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Preserving Anti-conservatism
August 15, 2004 7:34 PM   Subscribe

What Is Conservatism and What Is Wrong with It? According to Philip E. Agre, previously discussed here and the guy behind the Red Rock Eater News Service, the answers to these questions are simple (if 13k+ words = simple).
posted by boost ventilator (41 comments total)

 
But the answers he gives in the first few sentences are wrong.
posted by techgnollogic at 7:47 PM on August 15, 2004


Q: What is conservatism?
A: Conservatism is the domination of society by an aristocracy.


Yeah, he's not winning any points for his rational, intellectual approach to politics.
posted by oissubke at 7:49 PM on August 15, 2004


Actually, the more I read, the more I wonder why this crap was even posted.

Conservatism in every place and time is founded on deception....

Nice. This guy needs to get a Livejournal account.
posted by oissubke at 7:53 PM on August 15, 2004 [1 favorite]


Q: What is conservatism?
A: Conservatism is the domination of society by an aristocracy.


No, conservatism is the appreciation of the status quo, or even a previous status quo, over the theoretical benefits from changing the status quo, or assertion that changes made to the status quo have been positive in outcome.

Q: What is wrong with conservatism?
A: Conservatism is incompatible with democracy, prosperity, and civilization in general. It is a destructive system of inequality and prejudice that is founded on deception and has no place in the modern world.


No, conservatism was liberalism until a comfort level was achieved by the conservative (an individual) with the way things are. A conservative is neither miserable, in imbalance from their point of view, nor discontented with life in general. They see little value in change for the sake of change, fixing what isn't broken, or reinventing the wheel. This is not incompatible with democracy, prosperity and civilization AT ALL. In fact, it is HALF of democracy, prosperity and civilization.

The other half can be said to be the domain of liberals, whose legitimate purpose is to question the status quo, to search for a better social order, to cynically question authority, and to point out unrecognized inequalities and unfair considerations.
posted by kablam at 7:54 PM on August 15, 2004


kablam wins
posted by aramaic at 8:11 PM on August 15, 2004


Conservatism is a fear of change and a desire to consolidate one's own power and position. Liberals embrace change that will benefit the greater good. Conservatives a short sighted and selfish. Liberals can be just as foolish but they tend to look at the big picture.
these are my personal definitions
posted by Grod at 8:11 PM on August 15, 2004


In the most recent issue of The Believer, there's a really good interview with Thomas Frank talking about the difference between Republicans and Conservatives. It's a shame there's no way to link to it.
posted by drezdn at 8:21 PM on August 15, 2004


Well come on drezdn, get to transcribing, chop chop.

No? Worth a shot.
posted by tetsuo at 8:39 PM on August 15, 2004


kablam, one could argue that since conservatism "is the appreciation of the status quo," that by definition it means maintaining and reinforcing the aristocrats that currently are in power. Conservatism is essentially an argument that the no one should use the same methods to achieve power that the current ruling aristocrats used to gain their own positions-- because that is simply insufficient appreciation of the status quo. Thus, this will be the philosophy that aristocrats will gravitate to, since they have the most to gain from it.

The author is making a logical leap, yes, but one could argue that his statement is the natural consequence of conservative precepts.

On the other hand, a critique of our current predicament by a self-styled "real conservative," The Howling Wilderness of Pseuconservatism which, I think, is arguing more against what Agre seems to have a problem which. The beginning of the article quotes Richard Hofstadter defining "Pseudoconservatism" as "among other things a disorder in relation to authority, characterized by an inability to find other modes for human relationship than those of more or less complete domination or submission."

I guess I could have used that essay as an FPP, but I don't think that straight essay links make good FPPs.
posted by deanc at 8:44 PM on August 15, 2004


One definition of conservatism and liberalism I once found:

Part of conservatism is be belief that some people are born different from others - that some people are fundamentally bad, for instance. Or, indeed, that some people are royalty. This might take the form of random (or God-driven) chance, or it might even take the form of racism. If you're in a bad position, no-one can drag you out of it but yourself - it's all up to you, as society has no responsibility for you. Bad people are punished, not helped.

