The Power Of Conservative Thinking

Conservatism, if it means anything, is a resistance to ideology and the world of ideas ideology represents, whether that ideology is a function of the left or the right.

It seems as if modern conservative thinking is rooted in fighting an unending war based upon ideological grounds.  Every thought, impulse, and action is coated in conservative paint, making any and all thoughts remotely outside that veneer the enemy.  Of course it shouldn’t be this way.  There should be forums for differing opinion and thought, because our nation is comprised of them.  Change is not the enemy. Change is as American as individual thought.  Here’s Ta-Nehisi Coates’ take on conservatives and change:

Moreover they have used a skepticism of change, to mask a defense of institutional evil. In the South in 1860, the conservative position was to defend slavery. It was, after all, an ancient institution, with seemingly Biblical sanction. It was the “Radical” Republicans who gave the franchise to black people, while conservatives embraced phrenology and racist psuedo-science.

A harsh interpretation, but one rooted in truth.  Conservatives back then relied more on hokey genetic fables about skin tones and blood drops– anything to justify their control and power.  While conservatism today has changed substantially, it has developed a similarly linear edge. Modern conservatism today seems unprincipled and focused on hokey arguments.  It’s a wild mash-up of chaotic thoughts, impulses and reactionary indifference.  I find the argument about patriotism and democrats laughable, but in most conservative circles, it’s a lauded practice to label liberals “un-American.”

What have conservatives done to advance the issue of civil rights and freedom today?  They often talk of individualism, and freedom from government intervention,   What’s the use talking about freedom and American individualism, if you don’t practice it and apply it to all Americans? trample a man’s right to love whom he chooses to love?  More Coates:

There is a fundamental problem here, one that can’t be elided by pointing out the differences between “true” conservatism and Republicans. A bias toward time-tested, societal institutions almost necessarily means a bias toward institutional evil. Likewise, a skepticism of change almost necessarily means a skepticism of those who seek to expand democracy beyond property-owning white men. Taken in sum you have an ideology, whatever its laudable merits, that will almost always, necessarily, look charitably upon those with power, or those who control the institutions, and skeptically upon those without power, or those who seek to change those institutions.

While I agree in part with this assessment, it also seems too simple an explanation.   Let’s use the example of civil rights and racial discrimination.   Liberal thinking  lends itself to empowering the aggrieved through the societal apparatus– which points out clearly the harm done by individual citizens, and government.  Conservatives place less emphasis on the actual claims, and more on the means by which the aggrieved parties move beyond them.   The hope is then for those suffering from oppression to not be dominated by it. This is not a completely empty argument, because it does allow for those victimized in society to claim more power from their circumstances, something I am a proponent of.  But it also lends credence to the counter argument– that conservatives either disregard discriminatory practices– or they don’t care that they take place.

So where does that leave us? Is it the climate in which we find ourselves to blame for our broken dialogue?  Andrew Sullivan points to a “politics aiming to win” as opposed to succeed, as being a flash point for failure and discord.  Win at any costs, even at the expense of fraying the fragile binds that hold American civility together.  We seem to be precipitously close to losing control of real debate.  And soon, it won’t be the country’s political direction we’ll be concerned about.  It will be it our civility toward one another–especially in times of crisis.


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