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I was recently loaned a book to read by my dear friend and arch liberal, Hadley. The book was "The Death of Conservatism" by Sam Tanenhaus.
Hadley and I now and then trade books usually designed to tweak the other philosophically. Hadley is one of my all time favorite people and one whom I respect enormously though I may disagree with his political position. This book however, really irritated me and so following is a review of my feelings after reading it.
Re "The Death of Conservatism"
by Sam Tanenhaus -
Well, that was an interesting, insulting, amusing, maddening book. I’ve had to rethink my positive comments on this author over his Whittaker Chambers book. Based on what you were telling me, in that one he seemed pretty lucid. In this one however he left his brain sitting beside his keyboard and apparently saw no reason to use it. He casually tossed off all semblance of historical and semantic accuracy and high centered on the one single thing he actually seemed to know: he hated conservatives, or at least the political philosophy he labeled as “conservative” with little concern as to whether that label was accurate or merely convenient to his argument. He almost matched Alan Dershowitz’s ability to argue to an inescapably logical conclusion from an erroneous or fabricated premise. That, at least, was impressive. But there are, to me, some major issues revolving around the book and its premise whether accurate or not.
I first must say that I did not recognize the 'conservatism' he described as anything I would wholly accept either, and you may recall my excoriating Bush and some of his minions for their (in my opinion) hare-brained actions. I do believe, however, that Conservatism – real Conservatism -- will die only when the following things happen or come to pass.
Now I understand that the current administration is doing its dead-level best to make ALL of those things come true as quickly as possible. All of those ideas describe, for me, the liberal, secular progressive beliefs and mind sets at least as manifested in our current leadership (which I would rush to say does not strike me as classical liberalism anymore than neocons are classical conservatives). I have as great a disdain and disgust for those concepts as Tanenhaus has for what he sees as “conservatism.” Yet however much as I may wish it, it would never occur to me to think, much less write, that liberalism will die. Not so long, at least, as there are people who believe as above and who feel entitled to the efforts of others, who wish, as Conrad wrote, to lounge safely through existence, or while there are those hungry for power willing to do, in my opinion, the ultimate civil evil and turn others into their dependents to assure power, will liberalism ever come close to dying. In the most beautiful of gardens there are still to be found vipers.
But, having studied it intensely for years, I do not for a moment believe that such ideas were at play when this country was founded. Nor were they at play when we became that shining city on the hill exemplified by the copper-clad lady with the torch. But we, as a country and a culture, just like we as individuals, are the products of our own self-fulfilling prophesies cum beliefs. When we thought of ourselves as living in an exceptionally vibrant place filled with talent and drive and exalted goals, that is what we strove for and, to an amazing degree, managed to achieve. Our beliefs in ourselves drove our successes just as they do on an individual level. When we chose to focus on the good things we had done and wanted to do, and concerned ourselves with the bad things only as need be to try to improve and correct them, we led the world in ideas, patents, growth, and as a place to which others wanted to come. It is revealing that we did not have a line of people at the border trying to get out... just one trying to get in.
But as we have started to spend our energies looking at the bad side, seeing the good not as our goal but as an aberration happening coincidentally at best; and as we have come to view ourselves as simply part of the mass mediocre world, a place where others are free to violate our entry requirements and bring in their own failed systems which we are supposed to accept and respect, we have thrown away our edge and started to become what we now see ourselves as being, what we spend our mental energies on; just another group of greedy, flawed to the bone people living in terminal hubris with nothing to back it up.
We proved and continue to prove that Tony Robbins and Psycho-Neural Linguistic theories were correct but in a completely negative sense. As we think so we become. Once it was for good. Now we are rushing hell-bent for turning that around. But that mentally inspired turn around is not driven by conservative philosophies of any definition but by liberal/progressive philosophies of almost all definitions. And as we will see below, it is, I have come to believe strongly because it is the only rationale that makes sense, purposeful and part of an agenda.
