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Fabian Conservatism

By Bruce Walker
web posted May 21, 2001

Socialism crept through the Twentieth Century by political tactics often described as Fabian Socialism. This approach rejects the original socialist approach of violent revolution, and replaces it with a mellow, firm, slow, and constant pressure towards the left. So socialists have pushed for intrusion into this area of private life or that innocuous entitlement or those nice sounding statutes. Inch by inch, because the direction of Fabian Socialists is also the same, while their ideological opponents are sometimes adamant, sometimes tired, sometimes fierce, sometimes indifferent, and sometimes even supportive, Fabians have pushed modern democracies to a point where the putative "political center" is actually very far to the left.

The term "Fabian" refers to a Roman General during the Second Punic War with Carthage, in which Roman army after Roman army was savaged or even annihilated by the cunning and bold Hannibal. Roman armies were well trained, brave, and supported by an impressive support system of engineers, quartermasters, and specialized forces. They also were usually led competently. But until Fabius came along, they could not stop Hannibal from marching up and down Italy, unraveling everything that the Romans and their Latin allies had created.

Quintus Fabius Maximus Cunctator portrait on a Roman coin, c. 233 BC; in the British Museum
Quintus Fabius Maximus Cunctator portrait on a Roman coin, c. 233 BC; in the British Museum

Fabius decided to shadow Hannibal, always pushing here and their, always harassing his supply trains, always re-conquering what Hannibal had just conquered, and never risking a major defeat. Suddenly Rome, which on paper had all the advantages over Carthage, began to win the Second Punic War. Fabius wore down Hannibal and demoralized his troops and allies. Although later Romans would grow impatient and attack the great Carthaginian general directly, and lose, Fabius had insured ultimate victory.

Conservative Republicans have shrewdly adopted Fabian Conservatism, and President Bush is the author of this strategy. Although his allies and supporters want a full scale attack on all fronts at once, this has been tried and failed. Fabian Conservatism will win because it is based on the same factors that allowed Fabius to succeed in Italy thousands of years ago: Conservatives are already brave, disciplined, and motivated troops. While Hannibal had an unsteady coalition of allies, all needing the spoils of victory on a regular basis, Fabius simply needed to wear down and then expel Italy's invaders.

Fabian Conservatism means winning those battles we can, and causing liberal casualties in those battles we cannot win outright. Consider two recent examples: The budget and tax plan, and President Bush's first judicial nominations. A lesser leader than President Bush would have engaged in a bitter battle to win final victory in this opening skirmish of a long war; instead we have a victory that reduces taxes and limits growth - which moves policy in the direction we want. Some presidents might have engaged in a nasty brawl over federal judicial appointments, but that is not what this president did: He instead submitted eleven names certain to be confirmed, so giving him part of what he wanted and his foes nothing of what they wanted.

Fabians can easily be portrayed as spineless, but actually they are brimming with confidence. Why? They know that time is on their side. The natural forces of society - the way we would act if liberated to choose what we wanted - favor Conservative Fabians. Technology and the change it introduces helps us Fabians, because our intention will be to use any unloosening of rules and regulations inherent in all change to push towards the limited, ethical, and sensible government we want. Fabians do not lose battles, became they pick their battles - and many small battles, with dozens of minor victories, are better than one big toss of the dice at Cannae or Waterloo.

The fractures in that coalition of conflicting and irrational clump of power mongers known as the Left mean that their resistance to subtle, constant pressure from Conservative Fabians is chaotic. Witness how quickly Senate Democrats caved in to President Bush's judicial nominees and how the president has so conformed his education plan that liberals are unable to muster real opposition - sure, he is getting less than he wants and much less than we want...for now. But he is getting more than we had before.

One step at a time Dubya
One step at a time Dubya

It is imperative for the rest of us to understand that if we stay loyal and firm - do not ask for the Millennium in a month - then our ultimate victory is assured. Our leader, who wins many small victories and suffers no major defeats, will prevent the left from rallying to any banner or celebrating any triumphs. The left, trying to defend a vast, corrupt, decaying empire, cannot be everywhere at once, and they cannot afford the loss of imperial prestige that come from a constant flow of bad news, small set backs, and failed offensives. The stormtroopers of liberalism need booty, fiefdoms, captives, and drunken victory parties. Let them gain nothing for their fighting, and the very purpose of fighting as a left front will vanish pretty quickly.

We, by contrast, are not fighting to gain duchies, to rob the public, to impress fawning subjects, to win false praise, or to grab state power: We are fighting for our liberty. As long as we do not lose, then we win. Domestic tranquility and international peace are the twin enemies of Nazis, Communists, Fascists, and all other liberals. They want conflict; we want to be left alone. We gain that by winning small victories and denying them any victories. It is not especially magnificent and grand epic, but rather like the billions of consensual interactions which make the Market of Man.

As long as we conservatives string together unbroken strings of small victories or quick disengagements, we gut the those who live off power and intimidation. As long as Republicans control Congress, then it means that Democrats do not control Congress. So, my friends, be patient with this great general now leading us. Realize that the calm stream of friendly, firm movement is precisely what we need. And we are getting that now: President Bush is leading us to sure victory.

Bruce Walker is a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

Other related articles: (open in a new window)

  • The 'hundred days' of reform demur by James Hall (April 26, 2001)
    James Hall deliberates on the first 100 days of the George W. Bush presidency. Not perfect but better than the alternatives




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