do about disagreement).
I would venture to say that in a reasonably well-ordered democratic polity, which I take the United States to be, the major poles of disagreement, in this case the Democratic and Republican Parties, tend to balance one another over time, making adjustments in relation to what they stand for in order to broaden their appeal to voters. And we are better off with a politics in which Democrats and Republicans contend than we would be if either one or the other won “once and for all.” In fact, one could look at the evolution of the positions of the two parties over time as a continuous rebalancing to ensure that no permanent victor emerges. Of course, this is not what the politicians see themselves as doing: They are looking for votes. Some hard-line partisans — those who entertain the view that all members of the other party are either wicked or stupid or ignorant or deluded or in some other fashion entirely wrong — entertain fantasies about total victory, the final vanquishing of the other party. But just the same, the way in which they look for votes seems to have the effect of creating a continuous rebalancing. The specific strength of this liberal democratic politics in the context of procuring agreement is that (rhetorical heat notwithstanding) each party feels vested in the system, even in the face of defeat, because of the hope and expectation of eventual victory. Politicians may be looking to win “once and for all,” but the losing party at the polls in any given election will never declare it has been defeated “once and for all.” On the contrary, loser and winner both look to the next election.
Although neither party may reasonably expect victory “once and for all,” in the United States there are, in fact, many formerly political questions that appear to have been resolved “once and for all” by the emergence of complete agreement. For example, slavery is no longer a political question, because no one proposes to bring it back. Even those who insist that Aristotle and Nietzsche be given their due in full do not suggest that these philosophers’ analyses of the rank order of human souls require latter-day advocacy of slavery so that the slavish can be the slaves they should be. Other matters of complete agreement include the following propositions: States may not secede from the Union. Women have equal rights in the workplace. Dueling is not an acceptable means to settle disputes. Parental rights over children are limited in that parents may not, for example, dispose of unwanted female infants. The change from a $20 bill I receive in Washington, D.C., I can spend in Palo Alto, California. These “once and for all” issues are usually codified as matters of law or right, but they are also firmly entrenched as social practice quite apart from their legal status. It would not occur to an aspiring politician to make his central issue the desirability of his state’s secession from the United States. He would be dismissed as a crackpot.3 The proof of this is the absence, for more than a century, of any such character in American politics.
A person recognizes the freedom and equality of the other as the condition of the other’s recognition of his or her freedom and equality. The mutual recognition of each as free and equal I take to be the constitutive characteristic of liberalism.
Yet freedom and equality do not necessarily go together.
In a liberal society, however, liberal politics is a matter of balancing the competing claims of the desire for freedom and the desire for equality. The highest good of liberal society is neither simply freedom nor simply equality but the blend of the two as freedom and equality. The balance one seeks is “as much freedom as is consistent with equality,” where equality is understood to be the mutual recognition of freedom.
But what about demands for freedom that might impinge upon the equality of all? Or demands made in the name of equality that may impinge upon freedom? These are precisely the dangers that inhere in liberal politics. They amount to the risk that liberal society contains within it the seeds of its own destruction. Even if this were true of a particular liberal society, it would not affect my judgment that liberalism counts as the final answer in politics — mutual recognition of the freedom and equality of each as the highest possible human political achievement. By “possible,” I mean that there is no obstacle, in principle, to universal liberalism in this sense becoming actual. But what is true of liberalism is not necessarily true of any given liberal society or state. There is, unfortunately, no available guarantee that the advantageous balance of disagreement that liberalism generally manages to strike will hold in all cases.
The truth lies somewhere between [freedom and equality], in the strong sense that all extant liberal societies do in fact strike a balance between freedom and equality. One might add that states differ in where they strike it while still retaining an essentially liberal character. It is also worth noting that states restrike it and restrike it again over time.
Is this ongoing rebalancing directional in character? Does it point to an end? I think the evidence suggests it does.
It seems to me that what is emerging is a balance between socially validated (i.e., mutually recognized and mutually practiced) individual rights and individual responsibilities. The endpoint would accordingly be a condition in which, as a matter of everyday practice, people acted in accordance with their responsibilities in the expectation that others would act in accordance with their responsibilities.
As a matter of social practice, however, until we reach the endpoint, there will be cases in which the demand for equality will indeed impinge excessively on freedom, just as in other cases the demand for freedom will impinge on equality.
We arrive, therefore, at our politics of the future: Because we favor freedom and equality, and as a consequence of our general support for efforts to extend freedom and equality, we must also oppose such demands for equality that impinge excessively on freedom and oppose such demands for freedom that impinge on equality.
