Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Ponder Post 6

CaptainB's characteristically in depth comment on my Dick Cheney post reminds me of a question I have been meaning to ask you to ponder for some time. The Captain speaks of the Republican Fred Thompson as a 'true conservative' as opposed to those currently in charge. This is an important point. The two right wing movements of the last thirty years have both been anti-conservative. Neo-liberalism's glorification of the market subverted community, locality, custom and tradition. Neo-conservatism's rabid idealism is an affront to the anti-idealistic pragmatism of old conservatism. Thus 'right wing' and 'conservative' can no longer be regarded as synonyms. In fact, they never should have been. It was commonplace for late Victorians and Edwardians to regard socialism as a conservative movement. And G.K.Chesterton defined his own high Toryism as the support of the working man against vested interests. It was probably when the Russian revolution polarised political debate that the idea of conservatism as an anti-working class movement was born. Conservatism is not a matter of any specific policies, but rather it is an attitude defined by realism and a reverence for custom and tradition. Both of these can be pursued through policies that might, in the sloppy terminology of contemporary political coverage, be called either 'left-wing' or 'right wing'. So the ponder is: where are the true conservatives now that we really need them? I'm guessing Gordon Brown, marinated as he is in neocon moral thought, is not the answer.

28 comments:

  1. I wonder if one should add to your list of conservative qualities toleration, fair-mindedness and modesty (not the right word - leading a low-key life, anyway). I'd like to think such conservatives are all around us and keep much of our national life ticking over, but they are not in government. Perhaps there is a paradox here: the business of government means that a government of conservatives will end up being a right-wing government, by your lights. Power is toxic to the qualities that make someone a conservative; and if true, one of history's more unwelcome traps. But enough of fair-mindedness! When thinking of Gordon Brown I'm rather with Tom Hodgkinson's line: Self-Important Puritans Must Die.

    ReplyDelete
  2. True conservatives weary of the remorseless energy the neo-cons bring to things. I'd hazard a guess, and it is only that, that Bosnia was an important moment in these metamorphoses. Here at least. That was when right-wingers went for Hurd as a crypto war criminal for his slippery non-interventionism. In the US, Clinton got it in the neck from the whole 'never again' lobby, beginning to flirt with notions of progressive interventionism. The neo-cons come from a different stream, which took up the former. They number many Democrat supporters of Henry 'Scoop' Jackson who migrated rightwards under Reagan, although someone like Prince of Darkness Richard Perle is still a registered Democrat. They provided a certain global grandiosity to the 'rubble for trouble' school represented by Dick Cheney who is not a 'hearts and minds' kind of guy, but a cold power technician. True conservativism is confined to the US Spectator, elements who write in the National Review, and so on. No wonder many Republicans are nostalgic for Reagan, a man who liked a good afternoon nap, a sign of a real conservative. Here it was intellectually represented by, inter aliis, Maurice Cowling, Edward Norman, Roger Scruton, and in a more wishy-washy way, Michael Oakeshott, but nowadays lacks anyone of intellectual stature to articulate it. True conservatives would drop this war on terror crap, and start disaggregating our enemies, finding those whose aims are negotiable (most Iraqi insurgents) or whose designs are national or local in scope, and prising them out of the clutches of Al Qaeda and similar global salafi-jihadist groups. They'd also put their minds to the central conundrum, which is that while we spout human rights and democracy, we depend on some very illiberal regimes (Algeria, Egypt, Morocco among others) as our first line of defence against the jihadis, which pushes many fundamentalists (a different and larger category of people) into the hands of the latter. Anyway, just a thought or two. In truth, I can't make head or tail of it either.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I think it is complicated even more when you consider that many Americans who think of themselves conservative - including myself - are in many respects 19th-century liberals. Perhaps the best statement of true conservatism was delivered by Lord Falkland: "When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change."

    ReplyDelete
  4. this list of attributes sounds like the Daily Express advert! I really don't understand, has there ever been a case for no change? and if there has, why on earth would anyone want to tolerate it? change is what it's all about, mate - the meaning of life. dynamics!

    ReplyDelete
  5. There is indeed much that divides neo-conservatism from traditional conservativism, but they aren't polar opposites (As American libertarians and British old-style Tories often seem to think) and have more in common than this post and the one below suggests. Bryan's post on Cheney is revisionist and ignores what the world actually looked like in 2001. There was an axis of visceral hate for the West from Lebanon to Pakistan and, while it is fun to dissect their differences and historical emnities, it is naive to think some clever Bismarckian diplomacy (or worse, "proper planning"!!)could have diffused or controlled a zeitgeist that was grabbing the hearts and minds of a billion people. The Arab street was erupting as regularly as a bad case of PMS. The rhetoric and actions from Hussein and others were causus bellis in their own right (assasination, blood money for terrorists, WMD threats, etc). Liberal and anti-Islamist opinion in the Middle East had been effectively silenced, ostensibly for a very long time.

