Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The end of conservatism?

After last night's rather long post, I've decided to take a breather today. Besides, I'm sure I offended my conservative -- or, rather, my conservative Republican -- friends and readers with my lengthy critique of the new absolutism of the right, and I'd rather stress what I have in common with them, not what separates us. But that, after all, was precisely the point. The Republican Party is no longer the party of conservatism, it's the party of radicalism. In fact, American "conservatism" is no longer "conservative" in any meaningful way. Look at what the party now pushes on the American people: absolutist, evangelical social policies (anti-gay, anti-choice, etc.), radical free market neoliberalism, and neoconservative idealism that rejects traditional realism and liberal internationalism (multilateralism) in favour of American global hegemony and the imposition of American values on parts of the world that are fundamentally opposed to those values. Is that conservative? No. But it's the Republican Party and it's what passes for "conservatism" in today's bipolar political climate.

And I say this with some regret. My own political thought has very much been shaped by Edmund Burke and Matthew Arnold, two whigs (liberals, more or less) who nonetheless shared a certain conservative outlook. Furthermore, I came of age politically during the mid- to late-'80s and was inspired by Ronald Reagan. I turned to Clinton in '92, but I supported Dole in '96, not least because I thought that The Greatest Generation deserved one last turn, especially after four disappointing years of Clinton. But I have been a Democrat since at least '98, when it became obvious that the Gingrich Republicans had taken the party firmly down a different road, when I had become sick of the persecution of Clinton, a man whom I admire more now, in retrospect, than I did then, and when I finally realized that the combination of social evangelism, neoliberal economics, and neoconservative hawkishness had swept the moderate and temperamentally conservative elements out of the party (remember what Bush did to McCain in South Carolina during the 2000 primary season?). Now we have a party of Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, Rick Santorum, and the like... and I want no part of it. If the moderates reassert themselves in 2008 -- say, behind McCain -- then I'll listen. But I doubt they'll be allowed to. We would have been better off with Gore and better off with Kerry. I suspect that we'll also be better off with the Democratic candidate in 2008. (For a more left-leaning take on all this, see Olivia Finley's passionate reply to my previous post.)

Anyway, more on this another time. For now, I recommend having a look at Michael Finley's thoughtful reply to one of my recent posts, "Our existential crisis, addendum". He poses three questions, along with comments, in response to my take on the existential crisis of late-modernity (or postmodernism, if you will), and I intend to get to them in the coming days. They deserve thoughtful replies, and I'm taking time to give them their due. I can only recommend that you all give them similar consideration on your own.

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