Whether one wishes to call this position “neoconservative” or something else, it is both “neo” and “conservative” in the sense that what is being conserved is our liberalism — its extension in time and space. The distinction between this “neoconservative” position and a “progressive” position amounts to the weight one attaches to two sets of claims.
One set, the “progressive,” manifests itself as the demand for expanded freedom or the demand for greater substantive equality in the particular case at hand (that is, in the object of a political dispute).
The other set, “neoconservative,” concerns itself with whether a demand for greater freedom might impinge excessively on substantive equality or whether a demand for greater substantive equality might impinge on freedom.
If neoconservatism has a claim for the superiority of its outlook, it is that the desire for freedom and the desire for equality are always present in liberal societies and liberal politics (indeed, they are the raw material of liberal society), whereas the striking of an acceptable balance between the two is not a given but a matter to be worked out by politics — a politics that can go badly wrong when the balance is wrongly struck, potentially with disastrously illiberal consequences.
In Irving Kristol’s famous definition, a neoconservative is “a liberal who has been mugged by reality.” This is to say, certain stubborn facts about the world did violence to the optimistic aspirations of postwar political liberalism.
A policy that purports to compel a certain behavior en route to a certain outcome may or may not so compel the behavior and achieve the desired outcome. And in accordance with the law of unintended consequences, the most consequential outcomes may be far different from those the policymakers sought.
Soon enough, the weight of empirical evidence led to neoconservative generalizations — which is to say, cases in principle — about which social policy approaches would or would not work.
What began (in some cases) as an attempt to get past ideology (liberal or conservative) through empirical tests of “what works” became ideological in its own right, as neoconservatives, no less than others, took positions based on (empirically derived, or at least empirically justified) principle. Although the result may have been richer and more sophisticated analysis and argument, any notion that empirical approaches could altogether displace preference based on first principles was mistaken.
And what was this emergent preference? I think it is not unfair to describe the neoconservative conclusion as follows: Reality is such that efforts to alter it result in its mugging you — often enough, that is, to render such efforts dubious at best. One should reduce one’s ambitions accordingly.
The essential contribution of the neoconservative turn was to introduce reality (how things are) as a counterweight to aspiration (what you want) — in this case, postwar liberal aspiration. This turn was an extraordinary achievement and produced profound effects, most notably a scaling back on unreasonable expectations about the state’s ability to impose social change. But it was incomplete.
Here, “reality” was presented as something unchanging and rigid. But do we really want to say that of reality? Certainly, the past is fixed, has shaped the present, and weighs heavily on the future. And the idea of reality is unchanging. But the reality of reality — which is to say its content, unfolding in the here and now — does change. This opens up possibilities: If what you want (a change) is in accordance with how things are, then you can have your change. Reality not only resists but also enables change. The task, then, becomes the examination of the content of reality to determine which attempts to change it would be in accordance with it — that is, inhere in it — and which attempted changes would run counter to it (and be mugged by it).
The proper response to a mugging by reality is not the abandonment of liberalism, broadly construed, in favor of a preliberal or antiliberal or “conservative” alternative, neo- or otherwise, but rather the abandonment of those elements (rife in postwar liberalism) that reality would not accommodate in favor of those that reality would accommodate and, indeed, compel. This is our current and future politics.
With the collapse of Soviet communism and, accordingly, of Marxist guerrilla movements operating here and there across the globe, one need no longer worry that authoritarian regimes, as a result of losing such struggles, will go from bad to worse. One is therefore under no moral obligation to provide support for these regimes. On the contrary, the full extent to which they are themselves morally suspect is now unobscured by the specter of something worse, and the authoritarian regimes can be judged accordingly: They are indeed wanting. From here, it is but a short step to support, in principle, universal liberalism — which, it will come as no great surprise, is the foreign-policy endpoint of our future politics.
As it happens, the story is more complicated than that. After all, a worse outcome than an authoritarian regime is certainly possible in some cases. For example, holding an election might result in empowering an Islamist government bent on smothering all liberal sentiment under a blanket of sharia. Or an authoritarian government, under pressure to liberalize, might lose its grip altogether, resulting in a failed state prone to lawlessness, warlordism, and misery.
