The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.
P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
10.1 (Winter 2010)
THE POLIS VS. PROGRESS
courtesy of artrenewal.org
Why Neo-Conservatism Is Pseudo-Conservatism
In the vastly lucrative college textbook-writing industry, a tome titled, with naively forthright relativism, Everything’s an Argument is a big seller. Repeatedly featured among this volume’s florid photographic “learning aids” (the editors’ thesis being that even pictures are arguments–even, at one point, prayers) is a shot of John Kerry saluting from center-stage during his 2004 quest of the presidency. That Kerry played the “patriotism” card often (played more such cards, indeed, than may be found in a regular deck… just how do you get all those Purple Hearts in one month without losing a finger?) allows of little doubt. One might contend that all this generous exposure, then, does not excuse Kerry from the book’s pervasive cynicism–especially since not only is propaganda lurking in every speck of communication, but out of the merest innuendo may be spun any type of propaganda. Or so the freshman is to understand before “advancing”.
Nevertheless, Kerry comes off looking pretty good, as will surprise no one familiar with contemporary education: a true patriot who simply wanted to remind his nation of his dedicated service. The right side of the aisle has to settle for being represented by Dineesh D’Souza, which is really rather punishing; but then, the editors don’t exactly have to put words in Mr. D’Souza’s mouth to make him appear bombastically complacent, insipidly facetious, and–in a hyphenated word–paradigmatically neo-conservative. Such “advocates” of American values really exist, they exist in abundance on the East Coast, they exist overpoweringly within the national political machine, and they exist to the discredit and rue of the nation’s true Right Wing–which, as they complain endlessly, drawling hayseeds keep trying to wrest from their entitled grasp.
One sentence especially caught my eye in the case for saving Arab camel-jockeys from themselves which D’Souza makes avuncularly in “”America the Beautiful: What We’re Fighting For”. Remarks the author, “Incredible though it may seem to many in the West, Islamic societies today are in some respects not very different from how they were a thousand years ago.” This observation is offered as self-evident proof that the technologically dynamic United States has moral authority and the love of God on her side (for D’Souza is willing enough to mimic a Bible-thumping hayseed when his rhetorical cause needs cannon-fodder). Yet one might very reasonably question why social stasis should be considered a sign of moral decay–and, to be fair, D’Souza partially does this through the trope of imagining Grand Inquisitor Torquemada explaining to a victim, “I am trying to save your soul from damnation.” This hardly seems a bonafide representation of the other side rather than a caricature, however. May one not ask in utter seriousness why a static culture should not be accounted a successful one? If a remote culture of shepherds and small farmers lives much the way it did a millennium ago, might this not indicate that its people are satisfactorily fed and satisfactorily governed? Might the absence of provision among them for open-heart surgery not be viewed as offset by the absence of stresses, indoor lifestyles, and unwholesome diets that lead to heart disease? Is it so manifestly apparent to Mr. D’Souza and the New Right that women are better off penning essays about Jane Austen’s closet lesbianism than raising healthy children (a position somewhat westward of the Old Left)? Is it such a small thing to be able to see the Andromeda Galaxy on any clear night with the naked eye–or is it so much a better thing to be able to watch Jackass via high-speed internet? All of these posers appear to be “no brainers” for neo-conservatives… but to those of us who actually believe in and prize the life of the spirit, to deny the presence of a real quandary is to exhibit no brains.
Now, to say that a republic of shepherds and farmers may be unlikely to survive in a world of oil tankers and underground cable is quite another proposition. Anyone but a complete dolt can tell that vulnerability in this case indicts not moral inferiority, but the perils of virtue. Thanks to oil spills and factory run-off, the goats may produce no milk and the trees no dates and olives. The shepherds may be stricken with a plague of cancerous sores. Sonic booms far overhead may disrupt even the last hours of the dying. Neighboring despots may move in to extract more black gold from under the dunes. Foreign missionaries with the best of intentions may import new diseases without curing the new plague, and their inevitable laptops and cell phones may well mesmerize children more than the Milky Way on a clear night, rendering ancestral habits contemptible in their unacclimated young eyes. For that matter, the Milky Way may no longer be very visible, even on the clearest night: the smog carrying inland from the new port may chase it farther into infinity.
