Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Conservative Crack Up

Well, here's Jacob Heilbrunn on one of those great questions for future generations to ask us: How exactly did Conservatism go from being a vibrant intellectual movement to being a cult?

Of course, a secondary question would be: Why did liberals respond by becoming increasingly irrelevant or ultra-conservative, instead of, you know, coming up with good ideas of their own? But, no matter. Heilbrunn is responding to Jeffrey Hart, a former Nixon speechwriter and English professor who has written The Making of the American Conservative, which apparently argues that Conservatism has been stolen right out from under William F. Buckley's rosy nose.

"Hart, it seems, yearns for a High Church conservatism, soaked in Anglophile traditions, in which conservatives behave like William F. Buckley Jr.—fine wines and harpsichord playing in the background—rather than Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly. Lowry and company, with their embrace of Low Church conservatism and the modern-day GOP, have encouraged the ideological slide. Meanwhile, the GOP has prospered, but the result has been a tyranny of born-again bumpkins in the hinterlands."

For his part, Heibrunn knows this is fanciful at best, and I don't buy it either. Conservatives have always been easy to parody because they're very high minded, but don't let that get in the way of their behavior. Moreover, that 19th century cultural conservative, Karl Marx recognized something that most modern conservatives don't get: The invisible hand of the marketplace doesn't care a bit for your traditional values.

"The truth is that, whatever feats of intellectual prestidigitation conservative thinkers like Kirk may have performed, they bore little relation to the realities of a country with a booming free-market economy. Conservatives have never been able to reconcile their worship of the almighty free market with its attendant social upheaval. They want unfettered free enterprise, but not all the freedoms that free enterprise brings, such as pornography and other vices. Hart may not be a severe moralist, but he does deplore vulgar taste in the arts, which is another inevitable byproduct of a capitalist economy."

Liberals can't solve this problem either: they tend to see state regulation of markets as a possible counterbalance, while conservatives have increasingly leaned towards state regulation of culture. That other great 19th century cultural conservative Friedrich Nietzsche knew that that the state and culture will always be at odds. I don't actually agree with state regulation of anything but the state. However, I don't buy the invisible hand of the market nonsense either- just like Marx & Hegel's "dialectic" it requires one to believe in a quasi-mystical force that guides history. Which, I guess is pretty reconciliable with evangelical Christianity. If we can just convince ourselves that it's Christ's hand guiding the market we'll have it made.

Conservatives are snippy crybabies. Liberals are totally corrupt appeasers. The arts are totally boring, and we've seemingly lost interest in scientific or academic pursuits. Is America just becoming irrelevant?

No comments: