My 2012 book of the year is Charles Kesler’s I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism (along with Jean Yarbrough’s Theodore Roosevelt and the American Political Tradition). Kesler is professor of government at Claremont-McKenna College and editor of the Claremont Review of Books, the flagship publication of the Claremont Institute.
Kathryn Lopez has an excellent interview with Professor Kesler posted at NRO. I recommend the whole thing, but wanted to bring these thoughts especially to your attention:
Obama thinks he has saved liberalism because he’s put it on the winning side again, and in a big way. He takes pride in showing that the era of big government is not over, that in fact the future belongs to much higher taxes and to much more activist government. I think he’s profoundly wrong about that. Before suggesting why, may I say something briefly about how differently conservatives think, or ought to think, about the relation between principles and politics?
For us, to put it simply, principles are rooted in what our fathers called the laws of nature and of nature’s God. These are timeless, that is, they call to us in every age. Some ages live up to the minimal demands of moral decency and the maximum demands of political excellence better than others; no age lives up to them perfectly. That’s why conservatives are inherently moderate in their demands and expectations of politics, recognizing that neither political defeat nor victory affects the inherent authority and goodness of first principles. Our losses in 2012 are therefore not cause for despair. Like everything in politics they are temporary. We shouldn’t run around like liberals, afraid that the times are against us and that we need to exchange old principles for new ones that allegedly fit the times better. Our calling is, so far as possible, to keep the times in tune with our principles, not to adjust our principles to match the times. As Churchill put it, it isn’t possible to guarantee success in politics or war; it’s possible only to deserve it. By contrast, progressives believe in happy endings, in the inevitability of progress. They cannot separate might from right, success from legitimacy, and so don’t have the consolation of believing in principles in the conservative sense. They insist that the good guys must always or at least eventually win, a standard which elides easily into the deeply immoral belief that, in the end, whoever wins must be right.
As Steve Hayward might say: Discuss.