'Conservatism Understood'

I have always been fascinated by the modern day American conservative. When I grew up the word had none of the meaning it has today. The reactionary nature of conservative thought and activity is a given, but I am still amazed that an ideology that has no consistent core ideas can have such influence and also hold together so odd an assortment of apostles. It seemed to me for a long time that its only power lay in its oppositional force to change. Without liberalism conservatism would have to stand on its own legs, what would those legs consist of? George W. Bush was a conservative until he became president, then by some conservative magic he ceased to be what he claimed to be. Could it be he was just what he was, and then given power the legs just weren't up to the task? I'm sure he's still a conservative even as his revision goes on in the world of contemporary spin history. Soon he will be canonized.

I was listening to Herman Cain at CPAC, and I have to admit seeing a Black man prattle on so vehemently about what we have lost or are in fear of losing just bewilders me. I'm old enough to remember separate facilities and the sixties riots. He didn't look like a spring chicken, but I guess he missed something I failed to miss like extreme prejudice and privilege. Most still miss this one. When 'Dreams' are under attack we're all in trouble. Whose dreams, I wonder? Dreams are hazy things, the CPAC crowd cheered this hazy observation. Picture in your mind that bucolic past we have lost. I'm sure most prefer the modern day. Corey Robin writes, "Onstage, the conservative waxes Byronic, moodily surveying the sum of his losses before an audience of the lovelorn and the starstruck. Offstage, and out of sight, his managers quietly compile the sum of their gains." It is this 'lost' utopia that haunts the conservative today and galvanizes their opposition to any and all change. It is this 'dream world,' that never was, that motivates the apostles of an imaginary past where peace and happiness and privilege reigned. Conservatives are children longing for the comfort of some fairy tale world.

"A consideration of this deeper strain of conservatism [a lost world] gives us a clearer sense of what conservatism is about. While conservatism is an ideology of reaction — originally against the French Revolution, more recently against the liberation movements of the sixties and seventies — the nature and dynamics of that reaction have not been well understood." When losing a democratic election brings such great cries of loss, doesn't anyone ever wonder what was lost? Or is loss just a trope?

Corey Robin quotations here.

Albert Hirschman also covered this topic in his brilliant analysis of conservative reactionary politics. See book.


"You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a by-product of them is blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.” Lee Atwater, Republican strategist Quoted in article above. And see.

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