Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Continuing Vulgarization of Conservatism

One of the many aspects of our times, and our country, which sadden me is the deterioration of a once reasonable political, social and cultural perspective--conservatism--into a contemptible, irrational, self-righteous, dull, bigoted, totalitarian and often preposterous ideology, worthy of Jonathan Swift's Yahoos or members of the Know-Nothing Party.

I say "reasonable" as opposed to, say, "admirable" because I think reasonableness is the best we can expect in matters involving politics (and perhaps in anything we humans do).  Even when it was respectable (which stopped being the case not all that long ago) conservatism had its share of loonies and stout defenders of the primitive and immoral.   The normally shrewd and thoughtful Edmund Burke, a great figure in conservatism, wrote, infamously, an extremely silly kind of Romantic rhapsody regarding Marie Antoinette in his work regarding the French Revolution.  John Calhoun, who seems to have had a sharp intellect, unfortunately devoted it to rigorously defending the institution of slavery.  But much the same may be said of liberalism and its devotees.

Conservatism once stood for limited government to facilitate the exercise of individual rights.  This position requires a commitment to laws which protect individuals from the limitation of rights arising from government power and authority, which in turn requires a commitment to the rule of law.  A commitment to the rule of law requires that the law be deemed to apply in all cases, subject only to reasonable exceptions, the purpose of which is not to restrict liberty but to foster it.

Conservatives in this country continue to pay lip-service to these ideals, but are ready and in some cases eager to disregard them.  That's because they take the position that they know what's best for everyone and the country, and seek to use the law and government power to impose what they know is best, whether other citizens agree that is the case or not.  It is, after all, for their own good or if not for their own good than it's for the good of anyone who matters.

This is of course reflective of the same kind of arrogance and totalitarian thinking conservatives once maintained were characteristic of liberals and liberalism.  This repressive stance may explain why many now prefer to identify themselves as libertarians or "independents" rather than conservatives.

An acquaintance of mine who is conservative recently responded to my complaints about conservatism by stating that the view that individuals should be free to do what they want provided they don't harm others was all very well and good when there was a consensus regarding what was appropriate conduct and thought, but that's no longer the case.  So, presumably, individuals should no longer be free to do and think what they like.  It's a telling statement, one that indicates that concerns with individual liberty are not all that concerning, to conservatives.  What is significant is conformity to certain standards.

As may be guessed, given the timing of this post, it was made in connection with the Jenner situation.  We Americans have always been unduly fascinated by sex, of course, as well as gender, or what may more properly be called how we perceive and broadcast our gender and that of others.  In this case we have someone who is or wants to be a woman seemingly eager to relate that to the world at large, thereby assuring an adverse reaction from those who are disturbed by it which has also been related to the world at large.  I care nothing about sex between, to use a cliche, consenting adults, and think it should not be of any concern to others, but think those who try to make it our business one way or another are wrong to do so.

In other words, I have no desire to hear of it.  It may be that Jenner has sought this publicity, in which case an adverse reaction should have been expected.  I assume yet another "reality show" will soon appear.  But the adverse reaction is nonetheless founded on a belief that something is permissible and other things impermissible, and this is a belief today's conservatives take with increasing frequency; worse yet, they seem inclined to use the law and government power to eradicate what they consider impermissible.

Conservatives seem particularly inclined at this time to adopt laws or interpret or apply laws in such a manner as to prevent, or limit, the conduct of those who don't think as they do, and to preclude even the presence of those different from them in the United States.  The U.S. is very much a product of the Enlightenment; it's Constitution is very much the product of Enlightenment thinkers.  Yet it is insisted it is a "Christian nation" which is to attribute a certain religion to the nation contrary to the Constitution and the writings of the Founding Fathers.  It is a nation of immigrants not only because its laws allowed immigration, but because it accorded to immigrants the same rights accorded to other citizens.  Conservatives seem less and less inclined to allow immigration and to allow others to seek let alone possess the benefits of citizenship.

Conservatives have begun to favor certain rights over others.  The fetishistic regard for the Second Amendment, uber alles as it were, is a symptom of this rejection of the rule of law, as is the growing tendency not to take a neutral stance as to religion but to favor religious beliefs and conduct (but only Christian in nature) in legal situations.  Zoning decisions are now subject to strict scrutiny if they involve religious uses.  The use of the law to provide for the teaching of religious beliefs in the form of creationism is another example of the new conservative urge to legislate in such a manner as to assure that what they think appropriate is taught.

In short, conservatism as a political and cultural force has become a threat to individual liberty.  Conservatives want us to be free to do as we please provided we do as they please.  They don't want us to do otherwise, and actively seek to prevent us from doing so. 

It's natural to wonder how far this perversion of traditional conservatism, which has its basis in classical liberalism, will go.  Ultimately, I think, what is now called conservatism has its basis in fear (and loathing, I suppose, as the late Hunter Thompson would day).  Fear of change, of most everything that is different.  It's likely that change will come regardless of efforts to prevent it from taking place, because to put it simply and frankly, people die.  It seems most who call themselves conservatives are older, and overwhelming white.  The demographics of this country are changing, and the older of us generally die before the younger do. 

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