Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Conservatism: A Bundle of Contradictions Wrapped in Golden Wire.

Conservatism as an ideology long ago lost the credibility it had earned. Like a tree rotting from the inside, only recently has its long-time rot become clear.. Conservatives like to argue that they are “reasonable” and “realistic”, yet their arguments are riddled with internal contradictions, putting aside their lack of empirical basis. Further, they accuse the Left of most of the things they actually do in practice.

Even this claim of “reasonability” and “realism” is in stark contrast with conservative behavior and ideology. When the issue is the continued institutional oppression of minorities or support for dictators and anti-democratic forces, conservative forces argue that we must be prudent and pragmatic, sticking to simple cost-benefit analysis. Yet when the issue is abortion or affirmative action or intervention abroad, suddenly cost-benefit analysis is discarded and we are told that a strong government role is needed to stop immoral behavior irrespective of any other considerations.

Conservatives also betray a lack of commitment to “realism” in their own rhetoric. Bush's foreign policy is compared to Wilsonian idealism, an ideology rhetorically committed to “freedom” whatever the cost. (The substantive character of that freedom is a different question for a different day). The idea that massive force can be used to adjust an entire country to a particular economic and political system despite complex issues in the region smacks of idealism, yet elsewhere, conservatives wholeheartedly advocate Morgenthau's international conception. When the behavior of enemy states are viewed, the concept of irrational “rogue nations” is openly discussed; yet the implication of non-rational states on their favored international framework or the idea that this conception might also apply at home is considered so absurd as to require no refutation or analysis.

Conservatives say that Marxism is a failed ideology and that it focuses too much on the economy, yet their blustery claims that “the market” will solve everything from racial and gender inequity to ecological devastation smacks of the worst form of Marxist economism.
Conservativism wants “government out of our lives”, except when “we” are gay, drug users, black, pregnant women, or anybody who the state has labeled “terrorist”.

Conservatism speaks of deregulation of industry yet puts into place decency restrictions on media that carry penalties far beyond any lesser crime such as defrauding innocents for billions of dollars or destroying coral reefs and thus threatening the food supply for billions.

Conservatives want to reduce subsidies yet support increased Pentagon budgets, the leading form of state intervention in the economy.

Conservatives complain about too high of taxes, yet complain loudly about the inefficacy of government and how things are falling apart when the money that's not there doesn't get where it needs to be. They support lower taxes yet pay through the ears for prisons and defense.

Conservatives say that there is no class or race war, yet their own dialogue is filled with references, often not-so-subtle, to the “underclass” and the “cultural” problems of blacks. They can simultaneously proclaim “The End of Racism” and then make a book founded on the idea that blacks are genetically inferior a best-seller. They can even buy that book, The Bell Curve, in complete disregard for the fact that its own author ten years earlier eschewed any genetic analysis and focused on cultural issues.

Conservatives can say “Blacks [or the poor, or women] have it so good in this country.”, yet if someone says, “We have far lower tax rates than Europe”, conservatives will be the first to spew vitriol about how one should view a society based on its policies and not look abroad for relative conditions. Were someone to say “The rich have it so good in this country, look at Sweden.”, conservatives would shit a brick, yet when blacks have the same response, it is viewed as another reason why their opponents are “too emotional”.

Conservatives view themselves as detached observers, yet they are perfectly willing to make death threats in a way few liberals or radicals do.

Conservatives stake out a position on the rights of fetuses that is absolute... until Ronald Reagan's Alzheimer's may be cured or explored through fetal stem cell research.
What's truly interesting about the conservative movement is the basic assumption political scholarship has. The Democrats are a coalition, the Republicans speak with one voice. Yet the Republican party contains civil libertarians and unabashed religious fundamentalist statists, Pat Buchanan-style isolationists and Zalmay Khalilzad-style rabid unilateral interventionists, people who profess God first and people who profess America first, big business and small business, and those who want power back to the states and those who want more power for the federal government, while the Democrats have people who are at least alike in that most of them suffer from some sort of oppression (aside from the powerful corporate constituency in the party). The gays, blacks and minorities, workers and women who comprise the grassroots Democratic support have common class interests of some kind, whereas in the Republican party there are people arguing for diametrically opposite things. But the Republicans manage to form a unified front in doctrine, by appealing to an idyllic 50s America and by constructing some kind of unified concept of a liberal conspiracy to destroy the cherished institutions of society.

