My post last week on the decline of the conservative movement in the United States received more than 200 comments. Many of them were very thoughtful, and many others were very shrill.
It is apparent that global warming, abortion, and guns, in approximately that order, arouse particular emotions among many passionate self-described conservatives. About the first of these three issues, I wish to clarify my position briefly. I do not think there is much doubt that carbon emissions generated by human activities increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and by doing so raise surface temperatures. How much they raise them and with what consequences remain uncertain. I merely think that the risk of catastrophic global warming is sufficiently great to warrant more vigorous remedial efforts than have been attempted thus far by the United States.
About abortion, my personal position is the same as Becker's. I will add only that I think the legality of abortion should be determined by legislatures rather than by courts. I think Roe v. Wade was a mistaken decision, though probably one that we shall have to live with.
Similarly, I think private gun ownership should be a matter for legislative determination, rather than judicial. The Second Amendment is unclear about whether there is a right to own guns for personal self-defense or hunting, and I don't think delving into eighteenth-century documents argued to bear on the meaning of the amendment is a sensible way of doing constitutional law in the twenty-first century.
Some commenters seem to believe that because I am critical of the current conservative movement, I must be a liberal--maybe even a left-wing Democrat. To those commenters, disbelief in global warming, in the regulation of gun ownership, and in the criminalization of early as well as late abortions is a litmus test of "true" conservatism. There are, in fact, multiple conservatisms, as Becker and I have emphasized. Like Becker, I believe in limited government and so do not support government activities that cannot be justified convincingly by reference to considerations of economic prosperity, basic individual liberties, or domestic or national security. I do not favor the curtailment of individual liberties on the basis of religious beliefs, nostalgia for the "good old days," or traditional social beliefs (such as distaste for racial minorities or homosexuals) that cannot be related to economic, libertarian, or security values. One of Reagan's great political achievements was to unite the diverse conservatisms in a single political movement that managed to gain the support of a majority of the American people.
That unity has now dissolved, and it will require skillful political entrepreneurship plus overreaching by liberal politicians (or the kind of left-wing extremism that marred the late 1960s and early 1970s) to restore it.
The ideological division within the conservative movement has been compounded by a decline in intellectual and managerial competence--a tendency to substitute will for intelligence ("I believe it so it must be so"). Some commenters note the intellectual and ethical failings of liberals, and they are right to do so. But it is only at the Right, at present, that anti-intellectualism is embraced and extolled.