alien & sedition.
Friday, July 06, 2007
  The Enduring Appeal of the Reactionaries

Last seen proposing a grand alliance between liberals and libertarians (I explained why I think that would be a bad idea here), Cato's Brink Lindsey resurfaced last week to try his hand with the conservatives, taking to the pages of the National Review to offer advice from a "well-wishing outsider." It won't shock you that Lindsey's advice to the right is much like his appeal to the left: an invitation to think like libertarians do.

Lindsey proposes that conservatives set aside their "traditionalist" objections to things like gay marriage and Mexican immigration, commenting that "much of what has defined modern social conservatism — namely, political resistance to the incessant cultural change engendered by economic development — is not authentically conservative at all. It is reactionary." Social conservatism assumes a fragility to American culture that is not borne out by the evidence; more importantly, it's on the wrong side of history, in a sort of historical-materialist sense.

Naturally we progressives will be more enamored of his arguments when he is directing them against the assumptions of social conservatism, though Lindsey is careful to frame his case in a way that flatters the traditionalist preoccupations of decades past -- even as he rightly condemns the right's record of getting it wrong on things like civil rights and the entry of women into the workforce. He puts it this way:
The culture wars are over, and capitalism won. The question now is: Will the Left or the Right be the first to figure this out? The answer may well determine the future balance of political power.
Lindsey surveys post-war American history on a broad level, arguing that we have arrived at this juncture after mid-20th century prosperity first unleashed a tidal wave of cultural change:
As the post-war boom took off, however, the unprecedented development of technology and organization made America the first society in human history in which most people could take satisfaction of their basic material needs more or less for granted.

The story of post-war America is thus the story of adaptation to fundamentally new social realities, particularly mass affluence. Time-honored practices that had developed during the long reign of scarcity were now in need of serious revision or even wholesale abandonment. At the same time, new values and priorities began to assert themselves. Wrenching cultural conflict was unavoidable.
In Lindsey's telling, the prosperity brought by unfettered capitalism triggered cultural changes both positive -- feminism, sexual liberation, the end of legal segregation -- and negative. On the negative side, Lindsey describes "a radical assault on all traditions, all authority, and all constraints" -- a sort of general "Aquarian" madness (I wasn't around at the time, but reading the right's literature I imagine that a typical day in, say, 1971 probably involved packs of cannibalistic hippies raiding churches and boiling peyote in the hollowed-out skulls of former Mouseketeers. But I digress.). Social conservatives, he says, were right to push back against the chaos and crime thus unleashed, but now, in saner times, they have reached a crossroads:
The fundamental question for conservatives today is: What should they be seeking to conserve? The great American heritage of limited government, individual liberty, and free markets seems the only viable answer. As Peter Berkowitz has frequently and wisely noted, a truly American conservatism must have at the core of its concerns the defense and preservation of the liberal tradition. Which makes it a special kind of conservatism indeed: Its function is not to arrest change generally, or even slow it down, but rather to preserve the institutions that are both the chief source of change and the primary means through which we adapt to new conditions.
One obvious flaw in Lindsey's narrative is that he, a committed libertarian, ignores the important role of government investment and social insurance in fueling that post-war boom and widening the scope of its public benefits. But for the purposes of a debate with social conservatives, another problem stands out. Lindsey argues that they, clinging to their traditionalist views, are at odds with the march of history. Yet, as Ramesh Ponnuru points out in a rebuttal, Linsdey has also said that traditionalists were right to resist that march in certain ways at certain times. In that case, each social conservative argument must be judged on its merits; you can't simply dismiss them all with the proposition that, if we take care of capitalism, capitalism will take care of the rest. Ponnuru, in a sur-reply, writes:
[A]nyone who has taken up a social-conservative cause or two, or declines to sign on to all of Lindsey’s arguments, is supposed to don sackcloth and ashes and take historical responsibility for other conservatives’ having been segregationists. (Speaking for myself: No thanks.) The demand makes sense if all social conservative causes are the same, impermissibly reactionary thing, except when they happen to further “the logic of social development under capitalism,” whatever that means.
Ponnuru acknowledges, and I agree, that Lindsey is correct in pointing out that material forces, not just ideas, move history. As Ponnuru puts it, "Feminism didn’t happen when it did just because Betty Friedan wrote a book, which is why anti-feminist books can’t undo it."