Further, the right's audacity in their accusations about the left is amazing considering their own outlooks.

The Right accuses the Left of accomodation towards fascism, ignoring that the earliest and most committed fighters against fascism were precisely members of the left: liberals, Communists, and (most especially) anarchists in Spain, the socialists in Germany, etc. Further, the left was fighting the Fascists precisely at the time that FDR and Texaco, among others, were going out of their way to support fascists. Not only was the left fighting the fascists before the full breakout of war, the partisans and resistance movements were also overwhelmingly leftist and thus had to be blocked by American power after the war (which included reviving the Mafia and supporting fascist elements). “Fascism is corporatism”, to use Mussolini's phrase, and is fundamentally a rightist ideology, typically associated with the type of racism that characterizes the right. To paraphrase Huey Long, fascism has come to this country wrapped in an American flag, as it always does.

The right even has the audacity to argue that fascism was an anti-capitalist ideology and to imply that this discredits the left. They point out that Nazism was “National Socialism”, but the fascists also claimed to be democratic, as did the Soviet Union, yet none of these hacks argue against democracy based on their own logic. Yes, fascism included anti-capitalist sentiment, but it was viciously anti-Communist and, as a matter of practice, used racism and anti-capitalist tendencies to reify a disgusting form of state capitalism.

The right accuses the left of being jingoist and ignoring the benefits of international integration as relates to the economy, yet when it comes to internationalism in the political sphere, we are suddenly anti-American and want the UN to rule the country. To paraphrase Chomsky, it's not like the word “international” is alien to the left's history. They seem to think that critiquing the “Third World kleptocracies” and the corrupt states in the UN is somehow relevant, even though all the left is doing is applying the right's own critique honestly to the state that they happen to live in, whereas the right closes their eyes and pretends that the US is somehow historically unique. Further, when we say that it's necessary to comply with the law insofar as is sane, we are accused of suicidally tying America's hands, yet when we critique domestic law, suddenly we are told that no matter what we think, it's the law. (Of course, we're often critiquing illegal things happening here that are being done in the name of the law, and these rightists ignore that violating international treaties is a violation of domestic law as well given the Constitution). If we argue that the US eagerly supported and planted these Third World corrupt countries and corrupt institutions in the industrialized countries, we are ranting lunatics, yet the right thinks nothing of making infinitely more maniacal claims about the Communists or the Muslims or whoever.

The right accuses the left of being reductivist in focusing on US crimes, yet they think nothing of finding conspiracies emanating from the UN or (in terms of historical discussion) from the Soviet Union, even though the latter claims are uncontroversially less initially plausible and less morally relevant.

The right argues that the left has been “disproven” by the many flaws in the Soviet Union, yet they ignore that people like Orwell were courageously confronting the Soviet Union despite being committed libertarian socialists far before the right. They ignore that Bakunin, Luxembourg, Goldman, etc. were attacking Leninist-style “vanguard party” politics far more cogently and completely than rightists. Further, the implication that one experiment that may have been ostensibly socialist failed is blown far out of proportion, but the implication that hundreds of experiments with various rightist insanities have ended in disaster is brushed aside.
The right accuses the left of supporting massive bureaucracy, ignoring that the left critiques bureaucracy and technocrats far more consistently than rightists do, and also ignoring the severe bureaucratic elements of their favored institutions (corporations, the military, etc.)
The right accuses the left of ignoring national security, yet when leftists point out that the Pentagon wastes money like Paris Hilton, we are accused of being paranoid and seeking to find conspiracies, despite the fact that such claims, if they are true, would indicate a commitment to national security that is far more reaching than the rightists.

I can continue on like this almost endlessly. On seemingly every issue, not only is the right flatly wrong, but they also ignore that elsewhere they are making claims that are the direct opposite of what they said in another arena. In the case of the activists on the ground, I think this is a matter of not having thought through the issues. Further, I think that there are many worthwhile things to analyze from a relatively conservative perspective, and that conservativism can bring something to the table. My aim has not been to caricature the right or the people in it (except for the leadership, who I think are perfectly aware of their contradictions and audaciously cover them up), but to sketch the outline of a movement that is beginning to show its own internal conflict. When I went to Christmas dinner with family, my conservative grandpa spent a good amount of time decrying the takeover of his party by Christian fundamentalists. There will be a reckoning in the right, and it is up to the left to support the more reasonable members of the right against their increasingly fascist former brethren.


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