November 5th 2005

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: CANBERRA OBSERVED: 'A dangerous moment for our democracy ...'

EDITORIAL: 'Simpler, fairer' labour laws? You've got to be kidding!

SCHOOLS: Mathematics at mercy of trendy educators

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: Oil for food - or was it for a Mercedes?

INTERNATIONAL TRADE: WTO negotiations falter on trade liberalisation

VICTORIA: Water bill spells disaster for farmers

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Too many bulls in the China shop? / Anti-corruption conference / Logging onto other people's forests / Report from (another) conference / Little social protection

ABORTION: Cutting Australia's abortion rate

EMBRYO EXPERIMENTATION: Government push to use super funds for embryo research

WESTERN CIVILISATION: What conservatives should champion

CINEMA: In Her Shoes: Is Hollywood finally tiring of sleaze?

Maternity payment could make difference (letter)

How democracies perish (letter)

Justice for the worker (letter)

BOOKS: THE DEATH OF RIGHT AND WRONG: Exposing the Left's Assault on Our Culture and Values


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What conservatives should champion

by Paul M. Weyrich

News Weekly, November 5, 2005
Western civilisation needs to recover its lost sense of community and traditional values, argues Paul M. Weyrich, a leading American social thinker.

Earlier generations of conservatives were agrarians. They thought that life on a family farm was a good life for many people. It built strong families and communities, communities where faith and morals could flourish. I believe that is still true, and that bringing back the family farm as a viable way of life should be an important part of the next conservatism.

Some people may object that such a program is simply not possible. The family farm cannot be made economically viable in today's world. I am not certain on that point. I do know that most of the billions we spend each year for agricultural subsidies go to support big agribusiness, not family farms.

New family farms

What if instead of subsidising factory farming, we provided financial support for people who were trying to start new family farms? Such support should not go on forever, but if it were in the form of a revolving fund, it could help them get started.

This is also a situation where we, as conservatives, need to learn from others. One place to start is with the Amish. The Amish are cultural conservatives. They live according to the beliefs most conservatives espouse: Christian faith, strong families, close-knit communities where people depend on each other, communities based on the church.

The Amish are also successful, often prosperous, family farmers. One of my colleagues has a friend who is an Amish farmer. He has a herd of 40 to 50 dairy cows. He recently told my colleague that he will get about $75,000 worth of product from his cows in a good year and buy only about $5000 worth of feed for them.

$70,000 is a decent income from 50 cows. Mostly, his cows graze. He is also organic, which means he isn't spending lots of money on pesticides and chemical fertilisers.

The next conservatism can also learn from the organic farming movement. Many people, including some conservatives, want organic products and are willing to pay a premium for them. That helps the farmer receive a fair price for his products, one that makes his farm viable.

As conservatives, we should not see cheapness as the highest virtue. Russell Kirk wrote: "So America's contribution to the universal 'democratic capitalism' of the future ... will be just this: cheapness, the cheapest music and the cheapest comic-books and the cheapest morality that can be provided."

He might have added the cheapest agricultural products, regardless of what that does to agrarian life. That is not the direction in which the next conservatism should go.

Agrarian life is a whole culture, not just a way to make a living, and we should seek to protect that culture and make it available to more and more families.

A recent article in Farming magazine, "Conversations with the Land" by Jim Van Der Pol, gave insight into that culture:

"Recently I sat in a church mourning the passage of another farmer from a world that can ill afford to spare even one. I thought of Leonard's love of farmer talk ... the telling again of stories connected with people and places in a long and well lived human life ...

" 'See,' he would tell me after naming all the farmers who have exchanged work together in his circle, 'nobody ever kept track of who spent how much time doing things for which others. Everyone just figured it would work out. It always did.'

"Leonard was in his farming and his life a maker of art, a husband to his wife and to his farm, a human creating in the context of Creation itself ..."

Beyond the family farm itself, the next conservatism should seek to make the countryside available to as many people as possible.

The Mennonites have a wonderful program where they bring inner-city children to their farms for part of their summer school vacations. What a tremendous and health-giving change for kids who have never known anything but asphalt and crime!

Many cities and towns now have farmers' markets, where people in the city and the suburbs can buy fresh farm product directly from the farmers. Both the farmers and the city-dwellers benefit.


The next conservatism should look toward a world where, as Tolkien put it, there is less noise and more green. Our goal should be to make agrarian life, in all its dimensions, available to both those who work family farms for their living and those who earn their incomes in other ways but want a tie to the countryside.