Lest I sound too much like a defender of the traditionalists, let me add that we needn't simply let Ponnuru and his compatriots wiggle out from under the historical burden of social conservatives' many serious mistakes -- nor should we allow them to pretend that their arguments really do always resonate on their philosophical merits, when we all know perfectly well that naked bigotry provides much of their constituency. Whether or not Ponnuru wants to accept it, when we judge social conservative arguments on gay marriage, we can and must consider the precedents and legacy of their positions on civil rights and the role of women in society. For that matter, the record shows that a considerable number of the very same social conservatives leading the reactionary charge today still haven't abandoned the racism and sexism of the previous era. Ponnuru doesn't have to wear the sackcloth, but that doesn't mean his movement won't be judged by its own historical sins.

Ultimately, the negotations break down, with Ponnuru dismissing Lindsey's views as marginal -- just as Jonathan Chait did from a liberal perspective. The debate will be between the Ponnurus and the Chaits. I do believe that the traditionalists will continue to lose -- as they always do -- and they will lose in part because capitalism and other large-scale forces will continue to undermine the appeal of their prejudices. But I don't think they'll disappear, or that the right will limit itself to a simple defense of "classical liberalism." The social disruption and insecurity wrought by capitalism's "creative destruction" (to use a favorite libertarian term) mitigate against such reductionist politics. Social conservatism may be reactionary -- a misguided response to those dislocations -- but it's not going away.

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Conservatives of (yesterday and) today are devoted followers of Capitalism.

But Capitalism means:

- unstoppable radical change of our material world, causing radical changes in our culture ...

- monetary value comes before traditional moral or spiritual value (so the latter are gradually undermined and replaced by Lord Money and His Commandments, or Mammon, as the Gospel calls it; by naked greed, if you look at the psychology).

The marriage between Capitalism and Conservatism was inevitable - but Capitalism is Conservatism's vampire, biting and poisoning it and bleeding it to death.

In this course of destruction Conservatism is gradually transformed or replaced by NeoCon and TheoCon radicalism, and/or Fascism. These ideologies pretend to be modern authentic versions of the old, outdated Conservatism, but prove to be just perverse, self-destructive mutations of Conservatism.

The few surviving true Conservatives of today should fear Capitalism as well as NeoCon and TheoCon and Fascist deviations from Conservatism more than their original enemy, the (left utopian) radicals who strive to adapt politics, society and culture to the rapid changes of the material world, thus (re-?)establishing kind of harmony.

Many of these radicals (like me) have become "green" = sceptical about the benefits of "progress" in the material sphere. Thus an alliance seems to become natural between Green Left and Conservative Right.

I wonder where I should place the Libertarians in this frame?

As for politics - are they more than an intellectual myth?

(This is an attempt of a Green Socialist ...)
Ah, politics are more than a myth, they're bread and butter (and, in bad times, blood).

Be wary of that alliance with the conservative right. They may respond to the same market failures, but they do so in a very different way.
Up to now I do not understand Libertarianism. There seems to be no such ideology in Germany. I've never ever met a Libertarian in my life.

How do they look like?
Like Unicorns?

I understand that (similar to Maggie Thatcher?) they think: for a virtuous person there has to be no such thing like society.

Victorians once claimed that there is no such thing like sex in a virtous life.

So somehow they are not real for me - or have not yet become real for me.

But I admit: They must exist. Maggie Thatcher WAS real for GB, finally, and made the rich richer and more arrogant, and the poor poorer and more neglected and criminal.

But this RON PAUL - - does not exist.
I mean: as a politician.
I've spent some hours on his website to find out what a Libertarian politician might BE - and have come to the idea that this man is not a politician at all - - but a unicorn.

What he does and what he says has little to do with politics. It's mainly naive detachment from the real political world.

What he famously said about the Iraq war was not stupid - but a Republican Candidate CANNOT and MUST NOT say or even think something like that.

Imagine I - active member of the Green Party in Munich - think and tell my people: Bush was right to go to Iraq - - and then try to run as a Green candidate for mayor in Munich - - absurd! irreal!unicornish!

No, dear Paul Curtis, there are no unicorns in our European forests.

America seems to be different in terms of forests and their wildlife.

But can the NeoCons and TheoCons and OldCons form an alliance with these rare, clumsy and sleepwalking unicorns?

Do you have big enough heards of that weird animal in your jungle to fill the ballot boxes with their precious votes?
"Libertarians do not exist."

Actually, in a manner of speaking, I agree with you on that point.
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