That which is called conservatism today.

February 5, 2009 | By | 4 Replies More

What remains of conservatism today?  Andrew Sullivan, who characterizes himself as a classical conservative, takes an ax to what so often goes by the name of “conservatism” today.  Below is an excerpt.  You’ll find Sullivan’s thoughtful article over at the Daily Dish:

In contemporary America, the right is now in an almost parodic state of ideology. There isn’t just a rigid set of beliefs, indifferent to any time or place (e.g. tax cuts are right in a boom and a recession, in surplus and debt); it is supported by a full-fledged organization or “movement”; this “movement” generates journals and magazines and blogs designed fundamentally to buttress the cause; and the most salient distinction discussed in these circles is between those who are for the cause and those against it (with particular scorn for any dissidents). There is, for good measure, always an enemies list, to maintain morale: the dreaded libruls! New leaders emerge because small groups of the ideological intelligentsia select them on the grounds of their conformance with the ideology – Palin and Jindal spring to mind. Or previously rational figures have to convert to full obedience to the tenets of the new faith if they are to become proper “conservatives” – McCain, Romney, two otherwise capable figures turned into hollow shells by the need to kowtow to fanatics. The final phase of this ghastly cycle is the Limbaugh-Coulter phase, in which nothing is left of the conservative cat, except a preening narcissism-as-entertainment grin.


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About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    I have always wondered why the Republicans describe themselves as conservative and the Democrats are considered liberal. I think we need to use accurate pseudonyms for the parties.

    The Republicans claim they are conservative and the Democrats are liberal. In fact most Republican supporters seem to think the two words must always be used together ("Those ^%$%^4 LIBERAL Democrats!!")

    To my understanding, the political meaning of conservative (to the rest of the world) is descriptive of political values that seek to strenghten the nation though more laws. Liberalism follows the ideal that individual liberty and fewer laws are better. But the two words have been perverted over the years into synonyms for the two major American political parties.

    The Republican party seems very much focused on micromanaging our personal lives through legislation ( "We tell you what to believe, who you can marry, where you can work". Hmm… sounds kinda cultish to me). On the other hand, the Repuclicans staunchly believe that businesses should have as little restriction or oversight as possible, which is a very liberal concept.

    Because Republicans focus on promoting capitalism over all else, they should be name the Capitalist party.

    Mainly because they have gotten tired of correcting Republicans parroting the word "liberal" as an insult to them. the Democrats have adopted that label. However, Democrats focus on fiscal responsibility and tend to legislation against the corporations and for the consumer. More legislation = conservative. But, Democrats also favor the ideas that strengthen society… sometimes to the point of grand ideas that are simply not possible to implement. Ideas like equal access to health care, equality between all people, protection of the environment (This is one topic where Dem's have a tendency to jump in and mandate things without thinking them through e.g. promoting changeover to ethanol, hydrogen, and electric vehicles when the technology is not up to the task)Because of this social focus, the Democrats should be called the social party or socials (not the same as socialist).

    Who should really be considered liberal? The libertarians of course. They favor less government across the board. Harkening back to the days of the Old West, when men were Real Men (and some of the woemen wer, too), where justice was found through the barrel of a gun. yada, yada, yada…

    Who should be considered conservative? I think that I don't even want to know.

    I did mention socialism. There are no industrial countries without a degree of socialism. Where would we be without socialism in the U.S.? We would have no interstate highway system. In fact we would have no public roads at all. Why do I say this? Because socialism is defined as public ownership by the government. Socialization is the opposit of privatization. It is the antithesis fo capitalism. Here is a list of a few things that are socialized in America:

    Highways, roads and bridges.

    Waterways, many dams and electric powerplants. parks, wildlife refuges, nation coastal waters, waterworks, sewage and many sanitation services. most schools, some hospitals, many sports venues, many airports and train stations.

  2. AnonaMiss says:

    I completely agree. I think this is at least partially behind the recent upswing in self-described libertarians: a lot of them are closer to classic conservatives, but the word "conservative" has been hijacked to mean the opposite of what it used to. In the process the libertarians are becoming more and more socially conservative, which bothers me too. We're going to need a new name soon for the old-style libertarians – not that libertarians were ever a particularly uniform group themselves. When your political ideas lean towards increased freedoms both socially and economically, without a doctrine of regulation in one to temper the other, it's easy to take those ideas to their absurd extreme.

    It is my great hope that we'll see the beginnings of new, classically conservative or maybe even minarchist party. (If you go back far enough, classical conservatism takes on the love for social freedom which in the past 50 years has distinguished the conservative worldview from the libertarian one). The time's right: the few remaining conservative intellectuals, generally the more classical types, split with the neocons in the late days of the election, and only time will tell how this split will play out in the public forum.

    Though honestly, on a Google of "conservative intellectual," I'm not pleased at what came out. Maybe there isn't really any hope. Oh well.

  3. Pat Whalen says:

    The question I have is what is this "conservatism" that these extremist have deviated from?

    Being cautious to change, being moral, celebrating the possibility of the individual to succeed are celebrated by every major ideology I can think of.

    To wear the title of conservative you need to oppose every change since the middle ages even though undoing past changes is treated carelessly. The distinct feature of conservative morality is its focus on what other people do. On individuality a conservative would oppose anything that would level the playing field.

    So what is this "good" conservatism?


  4. Kenny Celican says:

    Being cautious to change, being moral, celebrating the possibility of the individual to succeed are celebrated by every major ideology I can think of.

    Neither Libertarians nor Socialists (Pournelle definition on both) are change-ideologically averse to any degree. Conservatism is almost defined by change-aversion. Note that this is not the same as reactionism. Change aversion means 'different to now', not 'different to the past'. Reactionism is a desire to return to a past state. 'Better the devil you know' is a very Conservative mindset.

    Socialists do not celebrate the possibility of the individual. While some Socialist implementations have done so, it isn't a core portion of the ideology, and that may be its primary failure point. The ones I can think of that have succeeded seem to include a culturally appropriate level of value ascribed to individuals.

    "Being Moral" is almost meaningless in this context, as a substantial number of persons define their morality by their ideology. Even if the rules are 'there are no rules', every ideology expects adherents to follow the rules as stated.

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