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P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
10.3 (Summer 2010)
THE POLIS VS. PROGRESS
courtesy of artrenewal.org
Two Litmus Tests for Self-Styled Conservatives
Peter T. Singleton
A recent piece in this publication made the unexceptionable observation that conservatives should be interested in conserving something. Personally, I am not very much concerned with the “buzz” created by words. “Conservative” no more makes me want to roll myself in a warm, fuzzy flag than “liberal” makes me peer about for a place to expectorate. Both of these words–and a great many others, like “racist” and “discrimination” and “isolationist”–have been so deviously abused, and have now passed into such routinely stupid misuse, that they might as well be interchangeable with “squash” and “lug nut”. Whatever you may wish to call it, though, the desire to cling to humane, time-tested ways of the past motivates me strongly. Perhaps I am a paleo-conservative. Or perhaps I am a classical liberal, since the Burkean conservative seems to me to believe in God, particularly, for no better reason than that his forefathers did, whereas the Berkeleyan liberal finds God to be the most reasonable explanation of the various and mysterious longings and callings of our soul.
I am convinced, in any case, that these two–the paleo-conservative and the classical liberal–have far more in common with one another than either has with the so-called neo-conservative or the so-called progressive liberal. The latter two are alike in envisioning a smaller world where social, political, and economic interests and activities gradually come together to make one big happily humming planet. The former two would both recoil at this globalist vision (I write “would” instead of “do” because I am not fully convinced that there are members of either species yet extant besides my humble self.) The paleo-con is horrified by “planetary society” because he recognizes in it the death of human culture. All special ways of honoring the dead, marrying, raising children, growing and eating food, and so forth will necessarily melt down into little more than different aisles at J. C. Penney’s and different counters in the mall’s food court. The classical liberal understands that individual freedom will have to suffer in the deceptively smooth running of this happy hive, for only insects can live happily in regimented uniformity.
Yet the “conservative” scene is littered with names like Palin, Hannity, Romney, Huckabee… all of whose owners appear hostile to Republicans in Name Only yet merrily hob-knob with the substantial Weekly Standard presence at FOX News and seem on the best of terms with writers for The Wall Street Journal. I’m missing something… or maybe I see too much. Or maybe I am only supposed to see, and not supposed to listen and think. I confess to catching myself gaping at Shannon Bream and Lauren Savan from time to time. God hasn’t made many women like that, whether for reasons only known to Him or because He understands that they would turn men entirely from their good sense in large doses. When I occasionally snap out of my televisual stupor, however, it occurs to me to ask–as Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul daringly ask (neither ever invited for five minutes of gab-and-laugh on FOX)–just why our soldiers are in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why, to defend the country, dummy! Yes… but how does clearing out villages in the Hindu Kush protect the United States–protect it better, say, than guarding our southern border? Because Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations train there, dummy. And will we eventually kill all of the trainees? Yes, dummy, if we stay the course–at least until the next generation. So we will have to return–or rather our children–in another generation to repeat the job–probably a bigger job, since all those Afghan children of all those slain fathers will be insurmountably ticked off at us? Take care of today, dummy, and tomorrow will take care of itself. Our great TV shows will probably have won them all to our side by then. And so this is a better strategy than, say, arming the pilots of our commercial aircraft and severely limiting travel visas and enforcing immigration rules? You’re beginning to sound racist and isolationist as well as dumb, dummy. If we restrict our fluid trade with the world, then the terrorists have won: they will reduce us to a fortress mentality where we can find wealth only on our own shores. Ah, I see… in contrast to what we have now, which is outsourcing and insourcing of all kinds as shadow-Americans like George Soros grow richer by the second… but I suppose all the laid-off factory workers can retool for a great career in the army.
These imaginative exchanges that I sometimes have with the glamorous quasi-paleo-, crypto-neo-cons at FOX inevitably circle around two points: the “War on Terror” and globalist “free trade”. I do not understand how either is symptomatic of anything conservational in any meaningful way. The fact that we have a problem with terrorists points to two further problems deeply woven into the fabric of our society: we are too open and footloose, allowing hordes of unidentified people to circulate among us freely all the time while ourselves jetting from one side of the country to the other every week or day, and we are so high-tech that the least little wrench in the wrong place can kill thousands. These are problems that could be just as easily exploited by domestic fruit-loops–by nerdy kids at their computers or angry military rejects off their meds. To slaughter by air strike hundreds of Muslim boy-scouts packing AK 47’s–ensuring that their numbers will be replenished as we stir local wrath with our “collateral damage”–makes about as much practical and moral sense to me as addressing a rise in muggers by deploying flame-throwers from helicopters upon ghetto areas. When has our nation ever fought wars of preemption? Pearl Harbor was a preemptive attack–and it so infuriated us that one must admit it as a major motive for our dropping the A-Bombs in a demand for Japan’s unconditional surrender. You can’t kill people for what they might do. We shall soon, it is said, be at war with Iran because of how it might use an atomic weapon. Would it not make more sense, practically and morally, to create the technological means of vaporizing a nuclear missile once launched (or of turning it back to its launching pad)? Is not the American way to seek solutions in cutting-edge technology rather than to hold a Big Brotherly fist over parts of the world that annoy us?
