Saturday, August 5, 2017

What The Heck Is A Conservative?

Following links off my Twitter feed, I came across this article about a class on the history of American conservatism. The fact that the class discussed Russel Kirk, William F. Buckley, F. A. Hayek, and Milton Friedman. The fact that Ayn Rand is not mentioned in the article is cause for joy. Actually, the young conservatives reactions to conservative history that the article describes are cause for a bit of hope.

This paragraph, however, illustrated that the word conservative has become so elastic that it's meaningless:
We ended our time together by discussing current splits in the right. The differences between foreign-policy neoconservatives and paleoconservatives became acute after victory in the Cold War. In 2017 the spectrum of conservative thought in America runs from libertarians to neos to paleos to traditionalists to nation-state populists all the way to the alt-right fringe. You have Senator Jeff Flake and his Conscience of a Conservative on one hand, and Steve Bannon and Breitbart.com on the other. The various claimants to the conservative throne each have problems.[emphasis mine]
The only way this list could be more inclusive is if it contained "Appalachian snake handling glossolalians who are also members of Opus Dei."

More importantly, first the connotation of the word "fringe" implies that the author of the piece doesn't consider the "alt-right" conservative. Their populist rhetoric certainly indicates that the only thing that makes them conservative is that they consider the word "liberal" a pejorative. Given the current kerfuffle over National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, the alt-right seems more willing to break conservatives' bones than it does to break bread with them.

Further, the list left off social conservatives. Libertarians who want everything legal as long as no one is defrauded or physically harmed and the social conservatives who want legislation that clearly defines which toilet a person uses do not seem to share the same philosophical spaces.

In some ways, it's poetic justice. Elements of the conservative movement distorted the word liberal until it became an epithet. Now, conservatives can self-identify and the term can apply to those who want to extend the American empire and those who want to erect trade barriers can both be conservatives makes the word vacuous.


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