You know what your problem is?

What’s wrong with conservatism

Doc Rampage wants “a powerful, well-thought-out article to really challenge your preconceptions and make you think.”  Well, so do I. But I haven’t been able to find much. I’d like to know more rational, principled liberals who I could stand to listen to for more than ten minutes. On most issues I’m more conservative than liberal. After all, if I thought the conservatives were wrong, I’d (re)join the liberals.

It’s not as if there’s nothing wrong with conservatives, or with conservative ideology; But it’s hard for me to come up with a list of problems. (Dude! Halliburton; Abu Ghraib; No Blood for Oil! What more do you want? Dude!) So the problems I am able to see could be taken as pathologies of individual conservatives, not flaws in the conservative ideology. Sorry, I’m doing the best I can. The problem’s not quantity, it’s quality. There are plenty of people who’ll tell you in great detail exactly what’s wrong with conservatism and conservatives. Unfortunately, too many of them are idiots.

The only thing worse than an idiot who doesn’t agree with you is an idiot who does. I hate to hear people who are nominally on my side spewing vitriol. As near as I can tell, there are plenty of those people on both sides. (But the liberals who speak immoderately mean well, they’re just understandably overcome by frustration. Conservatives who hurl insults are vicious racist homophobic Nazi’s! Why won’t you distance yourself from those bigots? It’s because you agree with them, isn’t it, you redneck!)Thanks, now I see the light.

So, where to begin with an intelligent critique of conservatism?

Elizabeth at bethquick.com (Who is by no means an idiot) says “just like any organization has collective funds and collective resources to direct (like a church, for instance), nations also have a collective identity and collective responsibility.”

I think this is a succinct description of a fundamental difference of outlook. Liberals proceed from “self-evident” assumptions that conservatives don’t share, and vice versa. It’s self-evident to me that there is no such collective identity. There are individual people with responsibilities. In her favor, I’ll note that the Lord’s prayer is in the plural. “Lead us not into temptation,” and so on. So it’s possible that I and conservatives go too far in the direction of individualism, overemphasizing individual responsibility at the expense of group identity. This is useful criticism that I found thought provoking.

There’s this decrepit old fool, who I read regularly. I think he supported Senator Kerry during the late unpleasantness. A reasonable man could conclude, working from different assumptions than mine, that domestic policy should be the higher priority right now. But then he would have to convince me that the Democrats are the party of fiscal responsibility, that higher taxes are less bad than a budget deficit, that sodomy is a constitutionally protected right, gay marriage is wrong but ought to be legal, and cultural issues aren’t very important anyway. Now, I voted for a couple of Democrats myself in the last election, and I’m by definition the most reasonable man I know. A reasonable man could vote Democrat; But could a reasonable man be a liberal?

Dr. Mark Miyake disagrees intelligently with the administration’s foreign policy, but he’s clearly not a liberal. Does he count? I’m eager to include him, because rational and well-mannered disagreement is so rare.

The (very) short list

So, from these sources and others, what can I say in criticism of conservatism?

  • I think some conservatives use ideology as an excuse for stinginess.
  • Among conservatives, I’m more interested in the environment than many.
  • There’s some arrogance among the beneficiaries of our meritocracy – Poor? In jail? Out of work? You must be stupid or lazy. Fifty and laid off from the mill? Learn to operate an engine lathe, or to program in Java, or to innovate. Start your own business!

That’s about the best I can do, and it’s kind of thin. But in the absence of something from the left more enlightening than “Red-state hick!” or “Bush is Hitler!”, that’s what I’m left with. I’ll try to add to the list if I can.

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