Part of liberalism, on the other hand, is the belief that people are born fundamentally good and equal. Anyone can be president! When people "turn bad" - become criminals, for instance, or are poor - it's the fault of outside influences (Help! Help! I'm being repressed!) not something inate in their soul, or even a personal choice. Therefore, those outside influences need to be addressed, and people need to be helped by society at large.

Compare and contrast:

Prison as punishment (conservative), prison as rehabilitation (liberal).
The doctrine of original sin (conservative), internationalism and the belief in the goodness of humanity (liberal).
Laziness as an explanation for poverty (conservative), class/parental wealth/oppression as an explanation for poverty (liberal).
Child molesters are sick psychopaths (conservative), child molesters were mostly molested themselves (liberal).

The truth, as usual, is somewhere in the middle. A little from column A, a little from column B. Certainly, the definitions of conservative and liberal are changing constantly and are difficult to pin down, because most people are diverse in their beliefs.
posted by Jimbob at 8:48 PM on August 15, 2004


conservativism is a disease.
posted by quonsar at 9:00 PM on August 15, 2004


I have got to get my "Conservatives are Poopieheads" T-shirt business rolling. The nitwits on this thread alone could buy me a couple Sea-Doos.
posted by techgnollogic at 9:30 PM on August 15, 2004


"they kill so they are bad, but we are good so it is okay for us to kill"

Read the article.
posted by divrsional at 10:02 PM on August 15, 2004


Jimbob wins.

LairBob, tell him what he's won...
posted by weston at 10:32 PM on August 15, 2004


Why I am not a Conservative, by F.A. Hayek
posted by trharlan at 10:47 PM on August 15, 2004


Phil Agre is smarter than you. Which by definition means he's smarter than techgnollogic.

techgnollogic:I have got to get my "Conservatives are Poopieheads" T-shirt business rolling. The nitwits on this thread alone could buy me a couple Sea-Doos.

From the linked essay : "Conservatism frequently attempts to destroy rational thought, for example, by using language in ways that stand just out of reach of rational debate or rebuttal."

A conservative is neither miserable, in imbalance from their point of view, nor discontented with life in general. They see little value in change for the sake of change, fixing what isn't broken, or reinventing the wheel. This is not incompatible with democracy, prosperity and civilization AT ALL. In fact, it is HALF of democracy, prosperity and civilization.

Which is true, certainly, but is completely at odds to the way in which, for example, the current 'conservative' administration and the groups and businesses to which they are beholden actually behave.

If we're going to be thickheaded enough (and it's a shame that Mr Agre felt it necessary to do so) to resort to epithets ('conservative', 'liberal', whatever) in order to simplify something complicated so we can wrap out little noggins around it, then it must be said that those in power who call themselves 'conservative' in these twilight days of the American empire care in fact radicals of the first water.

Which makes those who ideologically self-identify with some nebulous capital-C Conservatism and in the same breath defend the policies of the Bushites either deluded or stupid, but definitely laughable, either way.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:06 AM on August 16, 2004


Funny how techgnollogic tries to make fun of the percived tendency towards namecalling but can't even make that single post without using the word nitwit.

You satirize yourself.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:06 AM on August 16, 2004


conservatism is the appreciation of the status quo

Appreciating the status quo: Those in power, stay in power. The poor stay poor.

A conservative definition of progress: The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.
posted by bashos_frog at 4:08 AM on August 16, 2004


Later in his essay, Agre essentially confesses the weakness and overgeneralization of his main themes.

That late section asserts the fallaciousness of Marxism, the essential role of entrepreneurship in society (and, implicitly, the need for protection of private property, contract, and limitation of regulation which entrepreneurship requires), and the need for taxes to be moderate.

He asserts these principals as if they came to him via the ether, when, in fact, they are the result of a committed conservative defense against socialism -- one which left its proponents close to intellectually friendless, and which, in the pre-Reagan / pre-Thatcher era, was by no means assured of victory. One can point to many other things which mainstream Democrats now take as true which Democrats in the 1970s would have regarded as heresy.

The fact is that politics is a dialectic, with policy and social consensus often moving at unusual vectors relative to who happens to be holding office at any particular time. It may have required Nixon to reopen relations with China, just as it may have required Clinton to reform welfare.
posted by MattD at 6:00 AM on August 16, 2004


The main problem with this article, technique-wise, seems to be crystallized by the following phrase:

"Conservatism is the antithesis of democracy. This has been true for thousands of years."