    Europe had proven itself feckless and craven in Bosnia and increasingly determined to sell out Israel contemptuously and at whatever price. At Durban, most of the West aided and abetted an anti-Semitic festival the likes of which the world hadn't seen since Julius Streicher. Western Policy seemed to be the complete prisoner of the transnational UN community with their leftist legalisms, artifical "human rights", rank anti-Americanism and extreme efforts to fawn over anything that came out of the mouth of a non-Westerner.

    Into this mix jumped the now-despised neo-cons with a message: The West is superior to these thugs, Israel is a beacon worth supporting, not all countries speak with the same moral authority, international law is tyrannical unless built on a common baseline morality and national sovereignty is not an archaic oppressive notion bright people wish to outgrow as fast as possible. And the time to start saying so loudly and do something about a clear and present danger was now! What is unconservative about that, unless conservatism means ignoring the evil in this world and going on a fox hunt instead?

    True, once they had done what Americans do best--act against oppression while others dither and suck up to the devil--the Yanks got all caught up in the nation-building/freedom mantra and the cracks in the conservative camp started to show. I agree with Capt B that technological hubris is a huge factor wiser old-style conservatives saw coming from miles away. And the neo-cons are horribly confused about Islam itself and the perennial American belief that the wretched of the earth yearn 24/7 to watch Paris Hilton videos and NASCAR. But any conservative who believes in tradition, custom and order and in fighting for them when they are threatened should throw the neocons one heck of a retirement party because they made the world a safer, freer place.

    Memo to Andrew: Didn't your parents warn you that conspiracy theories can make you go blind?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Memo to Peter: Do you seriously imagine I'm surprised by your cliched response? There's never any shortage of sheep. As Marshall McLuhan said of this slave/herd mentality:
    Only puny secrets need protection. Big discoveries are protected by public incredulity.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I can handle the "conquer the world to grab all the oil" conspiracies. It's the "send an army halfway around the world in order to destroy civil liberties at home" ones that intrigue me.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Andrew, Osama bin Laden did not go to Afghanistan until 1984, when he began raising money for Abdullah Azzam, the leader of the Afghan Arabs until his assassination in 1989. US funding, originally authorised by Carter, went to a spread of Afghan mujahadeen clients. There is simply no evidence that the CIA supported or trained bin Laden. He had millions of his own money. As for training, he got that through Azzam's own network of Arab bases in Afghanistan, some of whioh he took over and turned into incipient Al Qaeda camps. these he used to train guerrilla fighters (Kashmiris as well as Taliban) while selecting far fewer people for two advanced 45 day courses in terrorist tactics. My reading of the CIA in this period suggests it is much more fallible than you make out. You may have sources better than mine, but perhaps you might bear in mind the then prevailing sentiment, fundamentalists good, terrorists bad. Hence the benign stance of the US towards the Taliban. Peter is right to remind us of the problems Muslims have with anger-management issues (!) and their propensity to see the Jews everywhere. In Indonesia there are virtually no Jews, so they have invented 'Chinese-Zionists' to account for why the Chinese (Buddhists, Protestants and Catholics) are good at business. They killed 160 sorcerers too in 1999-2000, but that would take me too long to elaborate. Is taking off the top ten stories of the UN HQ enough though? It sounds good, but it's not mature policy. Supper everybody?

    ReplyDelete
  9. Andrew: Twice today (with PNAC and calling those who disagree with you "sheep") you've used the tropes of the so-called 9/11 Truth movement. So, let's stop beating around the bush (no pun intended): Do you agree that 19 Al Qaeda agents, working entirely independently of the US government or powerful US interests, hijacked four airplanes and flew them into three buildings and a field in Pennsylvania, which actions are solely responsible for bringing down World Trade Centers 1, 2 and 7? Or are you a cretin?

    Also, to Captain B's response, I would add that the Taliban did not exist until well after the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan. The original Taliban were madrassa students in Pakistan during the war. The name translates loosely as "school boys." Bin Laden and the CIA were both funding the mujahideen and were probably both coordinating with the Pakistanis but operated independently of each other.

