What is Conservatism and What is Wrong With It?
by Chris Bowers, Tue Nov 09, 2004 at 09:37:10 AM EST
What was perhaps most striking to me in the piece was the way in which Agre's identifies many things contemporary liberals do that help reinforce conservative lies. To start with, this passage reminds me of the lie Deaniacs such as myself helped spread during the primary campaign:Conservatism promotes (and so does liberalism, misguidedly) the idea that liberalism is about activist government where conservatism is not. This is absurd. It is unrelated to the history of conservative government. Conservatism promotes activist government that acts in the interests of the aristocracy. This has been true for thousands of years. What is distinctive about liberalism is not that it promotes activist government but that it promotes government that acts in the interests of the majority. This is obvious, yet we refuse to accept it. Conservatives love expanding the size of government, and clearly have no interest in "small government, fiscal responsibility." Conservatives do have every interest in promoting large, activist government that benefits corporate elites. The last several conservative administrations should have made this very clear to us.
Another problem arises from all this talk about morals, as though we did not have any in the first place:Liberalism is a movement of conscience. Liberals speak endlessly of conscience. Yet conservative rhetors have taken to acting as if they owned the language of conscience. They even routinely assert that liberals disparage conscience. The magnitude of the falsehood here is so great that decent people have been set back on their heels. From personal experience I know this is undeniably true. My entire life, I have consistently and only chosen career paths that, in my conscience, I felt were making a direct, visible, and positive contribution to the world. This has repeatedly made it difficult to keep my nose above the poverty line, but it is how I feel I have to live my life. Yet, despite this, I am somehow not moral because I am not overtly religious and judgmental? Bullshit. We are a movement of conscience, solidarity, liberation and good works. We do not need new moral values, but we do need to make our existing moral values loud and clear.
Finally, not only do we buy into their lies, too often we revel in them:Another common theme of conservative strategy is that liberals are themselves an aristocracy. (For those who are really keeping score, the sophisticated version of this is called the "new class strategy", the message being that liberals are the American version of the Soviet nomenklatura.) Thus, for example, the constant pelting of liberals as "elites", sticking this word and a mass of others semantically related to it onto liberals on every possible occasion. A pipeline of "facts" has been established to underwrite this message as well. Thus, for example, constant false conservative claims that the rich vote Democratic. When Al Franken recently referred to his new radio network as "the media elite and proud of it", he demonstrated his oblivion to the workings of the conservative discourse that he claims to contest. What is God's name is Franken doing here? Simply mocking the culture war narrative of heartlanders being mocked and oppressed by a Semitic liberal elite will not deprive the narrative of its power. Mockery of the heartlanders by the liberal elite is one of the pillars of the narrative. We need to break these lies and narratives down, rather than reinforce them.
I'll close today's chapter on conservatism with a quote from commenter Paul Rosenberg:Please read Agre's piece, and see if you really are or wish to defend conservatives as they have historically defined and defended themselves. If your identification with or defense of conservatism is based on historically recent spin about what conservatives are, then you need to go through detox. And you can probably make an extremely valuable contribution derived from that process. Many, many millions of people have been similarly fooled. We'd like to reach them all. Indeed. We will be unable to develop our own narratives unless we are able to cleanse ourselves of our complicity with conservative narratives and conservative lies. We need to face up to what conservatism is, and who conservatives are. This is half the process of figuring out / remembering who we are.