The next conservatism needs to revive not only the family farm, but also our cities.

Many conservatives dislike cities, for reasons I understand and sympathise with. Sin and the city is an old, old story; you can find it in the Confessions of Blessed Augustine.

But cities are also the birthplace and necessary home for high culture. Without living cities, we will not have symphony orchestras and great music, classic theatre, art museums, serious public libraries or any of the other venues high culture requires.

Nor will we have the good used bookstores, artistic and literary cafés, salons or other informal but important places where ideas can be exchanged and culture can grow. No, the Internet is not a substitute; there can be no full replacement for people talking face-to-face.

Just as the next conservatism needs to make the culture its centrepiece, it needs to include high culture. Conservatism ought not be indifferent to whether future generations get to see Shakespeare's plays, hear Mozart's music or see Dürer's engravings. And if conservatives want that to happen, we need cities. God knows we dare not entrust culture to the universities.

Cities cannot live if no one but the underclass lives in them. Nor can they survive if we continue to export our industries, to the point where cities offer no manufacturing or business jobs.

Over the past several decades, a movement has arisen to restore our cities and even to build new urban communities, towns, as an alternative to suburbs. It is called "new urbanism".

I also think we need a conservative new urbanism, which differs from much of what now goes under the new urbanist label.

Let me say that I am not necessarily against sprawl. Suburbs are great places for families to raise kids. What we need are suburbs and living, thriving cities, not one or the other.

Traditional design

Conservative new urbanism should be built on property rights. At present, virtually every building code in the country mandates sprawl. One developer told me that in order to build a traditional town (something most conservatives like), he had to get 150 variances at immense expense and delay.

The next conservatism should call for dual codes, nationwide. Under one code, a developer would be perfectly free to build a sprawling suburb. But he could also choose to build under a new urbanist code, which would be consistent with the way towns and cities were traditionally designed and built.

Good new urbanism sells. Sometime when you are in Washington, go look at the architect Andres Duany's Kentlands development in Montgomery County, Maryland.

It is a beautiful traditional town. And houses there are selling for tens of thousands of dollars more than houses with the same floor space in surrounding suburbs.

Here, as so often elsewhere, the problem is government interference. The next conservatism should end the monopoly government building codes give to suburban sprawl.

Act locally

For many years, one of the left's slogans has been, "Think Globally, Act Locally." I think the next conservatism needs to answer this with a new slogan of our own: Think Locally, Act Locally.

Think Globally, Act Locally reflects the left's centuries-old belief in "one world". Just as the Jacobins of the French Revolution wanted, everyone in the world should be forced to abandon their old traditions and fit one "globalist" model, based on some ideology.

Today, we even see some people who call themselves conservatives ("neo-" or otherwise) promoting globalism. Sorry, but that is not what the word "conservative" has meant.

On the contrary, conservatives have always supported local variation. We value local cultures, traditions and ways of life, based on what has grown up in a specific place over time. To conservatives, a homogenised world is a danger, not a promise.

Here again we see the power of culture. Many of the forces promoting globalism are not political but cultural. Television is one of the most powerful. How can old, local ways survive when children grow up in front of the television, which reduces everything to a single, uniform (and low) common denominator?

The "world economy" works to the same end. Local producers reflect local traditions, but when they are driven out of business by cheap imports, everything local is lost.

The next conservatism needs to help people see the value of what is local and traditional. Much of that is not political, but real conservatism has never just been about politics. Conservatism is not an ideology, it is a way of life. That way of life needs to be grounded in local traditions and in preserving and, where necessary, restoring those traditions.

At the same time, politics plays an important role here. The next conservatism needs to revive an important conservative truth that has to some extent been lost, even among conservatives: subsidiarity.

Subsidiarity says that as much as possible should be decided at the local level. Only when the local level clearly cannot cope should state governments get involved.

And federal involvement should be rare, because it is dangerous. Decisions made in Washington often run roughshod over local needs, traditions and realities.


The public schools offer a sad example. Have America's schools got better since state governments and the federal government have given them more and more directives? No, they have got worse.

Subsidiarity would move many decisions away from state and federal governments and back to the local level, where they belong. It would also reduce the power of government generally, which conservatives have always seen as a good thing.

  • Paul M. Weyrich - founding president of America's prestigious Heritage Foundation - is chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation. This feature is abridged from his three-part article on the Free Congress Foundation website (September 13, 20 and 27).

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