    There's much to be said about the various strands of American conservatism, but for now I'll just note that American conservatism is an ideological movement and not just a bunch of old guys taking afternoon naps and moaning about how much better things were 20 years ago. People actually interested in the intellectual underpinnings of American conservatism would be much better advised to read Burke, Kirk and Hayak than blogs. The paleo-cons, to whom Captain B refers, have largely been driven from the movement due to their racism. Their patron saint, Pat Buchanan, has gone so far around the bend that he's come out on the left.

    ReplyDelete
  10. As for Iraq, George Bush and Tony Blair have done their best to free 30 million people from horrible dictatorship. What have you critics done?

    As for post-war planning, you might want to mull over Kurdistan and the excellent shape that it's in and, in fact, how well things are going generally in the areas of Iraq that aren't Baghdad and the Sunni triangle.

    ReplyDelete
  11. River of DeceitJune 27, 2007 5:40 pm

    I can't get my head around building 7. It's the only part, really. The building, we are told,(though, it was completely left out of the 9/11 commission) collapsed because of falling debri from the world trade centre.
    This is such a piece of shit arguement i'm truly amazed no one stops to wonder about it. It's even more groutesque how people asking questions about this are labelled as nuts.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Peter, see Patriot Act & the more recent Military Surveillance Acts in which the rights of habeus corpus are dismantled for the erosion of civil liberties at home. See similar erosion of time-honoured civil rights in Britain.

    David, I couldn't possibly go into all the issues relating to 911 now, so as I'm sure you're not a cretin who simply swallows whatever you're fed by the mainstream news organisations(owned by the tiniest handful of people), here's a thorough analysis of the evidence of 911 by David Ray Griffin, a very pleasant & reasonable American man whom noone would accuse of being a cretin. Since I have the utmost faith in the open-mindendness of your good self, I look forward to hearing your views of the many issues he raises and the effective dismantling of the official version of events that day, in which the US war machine, which had earlier been spending countless billions in the attempts to destroy from outer space incoming nuclear missiles, was overwhelmed by a few big airplanes maserminded by a man in a cave a long way away. Anyway, enjoy the video. I'm sure you'll subsequently agree, Griffin gives a very fine presentation. Here>.

    ReplyDelete
  13. River of DeceitJune 27, 2007 5:45 pm

    "As for Iraq, George Bush and Tony Blair have done their best to free 30 million people from horrible dictatorship?"

    They're about to be ruled by an equally horrible Islamic one.

    ReplyDelete
  14. River of Deceit:

    Blessed are the peacemakers! You may just have found the middle ground between the conspiracists and anti-conspiracists. If you can get Andrew to agree the WTC and the Pentagon were the unforseen works of foreign enemies, I'll talk to David about conceding Building 7 was leveled by the CIA on the orders of Texas oilmen and Zionist financiers. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  15. I suppose one could take a rather simpler view of the whole thing and ask why America is so crap at wars (the whole shebang, not just a battle or three). Well, it is nowadays anyway. You could argue that successful wars demand an equal balance of strategy and policy in which both are meshed by those who know what they are doing. What we have in the Cheney-Rumsfield gang are folks who decided to dismiss strategy and become their own generals with all the puffed up defiance that follows. The last Western leader who pushed that one to its limits came spectacularly unstuck just outside Stalingrad.

    ReplyDelete
  16. David - I have an older brother who has served with the British army in the south of Iraq, and I can assure you that Basra is far from being a success. The British army cannot trust the local police as they have been completely subverted by the Shia militia's. Lacking the manpower needed for the occupation British commanders have taken the line of least resistance to minimise casualties. There is no new democracy being forged in Iraq.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Bryan, your characterisation of Conservatism is very close to that provided by Anthony Quinton in 'A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy'. Quinton writes:

    "[The] main tradition of conservative thought derives from three central doctrines...The first and most obvious of them is traditionalism, which supports continuity in politics, the maintenance of existing institutions and practices and is suspicious of change, particularly of large and sudden change, and above all of violent and systematic revolutionary change...

    "The chief intellectual, rather than emotional, support for traditionalism is a sceptical view about political knowledge. Political wisdom for the conservative is embodied, first of all in the inherited fabric of established laws and institutions. This is seen as the deposit of a great historical accumulation of small adjustments to the political order, made by experienced political practitioners, acting under the pressure of a clearly recognized need and in a cautious, prudent way...Even less welcome to conservatives than abstract principles, such as doctrines of universally applicable natural or human rights, are utopias, systematic proposals for comprehensive social transformation."

    ReplyDelete
  18. What Peter said.

    "Neo-liberalism's glorification of the market subverted community, locality, custom and tradition."