To call the victims of such “progress” backward and self-evidently inferior, I repeat, is to show oneself a moral imbecile. Our technology, rather, faces a critical challenge to render itself less invasive as it frees man from truly onerous chores (such as fighting starvation–not beguiling away the night hours with Jackass rather than the lute). That the neo-conservative phalanx not only displays no interest in accepting this challenge but indeed derides it with all the glee of giggly schoolboys advertising that their pubescent membra virilia on a camp-out has done much to fuel the Green Movement’s fanatically insurgent branch. Most of us adults know that our high-tech culture has gone too far too fast. I myself am forced to court sleep each night in a room whose sound-proofing leaves it looking like something from Beirut of the seventies, thanks to the noisy street a stone’s throw from my head. I can understand that the deafening quiet of a starlit night is no negligible gift to the human being in his finer moments. So can you.
Yet the neo-con bad boys and their sexy, sultry bad girls (as seen–with plenty of leg–every day on FOX News) continue to skew the nation’s overwhelmingly conservative tastes into the disastrous “do something” folly known best to bored high-school seniors. As much as for any other single reason, George Bush’s party lost the 2008 election because of Iraq. People did not, and do not, understand why we must airlift hundreds of tanks halfway around the world to prowl sand dunes (claiming a certain number of those innocuous goatherds as collateral damage) when another 9?11 debacle might far more sensibly be prevented by arming pilots or posting a shotgun-rider before their cabin. The Twin Towers were brought down because our immigration authorities weren’t doing their job, because airport security was non-existent, and because our legislating elite won’t to this day allow anyone but a hooligan to carry a weapon. We brought those towers down. To flatter ourselves that chasing would-be thugs through the desert will somehow preempt such incidents in the future is as idiotic as hoping to arrest the loss of teenagers dying drunk behind the wheel by making all liquor shops shut down at five. Where are the parents when such things happen? Who’s watching the front door of the home? Does anyone still know what a home is?
Neo-conservatives are pseudo-conservatives. They have nothing to do with us. They know us not. They find home insufferably boring–the whole world is scarcely wide enough to keep them amused–while we are the old folks back home, worrying about the safety of Main Street. We are farmers and artisans and shopkeepers. We used to applaud technology, true enough, because it helped us to grow better apples, make better furniture, and keep better books. In the hands of the progressives, however, it has neutered our fruit with the contamination of pricy, genetically altered stock; undercut the furniture market with flimsy, mass-produced articles from China; and boarded up Main Street under the onslaught of internet clearing-houses. We are told that we need to get re-educated and apply for some of these new jobs–but re-education takes years and is often obsolete as quickly as one acquires it, while professionals in underdeveloped countries, in any case, are snapping up such of those jobs as exist sooner than we can apply for them.
Now, why is it, once again, Mr. Hannity, Ms. Ingraham, Mr. Romney, Mrs. Palin–for all of you embrace neo-conservatism on this issue as much as Messrs. McCain and Giuliani… why is it that our greatest fear is a commandeered aircraft flying into a skyscraper? Most of us fear not being able to feed our families much more; and as far as terrorism, most of us think it infinitely more probable that our children may be cut down by the warring drug cartels which an unprotected border has allowed to spill into our small-town streets. We feel a strange but profound sympathy with that Berber shepherd who can no longer see the stars. We don’t want you to eradicate technology and turn back the clock: we want you to direct technology like thoughtful adults and honest stewards, mindful that the only viable future must be rooted in the past. Secure our nation’s borders, and build a missile shield covering our air space. Bring our troops home, and monitor the ingress and egress of foreign nationals. Please do not make us citizens of the world. We don’t want a shot at the big bucks which international high-rolling makes available to a few, leaving the rest of us to stir their martinis and chauffeur their limos (if we can get the work). We want to see the stars again, we want our soil to bear fertile crops again, and we want Main Street to be alive and safe again.
This is conservatism. It is not paleo- or neo-conservatism, but conservatism. There’s only one kind. ~ Pancratistes