Essentials: What is Conservativism and What is Wrong With It

Maha noted some time ago how Bush expects gratitude from the Iraqis, apparently for what wonderful things he thinks he has done for them by destroying their country. A bit more of this attitude oozed out during British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s recent visit:

Just in the last week, Bush has let people know what a privilege it is to be near him. During his brief press meet with British PM Gordon "Not-Neutered Poodle" Brown, Bush was extolling to the UK leader how wonderful America is by pointing out, regarding a reporter who had just turned 38, "Here you are — amazing country, Gordon, guy is under 40 years old, asking me and you questions. It’s a beautiful sight." Oh, how everyone laughed, Brown a bit uncomfortably, as if he realized he was standing next to someone who would feel at home with both Charles Manson and Henry Ford. We could dismiss this as a mere joke if Bush hadn’t done it so often in the past.

The Rude Pundit connects the dots on this.

I’d like to use this occasion to showcase a terrific, classic article by Philip Agre. I off-handedly linked to it in an earlier posting, which commenter Pat saw and wrote back with a few questions. I’m sure some of you have seen it. Agre’s article is called What is Conservativism and What is Wrong With It. It directly connects conservativism with aristocracy. It explains how this has been with us since human beings have had cities, and it explains how it is completely antithetical to the founding ideas of America.

Bush’s aristocratic attitude toward us, is and feels obnoxious, because it’s based on a lie. It’s a deception that’s been used by all aristocrats of all times and all places. Moreover, in this country, in our time, it’s a fiction that’s become increasingly threadbare and harder to accept. Agre explains:

…the most central feature of conservatism is deference: a psychologically internalized attitude on the part of the common people that the aristocracy are better people than they are. Modern-day liberals often theorize that conservatives use "social issues" as a way to mask economic objectives, but this is almost backward: the true goal of conservatism is to establish an aristocracy, which is a social and psychological condition of inequality. Economic inequality and regressive taxation, while certainly welcomed by the aristocracy, are best understood as a means to their actual goal, which is simply to be aristocrats. More generally, it is crucial to conservatism that the people must literally love the order that dominates them.

The key to Bush’s success, apart from all his familial advantages, is his unshakable belief that others should defer to him, and his ability to get others to believe in this, as Agre explained. His glad-handling charm is a cover for manipulating people into this deception. Bush further cements this belief, when, in his narcisism, he believes he has a direct line to God. The VRWC is the mighty external machinery, a public relations effort, that vastly amplifies the power of this fiction. Agre on PR and politics:

Conservatism has opposed rational thought for thousands of years. What most people know nowadays as conservatism is basically a public relations campaign aimed at persuading them to lay down their capacity for rational thought.

Conservatism frequently attempts to destroy rational thought, for example, by using language in ways that stand just out of reach of rational debate or rebuttal.

Conservatism has used a wide variety of methods to destroy reason throughout history. Fortunately, many of these methods, such as the suppression of popular literacy, are incompatible with a modern economy. Once the common people started becoming educated, more sophisticated methods of domination were required. Thus the invention of public relations, which is a kind of rationalized irrationality. The great innovation of conservatism in recent decades has been the systematic reinvention of politics using the technology of public relations.

See Philip Agre’s What is Conservativism and What is Wrong With It.

I have thought about doing a series on "the Essentials" – articles like Agre’s which clearly and simply express what liberalism is about and why it has nothing to be ashamed of, and why conservativism (as we know it) is so corrupt and incompatible with American ideals. Many of these Essentials are what they are, because I’ve found them very effective in equipping myself for rebutting the right wing worldview. Agre’s article is in this class. Another classic is A Day in the Life of Joe Middle Class Republican. If you would like to nominate others, drop me a link in the comments.

Wingnuts Shout Down Troops

There’s a video of Wesley Clark’s Friday morning keynote speech here. It’s not streaming smoothly for me right now, but maybe it’ll work for you. If the video is watchable it is very much worth watching.

I call it to your attention not just because it was an excellent speech, but because it was a very pro-military speech, and conference attendees — and most of the 1,500 or so people attending the conference were present — cheered and applauded lustily whenever Gen. Clark praised the troops serving in Iraq.

After Gen. Clark’s keynote, he and Jon Soltz of Vote Vets remained to moderate a panel called “The Military and Progressives: Are They Really That Different?” I would have stayed for it but that was at the same time as my religion panel (which went well, btw).

Apparently a veteran in the audience stood up and argued that the surge was working, which seems to have drawn some reaction. LGF headline: “Serviceman shouted down at Yearly Kos.” Yes, once again, we lefties hate the military.

Actually, in his speech Gen. Clark said it was “working” in a purely limited sense, meaning that whatever parts of Iraq are patrolled by U.S. troops do tend to settle down. The problem with that is, of course, that the insurgent/terrorists just move somewhere else, since there aren’t enough troops to be everywhere. And the surge is having no impact on Iraq’s political situation, which was the point of it.

The irony is that if you want to see real anti-troops hysteria, you can’t beat the righties themselves. They went after Scott Beauchamp like a school of piranha. Robert Farley at Lawyers, Guns and Money wrote,

…virtually the whole of the right blogosphere erupted in a torrent of the most vile abuse and intimidation against Scott Thomas Beauchamp, based at first on the assertion that he didn’t exist, second on the assertion that he could not be part of the military, and third on the assertion that, even if he were in the military, he must have made it all up. …

… It’s very simple, people. A TNR diarist wrote about a series of events. Righties freaked out, insisting that the stories couldn’t possibly be true. Lefties didn’t assert that it was true, but insisted that it could be factual. Battle ensues. It turns out that the story is, apart from an irrelevant detail, true. Righties claim victory based on that detail, and those who gave credence to the most brutal and idiotic attacks declare the affair over, without bothering to wonder how they got taken in by people who are obviously con artists, and stupid ones at that. TNR diarist, incidentally, is successfully intimidated and effectively silenced.

That last part was, of course, the point. Scott Beauchamp has been shouted down.