Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Real Conservativism versus Neo-Conservativism

In party politics in the US, Canada and Europe, conservativism is as dead as a door nail. Neo-conservativism is a watered down, compromised version of conservatism and is not really conservative. Neo-conservativism is really a form of liberalism that tries to mitigate the logic of liberalism on certain issues, usually ones connected with marriage, family and the sanctity of life. But neo-conservatives, by accepting the dominance of the market and the ubiquity of the state, as well as hedonistic individualism, have surrendered so much ground to liberalism that they have been reduced to denying theory in the name of common sense rather than challenging what is wrong about liberal theory in the first place. So conservatives have taken to calling themselves Traditionalists or Paleo-conservatives in order to distinguish themselves from neo-conservatives (which would be better named conservative liberals).

Real conservativism views what Alasdair MacIntrye referred in After Virtue to as "the Enlightenment project" to be a total and unmitigated disaster. Few people have the intellectual courage and sheer nerve today to assume such an uncompromising stance toward the reigning religion of the modern world, so conservatives are few in number and often cowed into silence.

The Enlightenment project is about remaking the world according to the dictates of technological reason and individual choice in order to establish a utopian mass culture by overcoming the restrictions on individual choice created by tradition (especially religious tradition) and local conditions (including geography, history and heredity). When the evils of modernity are pointed out, such as environmental destruction, the breakdown of the family, the decline of mass culture to a lowest common denominator and increasing state tyranny, the reply of liberal defenders of modernity amounts essentially to a bribe and a threat. The bribe is longer life and better health because of medical breakthroughs, more and more consumer goods, ease of travel, luxuries etc. The threat is that if you criticize the goose that lays the golden egg (technological reason) you make yourself an enemy of the people and expose yourself to being marginalized or worse. You see, everyone else has taken the bribe and if you don't go along, then you will be seen as a threat to their enjoyment of the "good life" of fornicating, vegetating and prevaricating.

Neo-conservatives are a nervous, deferential and eager to please lot. They are modest in their demands, lavish in their praise of their political masters and always ready to cut a deal. They merely respectfully request that a few of the worst excesses of individualistic hedonism be curbed slightly so that some old-fashioned values can be preserved for those who - wait for it - prefer them. Neo-conservatives can easily be tolerated by liberalism until they die out or until liberalism becomes strong enough to crush them. They are an annoyance, but not really a threat.

Real conservatives, on the other hand, are prone to grumpy jeremiads and surgical strikes against the heart of the ruling ideology of liberal modernity (think Solzhenitsyn and Khruschev) and so they arouse the wrath of our political rulers and require "dealing with." Neo-conservatives "disagree" with abortion on demand; real conservatives regard it with horror and loathing as child sacrifice to demons. Neo-conservatives serve on the Sodom Town Planning Commission in hopes of getting the brothels out of residential neighbourhoods; real conservatives keep an eye on the sky and intend to make sure they are out of town when the Divine fire begins to pour down. Neo-conservatives want less government regulation of business; real conservatives want government that is not run by big business. Neo-conservatives are against same-sex marriage; real conservatives want to make it illegal and expensive for men to act like immature jerks by deserting their wives and children and taking up with some other woman merely because of boredom or lust. Neo-conservatives often consider themselves to be good, loyal Republicans; real conservatives view the Republican Party as a blunt instrument that is only good for really rough work and could never consider themselves as loyal party members under any circumstances. Neo-conservatives tolerate and make use of the socially conservative Evangelicals and Catholics for their own political purposes; real conservativism itself arises out of, and is an expression of, a deeply traditional Christian faith.

Give me real conservativism any day.

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