Thursday, April 12, 2007

Empty souls

Andrew Sullivan’s latest book has the unintentionally ridiculous title of: The Conservative Soul. The sub-title is: “How we lost it, how to get it back.”

This of course assumes that the conservative had a soul to begin with, a proposition that I don’t find self-evident. From defending the right to own slaves, through fighting against suffrage for women, to suppressing the right of labor to organize and championing the war in Vietnam, the American conservative has not demonstrated what I would consider a soul under any but the most abstract definition.

For conservatism to gain something resembling a soul, it will have to pay attention to the needs of people rather than just corporations. It will have to recognize that the public good is not subsidiary to the profit motive. The conservative strategy has been to turn everything into an opportunity for business to make money, and to hell with education, health care, the arts, human rights, and the environment. If liberals hadn’t intervened, children would still be working in factories. (They still are in other countries—countries where American corporations move their plants.) The conservatives weren’t the ones fighting to end segregation—they were busy calling Martin Luther King a Communist. Karl Rove didn’t invent the “win at any cost” strategy—he just refined it. The Republican Party has been cynically exploiting racial bigotry and fear in order to win elections for generations.

So I’m not particularly receptive to the lukewarm awakenings of conservatives such as Mr. Sullivan. If you’ve turned a blind eye to torture, the killing of innocents for profit, and the undermining of the American Constitution itself, your sudden realization that Bush is fiscally irresponsible does not qualify as an act of moral redemption. When you’ve cheerleaded the war in Iraq, stupidly swallowing every lie and deriding those who had the sense to question or challenge the Bush regime, turning around now and saying that the war was a mistake is not a significant revelation.

If Bush’s poll numbers were in the 70s instead of the reverse, I am certain that Mr. Sullivan would not be questioning the conservative soul, just as I know that if he had not happened to be born gay, he would be just as opposed to gay rights as any other Thatcherite. Mr. Sullivan spends a lot of time telling us about his devout Catholic faith. If there’s one facet of Christianity he and his conservative soul-mates could really use, it is true, heartfelt repentance. Their policies have led us to disaster. Their advice has been the most unreliable and destructive we could have received. Yet I sense no remorse, only belated justifications.

For the conservative to get a soul, he needs to find out what a conscience is. He needs to stop lecturing the rest of us about morality and look at the immorality, the criminality, of what has been done by his movement and his party. The conservative (and I speak figuratively of the so-called conservative movement and not just of Mr. Sullivan) has blood on his hands. It will take a lot more than blithely talking about the soul to wash those hands clean.


whig said...

May I cross-post this? It's that good.

Chris Dashiell said...

You may cross-post me any time. Thanks for the compliment.

fiddler said...

Even though I agree with your judgement of the people you describe, I don't think narrowing the "conservative" label to just them is going to be very helpful. There are many more kinds of "conservatives" around than just right-wing American Republicans. Greens are conservative, too, in a different way. So is the civil rights crowd. I play traditional Irish music, that way I'm a musical conservative.
Furthermore, political fault lines do not easily translate between different countries. An American right-winger/conservative is a different animal than a Russian one.
The American Right has done a similar thing with the "liberal" label in the past, degrading it to a propaganda tool and emptying it of all content, except "that-which-right-wingers-hate".
The Zionists are currently attempting to do it to "anti-Semitism".
Do we really want to join this mud-slinging? With mud in your eyes you can't see very well.

I realise it's those people themselves who label themselves "conservative" (will the real conservatives please stand up?), but I see no need to help them in their effort to take hostage the decent folk out there who we can respectfully disagree with.

Chris Dashiell said...

In response to fiddler, I would have to say that I agree in principle with the caution against using political labels pejoratively. My point, which I hope was adequately expressed, was that conservatism as it's commonly understood in a political sense in the U.S. doesn't have much of a track record when it comes to crafting policies that help ordinary people and communities live lives of dignity and equality, but have instead heavily favored big business and the status quo, whatever that might be, often to the detriment of the public good.

Mr. Natural said...

Re- fiddler: As for being PC when discussing 'conservatives', let me be succinct for you: FUCK EM. Clear enough fiddler?

fiddler said...

mr. natural, I don't care about being PC or not, and like I said, I agree with Chris' critique.
My point was that simplistic labels like "conservative" or "liberal" are ill suited to catch the whole reality of any group of people (let alone individuals), except in certain, narrow contexts, and, of course, for propaganda, which I assume is not the purpose of this blog.
I'm not concerned about what the Regressives think of me when I call myself a "liberal" (I'm European, mind you), but I am concerned about them taking over the discussion by way of hijacking language.

Chris Dashiell said...

It seems to me that the greatest irony of American conservatism is that it hasn't conserved anything. Not the Bill of Rights, not small-town America or small businesses, and certainly not the environment.

Anonymous said...

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