Tuesday, July 3, 2018

A Musing About Self-Proclaimed Conservatives

It's July 3, 2018. Let's see if we can start the fireworks early.

Although I have been musing about this post for a long time, it took the following tweet from Stace Nelson to prod me to compose it.
Self-proclaimed conservatives like Nelson have done yeoman work destroying the meaning of the word liberal. Few would argue that classic liberalism  produced the Declaration of Independence and informed the men who developed the Constitution. However, a few decades of Rush Limbaugh rants and Fox evening entertainment posing as news and commentary have morphed liberal into a term that connotes devil worshiping, human-sacrificing, lizard people grinches who eat tofu on Thanksgiving and hate puppies.

There is, therefore, a delicious irony in the fact the same people who gleefully destroyed the term liberal have through their demeanor and rhetoric obliterated the meaning of the term conservative. Whereas the term formerly applied to people like William F. Buckley who claimed that a conservative is a person who "stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it." In the hands of Buckley and F.A. Hayek, the term connoted prudence and caring for institutions such as those the Constitution set up to preserve checks and balances.

The contemporary self-proclaimed conservatives have exchanged Buckley's intellect and eloquence for Alex Jones's braying and conspiracy mongering. They do not seek to to stop or slow down down history. Instead, they seek to return to the Fifties, whether it's the 1950s or the 1850s is still to be determined.

Unfortunately, these same folk have begun to obliterate the meaning of Christian. American Christianity, like that of the rest of the world, formerly rested on the premise that God loves the world and sent his son to redeem it. Further, American Christians used to proclaim the greatest commandment is to love one's neighbor as oneself and love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are desirable qualities. Now, however, the "conservative christians" seemingly relish the idea that people view them as folk who come not to bring peace but a sword and desire the Apocalypse at its soonest moment, God's patience and  millstones be damned.

We live in a world where a white woman can self-identify as black, so Stace Nelson, Lora Hubbel, the folks at Right Side South Dakota, and their fellow travelers can certainly claim to be conservatives if they wish. 

As I'm getting older, however, I want the history of destroying the meaning of words to stop. A good step would be for most of the self-proclaimed conservatives to admit that they are populists. Like the Trump whisperer Steve Bannon, they "to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” After all,, when "everything is a disaster, then you’ll have riots to go back to where we used to be, when we were great.” In short, they should proudly take up the label populist and leave the term conservative for the half dozen or so remaining folk who have the wit and wisdom to use conservative intellectual history to good effect.


larry kurtz said...

Leo, there are literally millions of evangelicals who don't give one whit about murdering irony but Stace Nelson ain't one of them. His foxhole may be lined with devotions to his creator but he's content to live in it instead of actually getting out of it then go to battle. It's hypocrites like Cory Heidelberger and Pat Powers who frustrate voters. Be patient with him and pray with him to make the right decision so he can be the crusader that lives within him.

Kal Lis said...


As always, thanks for stopping by.

1. I will take you at your word about Stace Nelson's faith.

2. If I were wearing my teacher hat, I might have suggested that the faith paragraph be left out because it moves away from the core thesis that populism is not conservative. (It's not liberal either.) I was, however, writing not teaching and in hurry to hit publish.

3. To what I believe is your larger objective: single party rule has not been good for South Dakota, and the Dems have been ineffective. The only option for change, therefore, may be challenge from the right to fracture the monopoly.

You may be right, but I fear that any challenge from the right will depend on QAnon loving folk whose demand for a pound of flesh will include the hearts and souls of the persons they elect. That cure may well kill faster than the disease. (Sorry for mixing too many allusions and metaphors.)