An Overview of American
March 27, 2004
By Violet Lake
On the surface, modern American "conservatism" seems to be what Ayn Rand once described as "...that embarrassing conglomeration of impotence, futility, inconsistency and superficiality...". Ideologically, there seems to be no principle that binds the various conservative groups together. If not ideology, then what is it that unites and drives them? The answer can be summed up in one word: liberals.
Rand gives us a clear view of the "enemy":
"The goal of the 'liberals'--as it emerges from the record of the past decades--was to smuggle this country into welfare statism by means of single, concrete, specific measures, enlarging the power of the government a step at a time, never permitting these steps to be summed up into principles, never permitting their direction to be identified or the basic issue to be named. Thus, statism was to come, not by vote or by violence, but by slow rot--by a long process of evasion and epistemological corruption, leading to a fait accompli."
Rand's observation captures the essence of the reasoning that drives conservatives to this day. This is the dogma that won for conservatives the virtual tyranny that they currently exercise over the American people. It is clear now that this brand of "conservatism" is simply statism by other means. Fait accompli, Ayn.
Who are these "compassionate conservatives" that are making the rest of the world so nervous? Is there a method to their madness? Comprehensive answers to these questions are beyond my immediate means, but I can offer several observations and ideas that I hope you'll find useful.
The conservative gradient can be divided into four basic groups: "neoconservatives," moderates, the Christian Right, and extremists. Although they share a common adversary, the groups have widely divergent ideals and goals. Together, they form a combustible mix of power politics, nationalism, religion, and mutual appeasement. In order to understand this dynamic, one needs to look at each group in more detail.
Neoconservatives - The neoconservatives are at the top of the conservative establishment. They are Reagan-era hawks, ex-Marxists, disgruntled liberals, and assorted GOP opportunists, guided by the philosophy of Leo Strauss. Strauss believed that morals don't apply to clever people, and he advocated the right of the powerful to rule the weak. The Straussian ideal can be summed up as absolute domination by "superior" people, achieved by means such as "noble lies," physical force, perpetual warfare, and religion. According to Strauss, the gravest threats to civilization come from ideas like secularism, eclecticism, and liberalism.
Judging the "neocons" by their philosophy, one has to conclude that they're capable of doing anything in order to maintain their grip on power. Judging them by their actions, one has to arrive at the same conclusion. By operating beyond the bounds of morality, the neocons are directing one of the most shameful episodes in American history. The proof is in the spin. They resist honestly accounting for the failures of their "policies" because doing so would unravel their web. So instead, they continue to spin frantically, not realizing that they're trapping themselves in a silky casket of their making.
They are getting more vicious as their day of reckoning gets closer--as evidenced by their treatment of the Spanish people after the 3/11 tragedy. Two hundred million dollars won't be enough money to fool the American people into voting for something that's so inherently against their nature. The truth is becoming more apparent by the day. People are beginning to demand accountability. Exactly how far the neocons will go to conceal their crimes is anyone's guess. Nothing short of a disaster will save them.
It seems the neocons didn't realize that Strauss is a one-way ticket to history's hall of villains. The remarkable thing is that "Straussianism" is little more than the latest attempt at justifying the unjustifiable. It is evil in a trendy new package. Once again I quote Ayn Rand (who is on target this time):
"The moral cannibalism of all hedonist and altruist doctrines lies in the premise that the happiness of one man necessitates the injury of another."
Moderates - Moderates are the heart of the conservative establishment. They are the educated, middle & upper class, small government idealists and civil libertarians that are most likely to feel betrayed by the Bush administration. They are torn between their loyalty to a party that doesn't respect their values anymore, and capitulating to the "tax & spend" Democrats in order to do the right thing. To understand the difficulty of their choice, one has to take into account a mindset that has been engaged in an exaggerated ideological battle with Democrats and "liberals" for decades. After fighting the "slow rot" of "socialism" for so long, they find themselves in an untenable position.
Moderates still exercise a disproportionate amount of influence over the conservative establishment, although their influence has waned considerably with the ascendancy of the neoconservatives, and the "promotion" of the Christian Right. Moderates used to be conservatism's favorite children. They would be natural allies for a Democratic Party that could redefine its ideology more along the lines of classical liberalism--which is basically the ideology that moderate conservatives are forever fighting to preserve.
Christian Right - The Christian Right is the muscle of the conservative establishment. It is the most populous right wing group. One can reasonably place the president in this group. The Christian Right is predominant in southern states, and is a growing influence in northern and western states. Without the Christian Right, the Republican Party would be little more than "the loyal opposition." It is the "culture war" army of the neocons--who perform the dangerous balancing act of inciting it to political action while struggling to keep its uglier propensities in check.
Like the Straussians at the top, the Christian Right considers secularism, eclecticism, and liberalism to be the gravest threats. Politically, its goal is to turn the U.S. into a fundamentalist Christian theocracy, where "believers" can shape the future by enforcing a medieval version of Christian morality. This goal is clearly at odds with the ideals of the moderate Right, but it seems that the moderates are willing to appease them in return for the grassroots support that fuels the Republican Party. One has to wonder where the line between them will ultimately be drawn.
Extremists - Right wing extremists aren't part of the "official" conservative establishment. Nevertheless, they can be counted on to support the Republicans as the "lesser of two evils." This group is a loose collection of extremist groups such as anarchists, paramilitary militias, and white supremacists. The folks in this category are manipulated through issues like guns, immigration, and national sovereignty. They're relatively small in numbers, and the political influence they exert is limited by the fact that mainstream conservatives publicly disown them.
Right wing extremism is the deranged child of conservatism. Instead of working to cure its illness, conservatives prefer to keep it chained in the basement. Many of the "right to bear arms" arguments that conservatives use are inspired in large part by the spectacular homicides committed by right wing extremists--and their troubled offspring. Go figure... Talk about a vicious cycle.
Anti-liberalism is the "principle" that holds conservatives together. Moderates are specifically against 20th century "socialist" liberalism, and the other three groups are against all liberalism. Amoral intellectuals, who cynically manipulate "inferior" conservatives through fear, drive the machine. "Liberals" are still their favorite target, but now they have other villains to promote, and other battles to provoke. Bush was chosen as the figurehead of this "new conservatism" because he knows conservatives of every stripe. He's the "uniter."
The Democratic Party would do well to reach out to moderate Republicans, and reassure them that their values will be respected. Their help is needed to bring our country back from the brink of disaster. Moderates from both sides have more in common than either side seems to realize. Together, they represent the most significant majority in the nation. As the natural advocates of social stability, it is the responsibility of moderates to address the problems that are threatening the stability of American society. At stake is the ripest expression of classical liberalism on earth. If Bush is reelected, America will be one step closer to discarding the fruit that most of the world hungers for. The circumstances call for a new, more enlightened era in American politics.