Friday, April 28, 2006


Conservatives are the New Liberals?

I was rereading one of my old P.J. O'Rourke books I "found" as I was unpacking my stuff. I must confess I find his work quite funny, and, while I do not know his actual stance on the Bush administration, much of what he says certainly could be used to criticize the Bush administration from a conservative point of view (indeed, he criticized similar tendencies within the Reagan administration from such a point of view).

But what struck me this time was his condemnation of "liberals" in his opening remarks to his book Give War a Chance (ya gotta give O'Rourke credit: he has the courage to admit to being a chickenhawk, which makes him not so chicken after all?). Certainly the kind of liberal he criticizes never did represent the mainstream of liberalism and even he avers that he is not referring, e.g. to "Big Government Democrats". But such liberals in the 1970s and 1980s and into the 1990s certainly did exist and they did and still loom large in both the public's and more importantly the media's imagination of who and what liberals are (indeed, to the extent that there are liberals in the media, they are precisely the evildoers O'Rourke complains about) -- and correcting these misperceptions about liberalism is key to the future success of liberalism in American politics and the Democrats (as being the "liberal" party as, no matter how DLC we go, the Republicans will always be the party of conservativism and hence of non-liberalism).

But I have drifted from what struck me: what struck me is how much of O'Rourke's criticism of a kind of activist liberal position applies to the modern "conservative" movement. Just change a few specific positions and you have exactly the kind of whiny, complaining about persecution where none exists, etc., modal personality of who passes for a conservative now-adays. Of course, there was always this strain in the conservativism (and even O'Rourke seems aware of it and complains about it, though he does not always link it to his bete noir image of liberalism), and hence many conservative imaginings of liberals as such hippy-dippy, inadvertant evil-doers (cf. the discussions of "perversity" and "futility" in The Rhetoric of Reaction) have always been, to a large degree, projection. On the other hand, it seems that, in the past, there were many conservatives (e.g. my late great-grandparents) who were not whiny but whose conservativism was particularly anti-whiny and not projective about whining, but now all such conservatives have either died, became liberals (like my dad) or have went along into WATB conservativism. What happened to real conservativism? When did conservativism become so much the parody of liberalism that conservatives were up in arms against? And is this the triumph of those who project too much or a matter of people who are wont to slay dragons becoming dragons themselves?

Not that I am praying for the return of paleo-conservativism. Far from it. If neo-conservativism is like WWI era Prussian militarism (and the parallels are eery), then I need not say what I fear in a return to paleo-conservativism. Indeed, the obvious ease in which the failure of neo-conservativism can and will be labeled as a failure of a parody of a certain kind of liberalism (and we all know for what "liberal" is a code word) makes me worry especially about what a resurgent real conservativism will look like.

Still, I do wonder what happened to the conservative movement and why.

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