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Conservatism as Monarchism

Liberals in the United States have been losing political debates to conservatives for a quarter century. In order to start winning again, liberals must answer two simple questions: what is conservatism, and what is wrong with it? As it happens, the answers to these questions are also simple:

Q: What is conservatism?

A: Conservatism is the domination of society by an aristocracy.


Q: What is wrong with conservatism?

A: Conservatism is incompatible with democracy, prosperity, and civilization in general. It is a destructive system of inequality and prejudice that is founded on deception and has no place in the modern world.

[Philip E. Agre, "What Is Conservatism and What Is Wrong with It?"]

Talk about throwing down the gauntlet.

Funny thing is, once you think the proposition through, it's not so extreme: Conservatism, by definition, aims to preserve the status quo. The status quo by its own nature favors moneyed interests. And all else being equal, money will flow like blood through generations, conveying a powerful advantage on the descendants of the wealthy. It worked well for the Medici, or more recently for the Rockefellers and Kennedeys.

Agre continues: "From the pharaohs of ancient Egypt to the self-regarding thugs of ancient Rome to the glorified warlords of medieval and absolutist Europe, in nearly every urbanized society throughout human history, there have been people who have tried to constitute themselves as an aristocracy. These people and their allies are the conservatives."

Of course, most conservatives don't have any such conscious agenda. They don't think this is how it works.

Well, most of them don't. That disingenuous carpetbagger Alan Keyes seems to be an exception. After all, what other real argument could there be for abolishing the direct election of US Senators? Well, according to Keyes:

"The balance is utterly destroyed when the senators are directly elected because the state government as such no longer plays any role in the deliberations at the federal level," Keyes said at a taping of WBBM Newsradio's "At Issue" program.

He said it was one of the reasons "there has been a steady deleterious erosion of the sovereign role of the states."

So it's a "states' rights" issue, I guess -- "Stop the electoral abuse of California citizens by Wyoming!!!" Or, for that matter, stop the annoying tendency of American voters to cast their local or federal votes outside of party lines.

Because, let's face it, that's what this is all about: Getting those disloyal voters back in line with their party, damnit. Keyes should just bite the bullet and advocate a shift to parliamentary government. That's what he's describing, after all: Solidification of the party system by letting the ruling parties send their Senators to Washington. Heaven forbid the Senator should be from a different party than the legislative majority leaders...

Put another way (though Keyes must at all costs avoid putting it this way): Individual voters are not qualified to make decisions such as senatorial representation. We're too stupid. Or something. Maybe we don't have enough money.

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Here is a transcript of recent remarks from John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge.

In their recently published book, The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America, our guests explain how the conservative movement has reshaped the political landscape over the past half-century and imprinted its beliefs so deeply in the fabric of American life that it is likely to remain the most compelling political force of our age.

As the forthcoming election will be a referendum on our current President and the conservative political views that he espouses, we might well ask what it is about this conservative philosophy that has made it so successful. The explanation offered by our guests today is rather simple: they argue that conservative groups have out-organized, out-fought, and out-foxed liberals to become the predominant force in American politics at every level of government, so much so, they argue, that even if President Bush is not reelected this November, things will probably not change, for history has shown the right to be successful at advancing its own agenda even when Democrats are in office.

Any thoughts,... anyone?

Any thoughts...?

No happy ones.

I'm thinking that people with power will always have an advantage, as long as they don't behave too stupidly. As long as they're just smart enough. The power that wealth gives them is so great, that they can afford to be selfish bastards who don't give a shit about anyone they regard as inferior.

I'm thinking of how we got to have this "liberal ideology" in the first place, and it was through chaos. It was through constant change, so fast that the plutocrats couldn't change to keep up. I'm not generally a fan of the "Things Are Qualitatively Different, Now" meta-meme (could just be my Conservative upbringing, I guess), but in one regard, I think there's what ends up being a quantitatively qualitative difference, today, from, say, the 1860s: The plutocrats -- the ones who really matter -- have begun to understand that chaos can be their friend.

