Fellow Conservatives

Out here on the edge of the continent, where the force fields of respectability and convention run thin, we like to think of ourselves as progressive, in an undogmatic way. But really we are conservative, when you get down to it. We are alert constantly to the capacity for evil in human nature, especially in the form of greed, and greed’s designs upon the land. We are skeptical of the version of progress that the corporate market pushes at us. We embrace the wisdom of the past, especially as embodied in the natives of this place.

Russell Kirk, the intellectual progenitor of modern conservative thought, marked these as central tendencies of what he called the “conservative mind.” (Kirk would not be pleased by what claims that banner today, but that’s another matter.) We revere the land and take a dim view of change, and if those are not conservative inclinations, then nothing is.


Left and Right: Our Conservative Allies

Would someone please explain what is “conservative” about the Bush Administration? They claim that banner, yes; and critics obediently oblige.

But look at what they do. Run up the deficit, erode local control of the schools, launch a grandiose nation-building fiasco in Iraq, regard truth-telling as optional behavior, give the federal government authority to pry into our lives. It sounds like the litany of things conservatives scold liberals for, or used to.


Conservative Commoners

About half a century ago, a prominent writer described automobiles as “mechanical Jacobins” for their disruptive effects on American life and mores. It was not a young Ralph Nader rehearsing for Unsafe At Any Speed. .  It was Russell Kirk, intellectual patriarch of the modern conservative movement, writing in his seminal book The Conservative Mind.

The difference between the two is instructive. Nader was writing from a standpoint of utility. He did not object to the social and cultural impacts of cars, not outwardly at least.  His argument was that they weren’t safe.  Kirk by contrast was talking values – the nature of our communities and ultimately of ourselves. This is the deeper territory that liberals in America pretty much have forfeited, with their focus on such things as consumer protection and safety.  Safety is important; but we humans cannot live on it alone.


Market Boundaries and the Commons of a Conservative

For people whose work is the written word, reporters can be stunningly indifferent to what words actually mean. The word “conservative” is a prime example. We have today a President who thinks the federal government is going to bring democracy to the Arab world. He has intruded that government into the affairs of ordinary Americans to a degree not seen before, and he has run up staggering deficits to boot. Yet this is a “conservative” President, for no apparent reason other than that he says he is.

Usually, when reporters use the word “conservative,” they actually are referring to a cynical Right wing politics that is closer to corporate Jacobinism. It is the belief in the use of the corporate market to bring about radical upheavals in American values and mores, all the while preaching the sanctity of those values and mores, and blaming people they call “liberals” for the upheavals. Few things would so clarify American political debate, as to begin to get a grip on the term “conservative”. It also would help to understand why the commons will be central to the next big turn of the ideological wheel.


The Free Market is Less Conservative Than You Think

Turbo-Capitalism: Winners and Losers in the Global Economy by Edward Luttwak
Book Review

The notion of a conservative critique of the market can jar the contemporary mind, a little like a left-wing critique of the state. But that suggests the tenacity of Cold War stereo-types and a media that is conceptually inert. Suspicion of the market is conservative in the most fundamental sense. It can arise from a desire for true economy, as opposed to the wastrel and debt-driven tendencies of the consumer culture. It can express a desire to protect that which is of great value, whether in the social structure or the natural environment, against the machinations of pecuniary gain.

As it sprang from Adam Smith’s mind, the concept of the market was deliberately disruptive–a radical force. It served to rout the residues of feudalism–the traditional bonds of locality and community–and clear the way for the industrial age, with its mathematical logic of production and gain. This was not a conservative undertaking. But soon enough it acquired the respectability of money; and this forced true conservatives into the role of radicals, for opposing the radicalism of money which was now the status quo.


What’s un-Christian about the Christian right

Much of the Christian Coalition’s political agenda conflicts with the true meaning of Christianity: self-sacrifice, helping those in need, and universal love. The group favors a $500 tax credit per child, regardless of income, yet it does not favor the Earned Income Tax Credit.

There is something very strange about the Christian Coalition’s “Contract With the American Family,” released with much fanfare in May. The document says a lot about the usual conservative agenda–tax credits as rewards for doing right, abolishing the Department of Education, policing the Internet, and so on. But there’s little of the thing you’d most expect to find. There’s not one word that Jesus himself actually said.