Wednesday, September 04, 2013


My old buddy Bryce asks in a facebook post: "But what does a less crazy/extreme conservatism look like? I don't really know anymore."  And then he linked to an essay pondering the question by my favorite conservative writer Andrew Bacevich.

My response:

Okay, I'll get to the Bacevich essay later, but I have to observe that when I first encountered him on Bill Moyers a few years back, and then followed up by reading his book The Limits of Power, I was rather astounded that I found myself some 90 or 95% in agreement with him. And he's a self-described conservative, while I'm a self-described leftist.

How could that be? My conclusion was something I had already figured out: what we call conservatism today is not what we have traditionally called conservatism for the couple of centuries since the time of its popularly acknowledged founder, Edmund Burke.

Historically, conservatism is an admirable point of view. I mean, I'm no conservative, and often disagree with lots of ideas that I would describe as conservative - I'm talking about conservatism as understood until around, say, 1995 or so, and will distinguish between that and today's "conservatism" by putting it in quotes - but tradition, caution and slow change, sticking to the tried and true in order to avoid disaster, that's reasonable and understandable, and something that ought to challenge liberals and leftists to think more about their own positions. But today's "conservatism" does not appear to be unified by such a principle. "Conservatism" today seems to be more tribal than anything else, a bunch of ideas that are very appealing to resentful white men for various reasons for the most part, none of which seem cautious, traditional, or disaster-averse in any way.

If one buys into this grab bag of resentful white man ideas, then one is part of the tribe, the "conservative" tribe. And I'll just cut to the chase here. Conservatism changed into "conservatism" because Nixon and the rest of the GOP developed and institutionalized their Southern Strategy, which is all about us versus them, a process of provoked cultural polarizing, which has been resoundingly successful over the years, in terms of winning elections, but which has also sown the seeds of its own eventual defeat, and we're starting to see some of that recently.

So if "conservatism" makes little sense to you, it's very likely because it doesn't make any sense, at least when you study it on its own terms. It's also why liberals and "conservatives" can't find any common ground: when one's entire world view is about dividing the nation up into us and them, there can be no common ground, only us and them.

I really don't know the way out of this pickle, which is just awful because it's totally destroying the fabric of the nation. But I do know that if you approach "conservatives" respectfully, and engage them in conversation, there is often the opportunity to reveal some of the contradictions and absurdities inherent in "conservatism." So that's what I've been trying to do here on facebook for a while. It's the only thing I can think of doing. But really, I'm thinking that they'll just eventually destroy themselves. Hopefully without taking down the country in the process.
Aye, there's the rub.