Any phrase fitting the pattern "Conservatism is [blah] and has been for thousands of years" should give pause; just because various regimes are conservative for their time (whatever that means, in context) doesn't mean we get to line them up and call them part of a single eternal movement. If you're going to compare Bush et al (because those are the conservatives we're really talking about, right?) to the pharoahs, the Roman triumvirate, or the medieval landed gentry, I'd at least like some persuasive evidence beyond "they were all in power in their respective times."
posted by rkent at 6:19 AM on August 16, 2004


A study funded by the US government has concluded that conservatism can be explained psychologically as a set of neuroses rooted in "fear and aggression, dogmatism and the intolerance of ambiguity".

As if that was not enough to get Republican blood boiling, the report's four authors linked Hitler, Mussolini, Ronald Reagan and the rightwing talkshow host, Rush Limbaugh, arguing they all suffered from the same affliction.

All of them "preached a return to an idealised past and condoned inequality".

Once again, quonsar is correct. How does he do it?
posted by nofundy at 6:31 AM on August 16, 2004


kablam's definition is very accurate...

from 25 years ago.

Today's conservatives bear little or no resemblance to his description. And I would say most conservatives do not see it as a failing or a step backwards.

The idea of today's "aggressive conservatives" makes me chuckle a bit at the recursive irony.
posted by Ynoxas at 6:38 AM on August 16, 2004


They see little value in change for the sake of change, fixing what isn't broken, or reinventing the wheel.

This is a self-fulfilling something or other. I guarantee you that most liberals (not radicals) would agree with that statement as a standalone. It's just that at times, conservatives (deliberately or not) fail to see the nuance in a situation, and view a liberal proposal as "change for change's sake". Change "for change's sake" is moronic, and intelligent people of all stripes would agree with that. For my own part, I agree that the tension between liberals and conservatives is by and large a good thing. It keeps us marching along at proper pace.

However,

Most of what is called conservative today (Fox News, Rx Limbaugh, John Ashcroft, GWB), is indeed NOT conservative at all. This is reactionary. It's a group of people who want to turn back the clock to some mythical era (pre civil rights, pre new deal, pre civil war?) when everything was just grand all the time.
posted by psmealey at 6:48 AM on August 16, 2004


No, conservatism is the appreciation of the status quo, or even a previous status quo, over the theoretical benefits from changing the status quo, or assertion that changes made to the status quo have been positive in outcome.

None of this makes any sense whatsoever. First of all, how long is something inherent before it becomes "the Status Quo?" The Assault Weapons Ban has been around for ten years; conservatives want to disrupt what is now the status quo by once again allowing them into civilian hands. The income tax is the status quo; conservatives want to alter and in some extreme cases outright abolish it.

And "assertion that changes have been positive?" Give me a break! I have never heard a GOP platform touting the benefits of changes to "status quo." The entire conservative argument is based on complaining how America has worsened, culturally and authoritatively, based on decades of "liberal" changes to society.

Show me an enacted progressive policiy change suggested in the last generation that conservatives asserted as positive in outcome. Considering that major events such as voting rights for women, civil rights, abortion rights, judicial oversight, scientific research, gun control, Christ- rural electrification, for fuck's sake, were "changes to the status quo" opposed by anti-Federal Government conservatives, the idea that this ideology is based on praising changes they fought with all their might against is laughable.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:34 AM on August 16, 2004


Anyone attempting to promote an understanding of Conservativism, who starts with the premise 'conservatism is the rule of the aristocracy', has to explain how & why such a movement will attract votes from the working & middle classes.

It isn't all about fear (though any healthy & rational person ought to have some fears). It is also about effort, though that is certainly not reserved solely for tories. It's about the creativity involved in enterprise. It's about respect for tradition. It's about not always knowing the answer, leaving a little mystique about some shit.

Most of what is on this page is about US conservatism - a beast so speciated that it cannot survive outside the continental states; conservatism in the UK, and I venture, the rest of the EU, is nowhere near as wild, as mad, as voracious as it is over there. Rush Limbaugh could not - I am glad to say - make a living here. We regulate the airwaves to keep liars, agents provocateurs and political lackeys off air. Thankfuckinggod.

