The defining feature of Conservatism over the last quarter century or more is that it steadfastly refuses to consider the consequences of its dogma. In fact, part of its dogma is to reject any consideration of consequences. Conservatives proudly state that the means justifies the ends. If policy fits conservative ideology, then the results are by definition acceptable. You see that myopia at work in their latest fetish over zoning regulations in the suburbs and exurbs.
The American Conservative has been running posts like this one that claim the suburbs need to be exposed to predatory developers. The marketplace should decide if a chemical plant is built next to the school or a federally subsidized tenement is constructed in your town. After all, every conservative knows that the will of the marketplace is supreme. The only way for anything to be legitimate is if it is the result of the invisible hand of the marketplace.
Of course, National Review has also jumped onto this fetish. This post from last month in response to the Trump administration trashing some Obama era housing regulations demands the suburbs be deregulated. He also makes the conservative case for exposing local communities to the whim of developers. The irony here is the author lives in one of the most regulated suburbs on the planet. In fact, Northern Virginia would not exist as it does if not for the federal government.
Like the fetish for legalizing drugs or hardcore pornography, conservatives first start their case by rejecting the obvious consequences. Any consideration of the knock-on effects of public policy violate conservative dogma. The only thing that can matter is if these proposed polices square with what passes for conservative theory. In this case it means zero government involvement in the regulation of development. Property owners can do whatever they like with their property.
Of course, at this stage, conservative theory is barely distinguishable from libertarian theory, which is nothing more than a pose. It is a way to stand on the sidelines and pretend to hold the moral high ground. In this case it means avoiding the real issue at play in this story. That is the systematic blockbusting of white suburbs by the Left through the use of federal housing regulations. They are trying to dump non-white populations into white suburbs in the name of retributive justice.
Rather than think about that, because that is scary and icky, the modern conservative focuses on the theoretical aspects of the issue. Like the reformer in Chesterton’s fence, they refuse to wonder why this is an issue. They refuse to ponder why the Obama people were doing what they were doing or why local communities have been fighting these efforts over the years. None of that matters. As is true with all ideologues, all that matters is the ideological conformity.
The irony here is that what passes for conservatism today is pretty much the opposite of what conservatism has meant historically. Conservatism has always prized continuity, as that is the result of generations of trial and error. Change must come slowly and deliberately with proper consideration for local customs and concerns. Modern conservatism is the embrace of constant change, the whirlwind of the marketplace, in total disregard for community and custom.
Another part of that embrace of continuity is the point of Chesterton’s fence. The conservative not only knows there are consequences to every reform, but those consequences will have consequences as well. It’s not that the Right is adept at seeing the downstream consequences of the proposed reform, but that they know we cannot always see far enough downstream to truly know the second order effects of the proposed reform. Prudence is chief among virtues.
Getting back to housing policy, what we do know is the Left is not acting from republican virtue when they propose changes to the law. They are animated by anti-white hatred and the quest for retributive justice. That is the starting assumption when examining any proposed reform from the Left. Therefore, the conservative must look at how best to prevent the consequences the Left imagines. In this case, how best to prevent the Left from devastating the white suburbs.
As to the issue of property rights, this is another example of how modern conservatism is an inversion of what conservatism has meant historically. Conservatives have always understood that rights are the product of human society. Citizens have rights and one cannot be a citizen unless they are part of a society. Therefore, the good of the community comes before the individual. This is why no right is absolute. There are always situations in which rights give way to the public good.
This is the case of local control of development. The people in the community live in the community, which means they live with the consequences of how members dispose of their property. They get a say in that. Ideally, this is a light touch that relies on the moral scruples of the community members, but when that fails, the collective good of the community must prevail. Further, the rights of the outsider, the developer, do not exist, because the developer lives outside the community.
It is popular to call the modern conservative controlled opposition. There is some truth to it for sure, as many are paid by left-wing media organizations. For most of them, they are just part of another tentacle of the managerial octopus. Some tentacles lash at the body of society, while others, like this one, try to cut off oxygen to the brains of otherwise conservative people. The hope is they will sacrifice themselves and their community in the name of abstract principles.
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