Full Disclosure

It has been said that there are no permanent alliances, only permanent interests. I would submit that there are also very few permanent principles. There are no “Republican tactics” and “Democratic tactics” (nor “Libertarian” nor “Green” tactics). Rather, there are the tactics of power and the tactics of weakness.

The case of teaching human origins in schools is instructive. In the Scopes Monkey Trial, evolutionists argued for an open classroom, saying that youth should be taught both sides and allowed to decide. However, with the tables turned and evolutionists in power, the arguments and "principles" have flipped. Now evolutionists are the ones arguing for one-way indoctrination and creationists are pushing for open-minded consideration of both. Do not be deceived: neither side is married to the principle argued; both are married to the interest.

Likewise in the debate on the Federal budget: many Republicans, including myself, have been horrified to learn that the Budget Hawks we elected in 1994 and kept re-electing since are just as free with our money as their Blue predecessors. Remember back when you used to hear "It's your money!" from Republican leaders ad nauseum? We don't hear that too much anymore, do we? Of course, the Democrats are now beginning to paint themselves as deficit-killers, but the intelligent voter will look past the "principles" and look to the interests.

In other, less settled issues, it's not entirely clear what is principle and what is interest. Do the Neoconservatives have principles in which their frightening foreign policy is based? Or do they just have a set of complex interests around which they've built an army of arguments to defend their interest-based actions? We probably won't be able to settle that question for a few years - until we see if the neocons act against their own interests when questions of principle arise.

However, just because this interests-over-principles reality is common does not make it right. We must be aware of it - and try to rise above it. As Watchblog writers, I submit that we abide by two guidelines in our polemics. First, to remain as true to our principles as possible. Second, to admit when we are acting solely for our own interests. We must not deceive ourselves if we wish to have an intelligent discussion.

So what are our principles? As a conservative, the foremost principle to which I subscribe is the rule of law. That is the foundation of our nation and the absolute which must never be crossed by our leaders. Because of this principle I adamently opposed Federal involvement in the Schiavo affair.

My second principle is the primacy of the individual, in both right and responsibility. As I see it, this is the divide between classical liberalism and modern liberalism, which is philosophically more like socialism. Because of this principle, I tend to oppose increased welfare; I oppose raising the minimum wage; and I oppose the environmental-determinist attitude among many social scientists.

But where or when or how does a principle turn into an interest? One could say that a principle becomes an interest when it "overrules" a higher interest; but that's unhelpful and logically fallacious. Furthermore, principles often clash - but that does not make them any less principles. The Schiavo affair was a window into many people's principles, because so many of us were disinterested but intellectually involved. We saw - disturbingly - that the principle of preserving life trumped the rule of law for lawmakers of both parties. (Or was it just a misguided application of the interest of gaining votes?)

I submit that a principle is an idea, doctrine, or dogma pertaining to the realm in question. That is, in politics, a principle is a political idea. This may be federalism, personal responsibility, natural law, direct democracy, localism, etc. Thus, a non-political belief (for instance, my belief that the slave trade is wrong) becomes an interest. This is obviously not a hard-and-fast definition, but it's relatively portable. I would be interested to hear anyone else's musings on the topic.

Posted by Chops at April 5, 2005 5:08 PM