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Absolutes Matter

Reihan Salam makes a simple yet often overlooked point in defending his and Ross Douthat's book against Andrew Sullivan's charge that it's less "restrained" than David Cameron's agenda: 

To sum up: Britain, too collectivist. Somalia, not collectivist enough. America, somewhere in between, but much closer to Britain than Somalia. I should hope that conservatives in Somalia wouldn’t be pursuing, say, a Cameronian agenda, as it wouldn’t be very salient to the challenges that country faces. And I sense that a Grand New Party agenda would also be misplaced. Alexander Hamilton is a hero to many American conservatives. Yet he was a champion of centralization and a strong state. Of course, one assumes he would have stopped being a champion of centralization and the strong state once a state reached Soviet levels of power, or even Belgian levels.

Terms like "statist" (or "hawkish", "traditionalist", etc.) are utterly devoid of meaning absent some sort of context. The fact that the West should have been quicker to resort to military force in 1938 doesn't mean the same is true today. The recognition that judicial activism was called for in Brown and Griswold and Loving does not imply that there are contemporary social ills that merit a similar response. Support for the center-left party in America can't be equated with support for center-left parties in Europe. And so on. It becomes a real problem when ideological movements conceive of themselves as advocating positions only relative to other actors, rather than a set of actual ideas.

--Josh Patashnik