It was in a short video about the Spanish Civil War and Euskadi ta Askatasuna (ETA)—the Basque militant, and de facto terrorist, political faction—that I saw an interview with an elderly Basque man who had seen the violence and experienced the repression of Franquist Spain. In the interview he said something very interesting to me, and pertinent to the discussion of conservatism. (I’ll paraphrase, as I cannot remember the exact quote) The effect of the quote was “I think that a person who has something, who owns something, is naturally going to be a conservative, because he has something that he wants to keep.” First of all is the obvious reality of the quote, that a person who is a conservative has something to conserve. The second point is in relation to the readings, and in particular Dr. Carlson’s. That point is that conservatism boomed in direct correlation to a boom in wealth in the United States. Personally, I had not realized how reliant this country was on social systems prior to the industrial boom of post-WWII society until I began studying local history. Even through the boom there was a great deal of dependence on what could be considered communal systems. Though based solely on anecdotal observations, it seems to me that wealth causes division among humans. Weather it does so on a class level as Marx suggested, or merely at the individual level, it seems painfully obvious that there is a divide when wealth comes in the picture. Having said that, I still consider myself a conservative, despite my abysmal poverty, and an individualist, despite my recognition that I require community, and a Christian, despite my extreme disappointment with what I observe as practical Christianity in the United States.
Hi-ho Silver—to the readings…
(disclaimer: I must preface the remainder of my comments by forthrightly stating that I have numerous withholdings in calling myself a conservative, philosophical and practical as well as literate. I find many conservatives to be off-putting in how they go about stating their objectives, some in what their objectives are. I don’t like the fact that so often conservatives present themselves as soulless ignoramuses, preaching morality and practicing something entirely different. I am frustrated by the lack of practical application of many of their conclusions as well as their stubborn, stiff-neckedness toward any suggestion of meaningful discussion or compromise. Having said all of that, most of those sentiments are equally applicable toward the other side of the coin as well. I detest what I often refer to as “bipolarism,” which is not a reference to the disease, and bear resemblance to Hegelian Opposites. I DON’T LIKE THE TWO-PARTY SYSTEM! I think that Americans have been duped by the political forces that rule the land, and largely by an education system that perpetuates the discord via ardent support among the educators of a left of center ideal to a rather extreme degree. All this to say that I am a hard-core centrist with very strong antipathy toward any sort of real identification with any one particular perspective.)
I shall begin with what I thought was a true historical analysis without the political edge that I felt in many of the readings. I will devote an entire paragraph to the longest of these articles, and here it is: Dr. Carlson provided a well-structured and fair analysis of the history of conservatism. I thought it was rooted well in historical evidence, and supported by good sources. There, now wasn’t that nice?
Now on to the more fun stuff:
One element of politics that has always made me angry is the use of personally debasing statements to make a point. Case-in-point, Ken Taylor on The Liberal Lie The Conservative Truth referred to the “idiots on the left.” Now really people, not conservatism’s best side. Oh, don’t worry, the Left has their catchphrase cuts for the “Christofascists” on the Right too. It is in fact for this reason that I never went into debate. Every time I was in a debate and trying to stick to the facts and interpretation thereof, my opponent would start throwing out personal attacks, and it just seemed to defeat the purpose of the whole practice, especially when they would win—not because their interpretation was better, but because they were better at making me look bad. At any rate, back to conservatives…I don’t like that quick reductionism that many conservatives leap to. Conservatism can be defended and it can be intellectually valid, but it’s adherents are destroying it. They do so with a complete and total failure to acknowledge the need to compromise by carrying everything to its extreme through a logic that always fails to provide a holistic argument and totally reduces any and every issue to a liberal misinterpretation of the constitution. So this is intended as a cheeky swipe at conservatives using their own methods, but, seriously, through the readings this week, it was hard to miss how quickly each author jumped from addressing an actual issue to attacking the liberals and their disdain for the constitution (should that be capitalized? Like, if it’s not, am I just talking about someone’s general physical propencities?). The point is that conservatives, by toting the Hegelian ideal don’t really help the situation of American politics.
I would also like to address the issue of “Christianity” and conservative America. Despite my identification with both groups, it borders on offensiveness to me when a pastor/minister/reverend/priest/bishop—I specifically am singling out “Christian” leaders—uses his position and church as a platform for politics. Don’t get me wrong, I think that there are issues where “Christians” should draw their line and fight for it, but that does not mean that church leaders should influence their congregation from the pulpit. It was that very behavior that led to the health/wealth gospel, the Billy Graham era and Reganocracy. This is a really tricky issue, because so often in the world religious or philosophical circles overlap political circles in some sort of strange Venn diagram. Yet—and I cannot overstate this—Christians must learn to develop their own philosophies and ministers must stop preaching a political gospel. The level of politics in American churches today has so poisoned the church that an organization—and I believe that a church is not a place, but people—that ought to be a refuge has become circles of scorn for those with differing politics. It has given rise to a generation like myself who despises the church, but eventually realizes it is not the church they despise, but anti-Christian exceptionalism embraced by the church.
In the reading this week, as I often find in conservative politics, I saw this disturbing conflagration of church/politics. Or of Christian/politics, and it disturbed me as it usually does. While I believe that the church has a right, and a responsibility to its people to discuss morality, I don’t think it has a right to impose its morals as such upon the broader swath of society. While I may argue that certain moral decisions within the secular sphere would benefit from a Christian ethic, I try to limit my arguments to secular arguments. I will grant that this is not an exact or perfect practice, but it is a practice, and it is the only practice that I have found that allows me to remain honest to myself and my faith. I feel one of the most exceptional examples of the Christian/politics crossover was the article on J. E. Dyer’s blog that discussed Islam and tried to defend an exception to freedom of religion in its case.
Finally—and I swear this is the last point in an already wordy post—I want to point out the use of “State” and “State’s Rights” among conservatives, particularly in Dyer’s blog, The Optimist Conservative. A general trend I have noted among conservatives is a misunderstanding of what the word “State” means. I think this misunderstanding is aided by a federalist governmental system that overarches individual states. Generally, when the word “State” is used in politics worldwide, it is used to refer to an independently classified entity with an independent government and a people that are united under some degree of mutuality. The states of the United States, are only semi-autonomous, and as such, are not really states, they are at best, provinces. This reality might fly in the face of what hard-core libertarians would like to think is the ideal, but it is the reality. In the case of the United States, the federal government by-and-large is the only thing that may be referred to as state. This being the case, when the constitution refers to the separation of Church and State, it does not indicate individual states that may choose their own stance on religion within, but the separation of Church from Government, and Government from Church. In this case, the “State” referred to is the federal government, not municipal or provincial governments. It makes for a great difference in interpretation of the constitution and the Bill of Rights.
I’d like to conclude that while I am happy that we read some from the conservative side of the spectrum, I feel that for me it was just white noise. I read a good selection from many different sides of things on a regular basis and I find off-center extremes are not where I find the most identification.