    No, I think the Industrial Revolution did that. But your statement begs for clarification. What community, locality, custom or tradition has survived for more than a century in any historical era in any place on Earth? Change is a constant. The only thing that conservatives can do to slow that onrushing locomotive of historical change even for a moment is to get run over by it, thereby momentarily gumming up its gears with their mangled corpses before they're spit out the other end.

    Communities, localities, customs and traditions are like tiny eddies that form in a rushing stream. They form and maintain their pattern for awhile until they disappear and then reform again. I'm not sure which locality, community or tradition you're thinking of, but whichever one it was it didn't have a lengthy history. No doubt it was formed out of the swirling social detritus that was left in the wake of the previous socio/politico/economic upheaval. Every tradition is built upon the corpse of its predecessor.

    "Neo-conservatism's rabid idealism is an affront to the anti-idealistic pragmatism of old conservatism."

    To conserve something for reasons other than idealistic ones isn't a philosophy, its a fetish. Idealism is inherent to philosophical conservatism. One wishes to conserve something because that something represents something ideal about human existence.

    So when does idealism become rabid? When one is willing to go to war to defend the ideal? If conservatives never went to war over their ideals, one would have to conclude that they only care about small ideals.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Simon: We can trade brother stories all day (my brother came home from Baghdad in March), but there might be another problem with your theory that it can't be a democracy because the majority keeps interfering.

    RoD: Assuming you're serious, building 7 fell down because 20 stories of a 110 story building fell down on top of it.

    If anyone is seriously interested in any of this, the Truthers have been debunked many times over. The best places to look, in my opinion, are at Popular Mechanics and the Screw Loose Change blog.

    ReplyDelete
  20. It's even more groutesque how people asking questions about this are labelled as nuts.

    "Lunatics with a tenuous grip on reality" is the phrase that works for me. Sounds like both you and Andrew may qualify. How sad for you.

    ReplyDelete
  21. CaptainB, if you ever start a weblog, please let us know. I, for one, appreciate your insight.

    ReplyDelete
  22. That's very kind Internet Ronin, but alas,most of my energy goes into other forms of scribbling. I just wonder, by the way, having moved in US conservative circles for some time, whether the choice is simply between neo-cons and 'paleo cons' as David implies- incidentally David Pryce-Jones, David Frum, William Buckley etc on the National Review, and Emmett Tyrell on the US Spectator might not take knidly to being called Pat Buchanan type 'racists' unless David knows more about them than me. What I meant was that in places like California there are large numbers of Reagan-style conservatives who are not rabid, swivel-eyed ideologues. They are not obsessed by the Middle East, but think about education, taxes, social security, immigration and so on, much like most conservatives here. Burke would turn in his grave over the neo-cons, despite their pathetic attempts to invoke his name.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I have a conspiracy theory that 9/11 conspiracy theories must have been put about by a Sinister US Neocon Zionist Oil Company Government CIA Cabal. This is because they are so screamingly stupid that the cabal knows that only the truly cretinous will believe them, thus distracting all the intelligent people ('sheep') who have to waste their time arguing against the cretins ('theorists') instead of the Sinister US Neocon Zionist Oil Company Government CIA Cabal.

    Open your eyes, you moronic flock!

    ReplyDelete
  24. River of DeceitJune 28, 2007 11:03 am

    They're not all screamingly stupid Brit - you probably know that. David Lynch, David Shayler, Charlie Sheen (well, maybe he is)- A CNN poll found that 45% of Americans believe that the Administation was resposible for 911. A New York Times/CBS News poll found that 53% of respondents think the Bush administration is hiding something, and 28% believe it is lying. Only 16% said they thought the government is telling the truth.
    Are you saying that 84% of Americans are screamingly stupid? Wouldn't that be (gulp) anti-American?

    ReplyDelete
  25. So only 16% of Americans are sheep?

    ReplyDelete
  26. How much of an idiot would one have to be to think that the proper way to analyze the causes of a major accident or catastrophe, is to take a poll of the general public ?

    ReplyDelete
  27. What I meant was that in places like California there are large numbers of Reagan-style conservatives who are not rabid, swivel-eyed ideologues.

    I regret to inform you, Captain, that those numbers have been dwindling in California as well. Whether or not they have reached their nadir is a matter for debate. (Or so my brother, who has been deeply involved in the GOP for 40 years now, contends.)

    ReplyDelete
  28. RofD

    It is possible that the administration is lying and hiding something at the same time that they are not responsible for perpetrating the 9/11 attacks. So the 84% doesn't represent conspiracy theorists, just cynics.

    ReplyDelete