In the era of Carnegie, Morgan and J. D. Rockefeller, the plutocrats wanted just enough change to keep the workers off-balance, and they could count on driving that. The social change from the other side (such as the rise of socialist and anarchist ideologies and the emergence of popular media to spread the thought-virus) helped keep them in check.

Progressivism seems to me to be incredibly important in this equation. It's like an immune response: It curtails some of the more antagonistic labor practices of the first-wave plutocrats, and neuters socialism. Progressivism is what pre-empted the dystopian visions of Jack London et al.

Since that time, the NeoPlutocrats (of which the Bushites are merely one prominent clan) have evolved newer, better ideologies -- nuanced, multi-layered, and positively and diabolically Nietzschean in their cleverness. They are able with straight faces to front an ideology of a benevolent/cruel Market-god, who rules all fairly and impartially on the basis of Merit. Underneath that, they assiduously observe a Nietzschean "Master Morality" that's driven by class-consciousness in the form of personal networks. There are no Bilderbergers, but there are Yale and Harvard and MIT "Old-Boy" nets. Or, more importantly in the modern world, ex-Enron, ex-Exxon-Mobil, ex-Halliburton, ex-Schlumberger, etc., nets.

Bear in mind that this is a fully-functional Moral Ethos, so while it's not internally consistent, it doesn't have to be: As long as they believe what they're saying when they say it, everything is fine. And since (unlike Andrew Carnegie or J. D. Rockefeller) they have also evolved a religious ideology to support the crueler aspects of Free-Marketism, there's no moral check from the religious side, either.

This is further enabled by fostering a ruthless, cut-throat ideology of power via popular culture: An idea that might is right -- a subtle but important rewording, for the siginificance of which I refer you to Max Weber. In the language of Reformation protestantism, the winner is the moral man, as demonstrated by his victory. We know God is on George's side because he won. The dirty tricks along the way were all part of God's Plan.

I can tie Jessica Cutler into this, too, of course. She's a bellweather of that cut-throat ideology that the Conservative forces use to keep us all asking the wrong questions and chasing the wrong dreams. To her, and to countless others like her (I've met them, more often that I can tell you), people who don't take what they want are "suckers." People who help others without a clear plan to get something back are "chumps."

You asked...

Very good points, escoles. And, I believe that it's not only money and power at the root. Your inclusion of the Kennedys in your original post didn't seem to entirely fit the conservative theme. Micklethwait and Wooldridge argue that it's the American "attitude" toward such things, including also particular religious attitudes (which you point out, too, escoles), that makes for an "exceptional" type of conservatism, to use their term. And, this in turn would help those conservatives with money and power to succeed.

America is simply different from the rest of the developed world. It takes a more conservative stand on issues because in general it embraces more conservative values.

What do I mean by this? I reiterate that I do not mean that all Americans are conservatives, but once you look at the attitudes to basic questions of political life -- such as the role of the state, inequality, crime, punishment, capitalism -- you see a real gulf.

[...]

There are many reasons why the conservative movement has been so successful, from its superior organization to its superior determination, but the biggest reason for this is perhaps more deep than that. The conservative movement is an embodiment of what makes America different, of American exceptionalism. The American nation, has always been something of a right nation, born of a conservative revolution, deeply in love with both God and mother from an early age. And American exceptionalism will become more marked in the future, as the population continues to remain youthful while the populations of other advanced countries age, and as America continues to be the world's sheriff, as perhaps other rich countries become ever more introspective.

And, there are those who disagree with the current administration, yet are still enmeshed in culture of this society through their values and "attitudes." Even if some don't believe in God or the "devil" or our war in Iraq, they just very well might still believe in entrepreneurialism and/or an individualistic frontier spirit, very much part of the American fabric and, according to Micklethwait and Wooldridge, part of "America's conceptual conservatism."

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