Monday, May 26, 2008

The Conservatism to Come

Thers has displeased a conservative or two by pointing out that conservatism is a racket. The response has been a retreat into wounded idealism that's awfully familiar to those of us on the left: real conservatism has never been achieved, but its followers must leave themselves open to the radical promise of a conservatism to come.

There are lots of things wrong with this stance, just as there are with the lefty version of it. I'd suggest that the basic contradiction in modern conservatism is that on the one hand, it portrays people as basically bad, and on the other, it portrays Americans as basically good.

This isn't an accident, of course; it's a practical necessity. The simultaneous belief in humanity's inborn wickedness, and in America's inherent virtue, justifies authoritarianism at home and abroad. That's all the sense it needs to make. (Plus, it's fun! You get to attack leftists for taking too rosy a view of human nature, and too cynical a view of American nature, even if all they're doing is pointing out that the distinction between American and human nature is nonsensical on its face.)

By the same token, if you combine conservatism's dark mutterings about original sin with its enthusiasm for the optimal outcome of individual decisions made within the Free Market, it seems pretty logical that you'll end up with a Free Market that optimizes and justifies sin. But again, that's only a problem if that's not what you intended from the outset.

Conservatives claim to love the Free Market because it's "democratic," and therefore gives rise to "progress" and "freedom." Which means that it tends to raise the very demons they've dedicated themselves to fighting. The singleminded pursuit of money and power pretty much guarantees that all that is solid (except money) will melt into air, and all that is holy (except power) will be profaned. Fortunately, you can always blame this erosion of "values" on fags, uppity blacks, and academics, who, it turns out, do not participate in "the greatness of the American people and the American nation," despite being demonstrably American.

This is where one begins to realize that bigotry is as necessary to conservative politics as wings are to an airplane. To say that race-baiting, for instance, is a perversion of "Platonic Ideal Conservatism" would be like saying that chairs are a perversion of the Ideal Chair, inasmuch as people can actually sit down on them. To use a phrase that seems to have a lot of persuasive power on the right these days, conservatism is irreducibly complex; unless each element is in place, from bigotry to militarism, it won't work the way it's supposed to.

Which is not to argue that left-wing thought doesn't have its own crippling contradictions and its own bigotries, nor to imply that I, of all people, have avoided them. Unfortunately, these problems tend to persist not so much because we don't notice them, but because we either don't see any way around them, or are busily flaunting them as a badge of courage.

Anyway, it's possible that some new form of conservatism will spring up that doesn't demonize minorities and women, or whittle away robotically at our rights, or attempt to control our sex lives, or launch idiotic wars, or kick the poor when they're down, or blame certain types of failure on "bad choices" instead of recognizing them as the logical outcome of a rigged game. But that would involve such a wrenching philosophical and psychological readjustment that to call it "conservatism" would seem outrageous...especially to conservatives themselves, who do have to make a living, after all.

UPDATE: Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck! I say this solely in the interests of Science, in order to prove that I'm twice as inarticulate as Thers, who used "fuck" and its derivatives only 13 times before his muse failed him.


Abie said...

Hi Phyla,
I would love to hear your opinion on this piece :

From Paris with love

CKR said...

Pie in the sky by and by...

roger said...

fucking right on.

Phila said...


These are deep waters, but suffice it to say that at least when it comes to the new reserves, I'm skeptical...not least because the author casually brings up the Bakken Formation as though it comprised a known quantity of ordinary oil that'll be easy to recover and refine.

Beyond that, I don't really know what to say. The claim about futures traders is interesting, but I'm in no position to assess its accuracy. That peak oil is a "hoax" doesn't strike me as likely, but beyond that, I'd say that claims of price-gouging and what have you are mitigated by the fact that we don't accurately calculate the external costs of oil production and consumption. So while its cost may be driven artificially high by collusion, it's also kept artificially low by collusion.

That's about as much as I can say on the subject, really.

Phila said...


I was wondering why Engdahl's name looked familiar, and after Googling it, I've remembered. He's a believer in abiogenic oil, which (IMHO) involves cornucopian crackpottery of epic proportions (here's a bit of background on it).

Take his opinions with a bushel or two of salt, is my advice.

Anonymous said...

Atriots ruled this weekend across the blogoshere

Batocchio said...

First rate stuff. Thanks.

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