I freely admit the obvious; that both parties attempt to paint the policies of the other party in the worst of all possible lights. It has ever been so. Every time there is an election the "out" party tries to show how the "in" party is selling (or giving) us down the river and over the falls even when the policies at play were first enumerated or initiated by their own party. But those are negative views of specific actions and policies, not aimed at the country or its culture in the broad sense. That all encompassing bleak view and all that flows from it comes from only one side: the left.
It was, I believe, Hitler's propaganda minister Goebbels who pointed out that if you make a lie so big that no one would believe you would have the nerve to make it up, and you stick to it over and over, it will become, in the public perception, the truth. I believe we are now selling ourselves such a bag of lies and on a very broad spectrum.
Andt the biggest of those lies is that America is the world's bad guy. Tanenhaus and others talk about the end of American exceptionalism and the more people they convince it is true, the more true it will become. Not because it has any intrinsic veracity but because if we come to believe it then we will act accordingly. And once it takes hold, once we as a culture see ourselves as incapable of leading, incapable of being exceptional, as globally mediocre as the rest of the place and settling into a morass of institutionalized but low level normalcy then the world will have lost its last hope for the growth of personal freedom and striving for growth. We will enter another dark age where all are held to the same low standards that are attainable by the least among us and the bar is set by the lowest common denominators. It is the already existing success of that view in education that is now killing off our educational prowess far faster than any issue over money.
If and when we succeed in that cultural destruction then, I would agree, it will be true that conservatism will be dead. That clearly appears to be the goal of our current leaders and the direction of the country. But though great strides have been taken and the pace has recently accelerated, it has not completely happened yet. The tipping point may be close but it is not quite here. So as Twain once wrote when his obituary appeared in the papers, that reports of his death "were exaggerated," so is Tanenhaus's assertions a bit exaggerated.
My own beliefs are expressed in the absolute categorically imperative opposites of the enumerated points above. I don’t know if that makes me conservative or something else. I do not believe actually that the sum of political philosophies is constrained by merely two labels as some apparently do. Burke and Locke would not be terribly comfortable being lumped in with modern conservatives; Rousseau and Godwin would not be comfortable being lumped in with modern liberals; yet each modern version of the belief set has flowed from their early ideals. I do not think I easily fit in this modern group nor am easily labeled so long as we see the world polarized between only two camps.
Liberals do consistently lie about one thing; they claim to live in a gray not black and white world; a world where there is no true right or wrong. Yet they quickly label anything liberal as right and anything conservative as wrong. Politically, theirs appears to be a very black and white world that is no more tolerant of other ideas and beliefs than what they claim for the conservatives they look down on.
So I do not know what to call myself since the labels that are so easily bandied about in replacement for thinking do not easily fit my feelings despite the fact that Tanenhaus would seem to feel that anything not liberal in some form is necessarily conservative. Nor do I think I am the only one to feel as I do.
But whatever we are to be called, we are most certainly not all dead. At least not yet.
Tanenhaus also implied that the level of intellectual discourse of Buckley and Chambers was dead and that modern conservatives are intellectual knuckle draggers with no ideas. The statement is disingenuous. He decries the descent into partisanship but what he clearly means is he hates that other side standing up for their own principles and not acquiescing to his, while he would quickly excoriate any blue dog democrat for stepping out of line. To him bipartisanship is the other side agreeing with yours but not the other way around. Liberals hide their real goals in obtuse and ambiguous language knowing it will not fly if clear on its face, but intending to do it anyway because they know ever so much better what is good for us than we do. Neither side of this partisan warfare has taken the high ground. This is simply the pot calling the kettle black to use the old cliché.
This latest healthcare nonsense is the ultimate example. The conservatives lie about what is in it and the liberals lie about what is NOT in it. All pretense of transparency went out the window within days of the election and one democrat congressman said the reason they would not post the proposed bill online for Americans to read was, essentially, that we were too stupid to understand it. Is that the high road of discourse ol’ Sam wants for us? Actually -- and sadly -- I think it is.
