Monday, January 24, 2011

HUM 221: Conservatives

"It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society."
--Jiddu Krishnamurti

“The president of lies quotes the voices of God.” -- W.S. Merwin (Poet Laureate)

Until lions have their own historians, histories of the hunt will glorify the hunter. -- African proverb

Hegemony (Political)

Cultural Hegemony

"... how useless it is, how dangerous it is, to strut about ideologizing the world when we need to know that it was born intractable and will die intractable."
--William F. Buckley, Jr.

"Against ideology, neoconservatives claim that the public interest 'may be presumed to be what men [sic] would choose if they saw clearly, thought rationally, acted disinterestedly and benevolently.'" (52: quote by Daniel Bell)

Which begs the question: "Isn't conservatism also an ideology? By attacking ideology, don't conservatives also undermine themselves?" (52)

Another important question when we explore other ideologies will be, are conservatism and liberalism, within the American context, linked within the same ideological structure. Are they just different branches of the same political philosophy? Is conservatism using liberalism as a convenient prop for a manichean moral binary (viewing the world through dualistic good/bad mappings) while operating within the same ideological structure?

This also demonstrates conservatives self-understanding as being the "center" of American ideas and history. Conservatives deny, through demonizing others as ideological, their own political mythologization (or more accurately what R.D. Laing called the mystification of experience?). Everywhere they look they see their ideology as essentially American (and necessarily not an ideology as such), even though we see in the reading it is more properly a product of European aristrocratic traditions.

According to Nancy S. Love "Conservatism does differ from other ideologies in at least five ways." (53)

"First, it is commonly defined in relation to changing historical contexts, rather than to abstract principles of justice. ... 'tending to favor the preservation of the existing order and to regard proposals for change with distrust.' (Webster's Dictionary) ... According to Charles Kesler, the relationship of conservatism to historical context is suggests that it "is more nearly the antonym of 'progressivism' than of 'liberalism.'" [53]

"According to Michael Oakeshott, conservatism, instead, involves 'love of the familiar present.' ... This perspective suggests a second way in which conservatism differs from other ideologies: it is a disposition or temperment, rather than a belief system. Oakeshott eloquently describes the personality traits conservatives share:
To be conservative ... is to prefer the familiar to the unknown, to prefer the tried to the untried, fact to mystery, the actual to the possible, the limited to the unbounded, the near to the distant, the sufficient to the superabundant, the convenient to the perfect, present laughter to utopian bliss.

The conservative personality is easier to recognize than conservative principles are." (53)

"A third distinctive feature of conservatism is closely related. If conservatism is a belief system at all, then it is one with many internal tensions. ... European conservatives have resources for resisting liberal capitalists' tendency to race through life: they can reinvoke memories of a preliberal past. American conservatives face the greater challenge posed by a history that is predominantly liberal capitalist. The United States lacks the institutions -- an established church, a monarchy, an aristocracy, the common law -- that conservatives revere. Whether it is characterized as frontier mentality, Yankee ingenuity, or entrepreneurial spirit, the American disposition is fundamentally progressive. ... Nevertheless, American conservatives have some roots in their native soil -- specifically, in the pessimistic side of liberalism. Peter Steinfels describes conservatives' liberalism as 'the harder, more fearful sort':
Pessimistic about human nature, skeptical about the outcome of political innovation, distrustful of direct democracy ("the mob"), it would defend the principles and practices of liberalism less as vehicles for betterment than as bulwarks against folly.

... There are two major root systems: economic and social conservatism. Economic conservates are the classical liberals, such as Milton Friedman, who support individual rights, free markets, and limited governments. Social or organic conservatives ... have European roots. Edmund Burke, a British philosopher, is widely regarded as their founding father." [54-55]

"When the tree branches out to America, the neoconservatives form one of its major branches. They are an academic elite who combine social conservatism, pessimistic liberalism, and, in some cases, socialist sentiments. As Irving Kristol puts it, neoconservatives are former progressives who were 'mugged by reality.' Their political ally is another branch, the 'Old Right,' represented by the Republican party, especially during the Reagan presidency. Ronald Reagan has been credited with bringing a European-style social conservatism to mainstream American politics. ... Another major branch of the conservative family tree. the 'New Right,' which divides into populist conservatives, religious fundamentalists, and middle-American radicals, has also emerged. Its supporters often engage in single issue politics and have had an uneasy relationship with the Republican Party." (55) [Tea Party populist conservatism funded by corporate/wealthy elites is an example of the New Right]

"A fourth difference between conservatism and other ideologies follows from these internal tensions. Because their philosophical premises differ, conservatives tend to unite around specific issues." [55]

"These variations imply a fifth and final feature: conservatives often find it "easier to identify what they are against than what they are for." [55]

Howard Zinn's The People Speak

Andrew Bacevich: How War Without End Became the Rule

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