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Your host, PM 'Papa' Carpenter


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December 31, 2015


If pseudoconservatism can be traced as far back as the New Deal, then maybe that's why the people who call themselves conservatives today call themselves that? After all, they weren't born back then, they only know what was called conservatism while they were growing up? Did Burkean conservatism in this country ever exist in the republican party? I think I'm more confused than ever.

I suppose this piece explains why I find myself in fundamental agreement with you so much. In some respects I would classify myself as a laissez-faire Liberal. This would be on issues that so trouble evangelicals. I don't care what your sex is, I don't care what your race is, or your ethnicity or who you love or wish to marry. I care only that everyone be treated fairly and therefore equally. At the same time I care a great deal that government discharge its duties responsibly and that sometimes demands conservative fiscal and monetary policies. At the heart of this is the very socialist principal of universality. I most emphatically believe this principal must apply to minors. Every child deserves health care and dental care and eye care and every other type of care. They deserve, everyone of them, a standard of education that prepares them to be whatever they wish to try to become.

Thank you. I hope you've humored me out of intellectual stimulation without much exasperation at my repeated needling. I assure you I am not disheartened and posed as polite a provocation as I could hoping to learn from a scholar I respect. I prefer to think of myself as benignly wily rather than coy, but what's in a word?

The post was fun to read and you've made your point of view clear. Because labels *are* of limited use you do raise other questions, though. Do you define socialism as democratic socialism or defend the classical central economic planning model? There seems little difference between the former and liberalism, since using democracy to avoid being oppressed by economic commerce is the goal.

Coincidentally, there's a link down the page from Dionne's column to one by Chris Mooney that sums up another view of conservatism and liberalism that's practical and useful. It avoids the problem of labels by defining political preferences as sets of personality traits. Of course this isn't a new idea, but it's becoming a science used by political types to design appeals to groups of potential voters. It's conceivable the ham-handed overuse of this type of head shrinking, driven mostly by profit motive, is what has lead to the possible demise of the Republican party. After years of punching hot buttons they've created an angry, irrational constituency that's discrediting the whole party.

Just in case the link to Mooney's piece rolls off the page, I've copied it here:

Actually, pseudoconservatism goes back well before the New Deal, perhaps as far as the Antebellum period. What Southern elites espoused as "conservatism" was reactionary, indeed, counter-revolutionary in the extreme. See "The Counterrevolution of Slavery: Politics and Ideology in Antebellum South Carolina"
by Manisha Sinha. Univ of North Carolina Press, Jun 19, 2003

Well said, Peter.

I share your confusion, Anne, but less now. PM is a political historian and sees conservatism as having been defined at a particular point in time in the writings of Burke. He sees Burke's philosophy and present day conservatism as disconnected and therefore modern conservatism as illegitimate. It's confusing to us non-historians because we don't know much about the important turning points in political history.

I'll second shsavage.

Thirded (is that a word?)

I think EJ and our host said it well - the New Deal and Great Society make us more free, not less, because they attempt, however incompletely and imperfectly, to create the baseline of opportunity for all. Universal health insurance too.

My ideology boiled down to one run-on sentence is something like this: Everyone should be able to reach the bottom rung of the ladder, shown how to climb, and be able to climb without fear that falling off will kill them, literally or figuratively.

It takes an impartially administered welfare state of some scope to make this possible. Opinions will differ on the scope, but wanting to do away with it completely (as many modern Republicans do) is, to my mind, foolish and cruel.

My minor quibble with PM's description of modern/pseudoconservatism is that I think I prefer the descriptive term "reactionary" to "radical". I've always viewed radicalism as a sort of around-the-bend version of liberalism - wanting to enact progress too quickly, too violently. Granted, radicals' idea of progress can be horrifying, but that's what they think they're pursuing.

The conservative movement wants to restore an America they think they've "lost" - an America as it used to be, which makes them reactionary. Of course, they America they want to restore never existed as they envision it - not even close. But they're not in search of progress. Sure, mouthbreathers like Rubio will claim to be all about moving the country forward in his campaign sloganeering, but his agenda is quite the opposite, as the GOP agenda has been for quite some time now.

That's just how I understand the terms in the political arena - certainly not vetted by Webster's. Mileage may vary.

What a head spinning journey down the semantic wormhole. I certainly agree with the broader point that there is nothing temperamental or philosophically 'conservative' about Americas 'conservative' party. But as far as labels go I would also sign on to the argument that 'reactionary' is a more apt description than 'radical.'

I checked and a dictionary definition of "radical" is usually associated with the political left. Every field has its jargon though.

I like your run-on sentence above and agree a lot of what modern conservatives want is ahistorical, misanthropic nonsense. It's most powerfully explained in terms of psychology. PM has finally convinced me it's not conservatism and after some thought I don't even see it as philosophy. It's just a wad of sales pitches used to achieve the ends of the selfish neurotics that finance them. The right is completely off the rails and we're seeing the proof in their presidential campaign.

"PM has finally convinced me it's not conservatism and after some thought I don't even see it as philosophy. It's just a wad of sales pitches used to achieve the ends of the selfish neurotics that finance them."

Yes, this.

For all of their talk of "conservative principles" the actual message GOP candidates sell, explicitly and implicitly, to the voters is far from a coherent political philosophy. They want small government and less spending-- unless you mean the military, social security, and Medicare (e.g. the bulk of the budget). They want the government out of their lives-- unless those lives are being lived by gays, women, or brown people. They want the courts either activist or deferential-- not guided by any particular principle other than whether it wins them the day or not. And on and on it goes.

The beautiful thing about the Trump campaign is that he has his finger so firmly on the pulse of the disaffected GOP base that he can lay out their 'philosophy' without any obfuscation, dog-whistles, or political double-speak. And when their preferences are so clearly articulated they can be seen for precisely what they are: an incoherent admixture of xenophobia, bluster, and big-government-for-me-but-not-for-thee.

The GOP establishments game for too long has been getting the base to HEAR Trumps message while still giving themselves enough plausible deniability to deny that its what they are actually SAYING. Unfortunately for them, the jig is up and the base is revolting. They've been conned too many times and now they just want to vote for the guy who will come out and say/do what more seasoned GOP pols have only been willing to hint/wink at for so long.

You've nailed it. We can probably go even farther and make a case the Republican and conservative "intelligentsia", such as it is, has also lost any type of guiding principle except catering to the whims of plutocrats.

They leave themselves a small fig leaf, but yes, it is suspicious that their deeply held principles always align perfectly with the plutocrats monied interests

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