What I fear is that claptrap like this book will help in fomenting the worst of all possible outcomes: a true shooting revolution. Why? Because it furthers the cause of polarization and blind partisanship that I have railed against for years. I do believe that good ol’ George Washington was correct in foreseeing the ills of parties as leading quickly to such factions and polarizations that will ultimately tear the country apart. And I believe I am now seeing that dire warning come to pass. It has taken longer than he thought it would but it is happening nonetheless. Unless those liberal ideals noted above are already in control of this country as the book’s author indicates and desires, then a quiet, sleeping monster (from their view) is close to being awakened by the rudeness of its treatment and the wholesale slaughter of its values.
I do not think, in our core, we are already completely Balkanized, Europeanized serfs to the political aristocracy du jour… at least I hope not. I think there are a huge number of people willing to put up with mild swings in that direction knowing sooner or later the national pendulum would return to a reasonable position. But they are now seeing for the first time a concerted effort to remake America in terms very different than what they see as proper.
They see an idiotic financial policy and an even worse health care one evolving that is not compatible with financial reason or basic math and realize, this is not about incompetence, this is about a clever, perhaps insidious, agenda to remake society. And in order to make it happen, the people -- that sleeping monster -- have to be put back to sleep and the best way to do it is to deprive them of the sense of any self pride in their current culture, kill any fascination with self actualization, and basically convince them they are not only mediocre as a country and a people, but they are SO mediocre they need some enlightened leader to help them live their lives... at a cost of course.
But to do that, the old society must essentially be obliterated and doing it financially will be the easiest way. Lincoln said we would never be destroyed from without but only from within. And here it is folks, and it is out and in the open. And, people are beginning to see it. If the rush to destroy those traditionally held American values and supplant them with the ones enumerated above proceeds at this current pace then that monster will only be pushed so far so fast and will, when it has been pushed over its line, come back with a vengeance.
Perhaps our currently anointed messiah will, unfortunately in my opinion, become our next "King George III', a ruler so out of touch with the core of the country and his subjects, or so ideologically blind to reality, that he will push so far as to foment a massive national over-turning; a second American Revolution. Then we can start over.
That potential, which I see as getting stronger almost by the day, frankly, scares the Hell out of me because I don’t see any Jeffersons, Madisons, Adamses, Hamiltons, Franklins, or anyone close to their intellects waiting in the wings. When the smoke finally clears God only knows what we would be left with. And whatever it is, it will be too weak to deal with the REAL bad guys out there who hate us just waiting for us to so weaken ourselves as to become fair game. They hate us because they can't be us. So our approach now, the one being openly and positively portrayed in the media, is not to help them elevate themselves to our level but to bring ours down to theirs... apparently so they will like us again. Why we care is beyond me but that the self-loathing approach is bound to be a failed endeavor is, or ought to be, obvious. A poor person may envy and hate the rich person. But if that rich person irrationally throws away his wealth and finds himself on the street, is that going to make the poor person like him? Or will it just make the poor person see him now as incredibly stupid?
I promise you that the level of anger among the core of our citizenry is being quickly brought to a boil. Dismissing that anger and demonizing the angry, as most of the left-leaning media are quick to do, will not help to make it go away. When some right wing loon cheats the videos to make things look more to their liking and does it so poorly it is readily caught, the left pounces on it and extrapolates that ALL reports of citizen unrest are equally exaggerated; and then goes comfortably back to their state of denial. After all, they have convinced themselves, who would want to revolt against leaders so clearly more brilliant and better able and willing to take care of you than you can do for yourself or oppose a side that cares ever so much more about your feelings?
Well, me for one...
Still, I don’t want our current president to become the American version of King Charles I, I don't want that revolution to happen because such events are ugly, nasty, ultimately uncontrollable, and you can never tell what will be the final outcome – just ask the south. But I believe deeply that unless there is a course change and fairly quickly, that revolt will happen and not all that far down the road. And it will be partisans as wantonly thickheaded as Tanenhaus, whose zeal blinds them to the concerns of the main body of citizens who will help make it happen and even further spur them into action by the onslaught of dismissal and insult. And if it happens -- WHEN it happens -- then to paraphrase Bette Davis's warning, "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy ride!"
If that comes to pass then I am very glad I am an ancient guy and will not live to see the final fall of a great place... and for all of the wrong reasons.
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