Yet it has been the Republicans–neo-conservatives like Bill Krystol who can utter the word “empire” without batting an eyelash–that have egged us along this road of “Pax Americana” (thereby creating an opportunity that the current president may well exploit to shore up his sagging popularity: for nothing rallies the electorate like a war). Hasn’t the American way always been to allow people to fail, and so to learn? If we are convinced that Islamic societies are built on a rubble of errors, why do we not leave them alone to discover the fine points of social architecture on their own? If we may tell them how to live, how soon will the “we” among us–the few who wield real power–being telling the rest of us here in America how to live?
In fact, our vast, disenfranchised “we” are looking for work in record numbers, or else contenting ourselves with servile jobs that barely pay bills and don’t remotely resemble what we dreamed of in our youth. We have already been subjected, thanks to the engine of “globalism”. Our communities are in shambles. As factories close and people move out of cities like Detroit by the tens of thousands, other cities like Dallas are bursting their seams with hundreds of thousands of illegal residents. In the latter sort of community, which I know well, large retailers and land developers aren’t complaining: people need food to eat and a place to sleep whether they have papers or not. Factories that remain open are showing a profit where a stock of such workers can be made to labor under minimum wage. Churches both Catholic and fundamentalist Protestant are happy: the pews are overflowing. So the situation is represented by “conservative” globalists as a contrast between Detroit and Dallas–between top-heavy local bureaucracy and un-fundable local entitlement programs versus the free-and-open exploitation of unlettered masses in search of whatever pennies they can scrape together. The more red tape we cut, this side argues, the more private-sector money primes the economic pump, and the quicker we return to prosperity.
But this will be a prosperity (as Red China–aka the People’s Republic–has figured out) limited to the very basics for an overwhelming majority: it will create through paternalistic capitalism the classless-mass society “led” by self-appointed prophets that Marxists could only fantasize about as they filled up mass graves. Workers will have their TV and their beer and their F 150 to burn more gas in our nightmarish metropolitan sprawl… but they will have little chance of anything else, nor will their children. College–the new “universal right”? The next generation trained as white-collar technicians? Where this vision is not patently absurd (and many who espouse it give every sign of being logically challenged), you may be sure that it is wickedly fraudulent. The briefest moment of modest reflection reveals that technology cannot absorb all the manual laborers displaced from the assembly line; for if there were a “better-paying” job awaiting each of these, where would be the savings in mechanizing the assembly line?
The naive, primed with conservative meritocratic zeal and a faith in healthy competition, say, “Yes, but plenty of jobs will await the few with the wits and initiative to go retrain for them.” Perhaps so… and then these happy few will face extortionate tax rates to subsidize the unhappy many who never found new work–or else their houses are stormed and burned during urban riots. The reality being played out before our eyes is that so many people are put out of work that they willingly take jobs easily performed by machines–but now performed more cheaply by humans who will sweat twelve hours a day for peanuts. Whether legal or illegal residents, these unskilled masses of drudges are increasingly reliant on government largesse; and, of course, they vote (if they have voting rights) for that government which promises the most largesse. Eventually, as discrete nations break down in a domino-fall of insolvency, the Planetary Government will decide that there are just too many people collecting too much welfare and producing too little. Then we will have, on a global scale, China’s one child per family program, or perhaps something more along the lines of Brave New World: sterilization of the many, who are now replaced as needed by a brave new assembly line of bottled fetuses.
Is there anything in all of this that sounds conservative to your ear? The privileges and power of the elite will be consolidated and then carefully conserved, no doubt; but other than that, I fail to see the husbandry, the virtuous frugality, the stable backdrop of sameness, the ivy-covered churches and uneven cemeteries and thickly shaded residential sidewalks. New concrete freeways, new ghettos, new gangs–that is what “conservatism” has given us in Dallas; new incentives for single-parent families, new parenting functions for state-run schools, more state office workers hiding out from the gangs in air-conditioning, more condoms and abortions to strangle off the children that make gangs–that is what “progressivism” is giving us. Would you like some arsenic in your hemlock, or would you prefer hemlock in your arsenic?
Dr. Singleton resides in the North Texas area, where he teaches part-time in semi-retirement and reflects upon the times.