We still have Conservatives, and they still think of themselves as the natural party of government (ha!). What we have never seen survive very long is a social-democratic/conservative blend - if that can survive the retirement of Blair (just after the next election, maybe...), the UK Conservatives may be utterly doomed. The oldest political paty in Western Europe, based on conservatism, is seriously considering a change of name, a change of aim, and committing hari-kiri. Wow. They have no problem allying themselves with the concept of democracy.

As a card carrying liberal for the last 30 years (I never graduated from college, and from the age of 16 read the Grauniad saily: that was my lecture hall), I am beginning to re-examine some of the old shibboleths. Nationality is more important to me than I previously thought. So is our religious heritage [though god forbid I should lose my atheism (",)], and so-called western values.

With the Tories reconsidering their policies on gays, marriage and such, and me getting all crotchety at my ripe old age of @#~^ty-something, the dash_slot- votes for Howard scenario is now less the province of the nightmare, and more the realm of fantasy.

Like you were interested, anyway. Still, there's a personal UK perspective.
posted by dash_slot- at 7:38 AM on August 16, 2004


'read the Grauniad saily'

apologies for the typo: that should of course read "Guardian"
posted by dash_slot- at 7:43 AM on August 16, 2004


From the linked essay : "Conservatism frequently attempts to destroy rational thought, for example, by using language in ways that stand just out of reach of rational debate or rebuttal."

Teehee stavros. By that argument, most of your "comments" show you to be a rabid conservative.
posted by Krrrlson at 8:21 AM on August 16, 2004


the more I read, the more I wonder why this crap was even posted.

Michael Moore's mailbox was full and (1) I thought this would be a good ploy to ferret out the Dennis Miller fans (2) see if there is a correlation between Coke and Pepsi drinkers and (3) contrast the snark level to the typical Mac vs PC debates that sometimes develops here. The 4th reason, and probably the real reason for me, would be that I enjoy a good debate and reading educated, differing views from a wide variety of people (in this case, that "party of inclusion" we refer to as the American male). I find it to be an enlightening experience compared to squashing dissenting viewpoints for the sake of my own personal comfort levels and maintaining a cerebral status quo.

explain how & why such a movement will attract votes from the working & middle classes.

I will take a crack at that one...how about The Jesus Factor?
posted by boost ventilator at 8:59 AM on August 16, 2004


Funny how techgnollogic tries to make fun of the percived tendency towards namecalling

I wasn't making fun of namecalling. Used responsibly, namecalling is fine. I was making fun of people professing nitwit, dumbass beliefs. If this essay has been about how "liberal" means you're a commie and you hate America, and a bunch of people jumped in to make comments about all the sissy liberal pinkos yada yada yada, then they would've been just as nitwitted as some people on this thread, and i probably could've sold them some ridiculously boneheaded T-shirt slogans too.
posted by techgnollogic at 9:12 AM on August 16, 2004


I always think lumping conservatives into a single belief system is pretty misleading. The nature of the "enemy" is so much more complex: you have your social conservatives, your religious conservatives, economic and financial conservatives, rural conservatives, military conservatives, conservatives with a small 'c', Conservatives with a capital 'C', free-market conservatives, libertarians, etc.. Obviously, most conservatives will agree on many issues otherwise main-stream conservative parties could not exist but, for example, I can imagine there being political conflicts with spiritualistic religious conservatives and materialistic economic conservatives. And the same applies to the left-wing which is similarly a complex beast, with socialists rubbing up against liberals, christian socialists, social-democrats, environmentalists, etc.

So, applying a single theory to what makes a conservative, well, conservative seems to be too much of an over-simplification. It's tempting to write off all conservatives as groupthink automatons, but that's just resorting to the same tactics they use to dismiss left-wingers. Better surely to realise that, like all political movements, conservatives are full of their own back-stabbing factions and use that against them then under-estimate the complexity of the various conservative factions.
posted by axon at 9:33 AM on August 16, 2004


I have to agree with techgnollogic on that one. Speaking as a liberal, there has definitely been a proponderance of dumbass posts making assertions that "all conservatives are ___". The goes completely against what it means to be a liberal, in my view. That kind of stuff ain't going to win the argument, or the White House.
posted by psmealey at 10:03 AM on August 16, 2004


all conservatives are blank.
posted by Satapher at 11:51 AM on August 16, 2004


But the answers he gives in the first few sentences are wrong.