But, of course, to say this is merely to say that one must be prudent in pursuit of the advance of liberalism — one must be realistic and take local circumstances fully into account; one must be attuned to the difficulty of introducing a balance between the desire for freedom and the desire for equality in places that have little or no experience of the two in relation and may not, in any event, wish this liberalism for themselves. One must not shrink from rejecting such illiberal wishes: Universal liberalism means nothing if it grants exceptions in principle — though, clearly, certain prudential accommodations may be necessary. In the end, however, it is the resolution of disagreement as “agreement to disagree” that most securely protects liberalism. This is no less true in the international context than in the domestic context (and, in my view, provides the only adequate account of the “democratic peace”). If, at home, the politics of the future consists of the conservation of liberalism, abroad the same tendency — whether one wishes to call it “neoconservative” or something else — consists of the prudent expansion of liberalism.
Neoconservatism generally shared [a] sense of American exceptionalism.
But what was specifically American about this “exceptionalism”? And how satisfactory, finally, was a satisfaction that stopped at the borders of the political community in question?
It would  be empty to speak of liberalism as prior to its embodiment in states capable of defending themselves against illiberal forces at home or abroad. Nevertheless, when the United States promotes and defends its liberalism as its own, it is also promoting and defending the liberalism of others, of which liberalism in America is a part. Our current liberalism and our future liberal politics are not the sole property of Americans, even if the United States has played and continues to play a special role in their protection and extension. On the contrary, these things in principle belong to everyone — albeit, in actuality, not yet.
There is no liberal standpoint outside liberalism. To be liberal is to have liberal relations with other liberals — mutual recognition of the freedom and equality of each in relation to the other.
I have tried to show what I take to be the four most important ways in which the intellectual history of neoconservatism served as a precursor or progenitor of the future politics I have derived from liberalism’s universal aspiration. The first of these, methodological in character, was the overriding new concern with the relationship between the ideal and the actual. The second was the discovery of the self-perpetuating potential of liberal economic order, which in turn implies the self-perpetuating potential of the liberal social order that precedes it. The third was the liberal case, in principle, for the universal extension of liberalism beyond its current boundaries. The fourth was the obligation to defend liberalism where it is even though it is not yet universal.
One could say that the neoconservatives, too, though they might not have put it that way, found themselves engaged in an effort across a variety of subjects to strike a balance between the desire for freedom and the desire for equality. This may have taken the form of seizing on perceived threats to the social order and sounding an alarm. And in some instances, they (I should say “we”) may have been wrong about the threat. But in many instances, and arguably the most important, they/we were closer to right.
Nevertheless, one can hardly say that this politics of the future, the conservation and extension of liberalism, was born conscious of itself as such. That seems to have required a certain real-world progress of liberalism, the balanced expansion of the desire for freedom and the desire for equality, the acceptance of human difference on the basis of the mutual recognition of the freedom of each in the context of the equality of all in their freedom, the diminished sphere of the political in the sense of the resolution of disagreement into agreement to disagree. But by now, we have surely seen enough to know where we are going and — in formal terms at least, namely, the need for balance between the fraternal desires of liberalism, those for freedom and equality — what it will take to get there.
To the extent that the political liberals of the postwar era made sweeping claims about universals, they were speaking the language of liberalism in its classical or broader sense. Thus, in a sense, neoconservatism began as a dialogue with liberalism and, in fact, emerged out of it — something old-style conservatives would never say of themselves
As to whether the old-style conservatives are correct, that is a different matter. Harvey Mansfield distinguished “the modern conservatism that accompanies liberalism from the classical conservatism that preceded liberalism,” arguing that the modern sort of conservative, “unlike Burke, does not know what he shares with liberalism.” Harvey C. Mansfield Jr., The Spirit of Liberalism (Harvard University Press, 1978), x.
I would think that a serious challenge to liberalism would have to involve a repudiation of its constitutive characteristics, namely, the desires for freedom and equality and the directionality toward a limit condition of universality thereby implied.
That repudiation, in turn, would seem to me to entail a defense of inequality and of freedom only for the highest type, as well as an according rejection of any extension of the privileges earned by the strengths of the highest beyond their ranks.
Nietzsche attempted this [repudiation of the universal desire for freedom and equality] as philosophy, and the Nazis [attempted this repudiation of the universal desire for freedom and equality], as politics. But what connection these efforts have with anything in contemporary conservatism is [admittedly] hard to see.
In William F. Buckley Jr.’s adage that a conservative stands athwart history shouting “stop,” there would not seem to be much expectation of success in stopping history. It is more an articulation of an attitude toward acquiescence [similar to that of the Senate vis-à-vis the House of Representatives].
And even my formal description here of what a repudiation of liberalism might entail does not escape the horizon of liberalism itself, but rather takes its shape from an understanding of the character of liberalism.
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