I have got to get my "Conservatives are Poopieheads" T-shirt business rolling. The nitwits on this thread alone could buy me a couple Sea-Doos.


You've got to admit, your contribution to intelligent debate has been null in this thread (and the last thing I remember reading from you in another thread was " Metafilter: Proof 4 year olds shouldn't be allowed to vote."). A snark once in a while one thing, making a career of it is another.
posted by sic at 12:03 PM on August 16, 2004


there has definitely been a proponderance of dumbass posts making assertions that "all conservatives are ___"

At some point you have to assign characteristics to a group in order to talk about them in the aggregate. That there might be a few conservatives that are for abortion and a few liberals who want to ban gay marriage does not invalidate the original, workable, and mutually understood groupings.

There should be a script that prefaces every group name with the words "most" or "many". This same argument comes up every few months, and unless the discussion is about grouping mechanisms and the validity of aggregation, then it is tangential to whichever discussion it is used in.

On preview: I {heart} Satapher
posted by Ynoxas at 12:04 PM on August 16, 2004


You've got to admit, your contribution to intelligent debate has been null in this thread

That's because having an intelligent debate on this guy's "Conservatism is the domination of society by an aristocracy" essay would be a complete waste of time. Metafilter is not a debate society, and criticizing me for making fun of silly people does not change the fact that they're silly. I didn't see you critiquing the lack of intelligent debate on the "most retarded cat ever" thread.
posted by techgnollogic at 12:54 PM on August 16, 2004


Ynoxas, I don't dispute that in order to have any kind of discussion on politics, sociology or religion, at some point, you'll have to use general terms. My problem was with crude statments like "Conservatives a[re] short sighted and selfish." and equivacating wanting the preserve the status quo means that if you're poor now, conservatives want you to stay poor.

But for the last 12 years where the Republican Party has been co-opted by Reactionaries, Imperialists and Religious Fanatics, I think conservatism has mostly been a force, if not for good, but for cautious moderation in this nation's history. I think if you get too progressive without checks in place to make sure you don't go too far, you can do irrevocable long term damage and cause a state to fail (Weimar Germany), or at the very least bring it to the verge of financial collapse (Argentina). For example, FDR is one of the (my) great heroes of modern history, but we are far better off today that his court-packing schemes didn't succeed. Think how it would be today, if Bush in the Republican Congress were to try to do similar things.
posted by psmealey at 1:21 PM on August 16, 2004


It seems to me that in the U.S. neither "conservatism" nor "liberalism" are coherent philospohies at all. It comes from every shade of political opnion being forced to choose a side in your two party system, i'd reckon.
posted by Celery at 2:04 PM on August 16, 2004


you have your social conservatives, your religious conservatives, economic and financial conservatives, rural conservatives, military conservatives, conservatives with a small 'c', Conservatives with a capital 'C', free-market conservatives, libertarians, etc..

Best comment in this thread.
And don't forget the Fiscal Conservatives, who are giving up on the Republicans as quickly as they can find a way out.

If the "Liberal/Conservative" dichotomy is unfair, how about changing it to "Progressive/Reactionary"?
(MeFiCons set to explode in five... four... three...)

On Preview: yes, Celery, I agree; a country with only two functional political parties is not a Democracy, it's a Duocracy.
posted by wendell at 3:01 PM on August 16, 2004


Sounds like Philip E. Agre is a propagandist... Working for Kerry?
posted by npost at 3:29 PM on August 16, 2004


I didn't see you critiquing the lack of intelligent debate on the "most retarded cat ever" thread.

Then again, nobody was being obnoxious in that thread. But really, who cares anyway? I apologize for addressing you. Let's just go back to ignoring each other, we don't have anything to contribute to each other's lives.
posted by sic at 4:02 PM on August 16, 2004


So - this 'Conservatism:

It's American, right?
posted by dash_slot- at 4:45 PM on August 16, 2004


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