Thursday, March 25, 2010

Conservatism is Dead

According to the research of Dr. George Lakoff, the way we look at government is strongly influenced by the way we look at family. Conservatives tend to subscribe to the "strict father" model of a family, which holds that a strict authority figure with strict gender roles is necessary to impose order and stability. Translated to government means basically that they see government as no more than a King and his army. They will openly admit they believe the only role of government is to protect property, which means they only believe in police and a military. It could be argued that they can support fire departments because they can imagine a soldier picking up a bucket to "fight" a fire. Aside from that, they don't think the government should provide any services outside police and military. That's why they oppose social security, medicare, unemployment, etc. They can't see a King offering his subjects unemployment insurance. Their tag line these days is "smaller government" yet they are willing to borrow trillions of dollars to wage endless wars and grow the size of government in the areas of military and security. They are not against government spending or big government, they are against government spending on anything except things they believe in.

Liberals, on the other hand, subscribe to the "nurturing parent" model of a family, so they view government as having an obvious role in supporting and nurturing the citizens like a nurturing parent. Liberalism grew out of the same Enlightenment that inspired the founders to start the American revolution. The idea that the people can govern themselves is in itself a liberal idea. That is why liberals support the government having a role in "providing for the general welfare" of the people. (as it says in the Constitution). This is why you see so much anger from conservatives about health care reform, because they do not believe government should be providing anybody health care. Unfortunately for them, their message gets twisted in the reality that government provided health insurance works and is very popular so they try to argue against government run health insurance while at the same time claiming they will protect Medicare. That's why we saw so many confused "conservatives" last August demanding the government keep out of their medicare.

Traditional conservatism, going back to before the American Revolution, has stood for the stability of society as the highest value. Sir Edmund Burke argued that the experiment of Democratic government will fail because it is inherently unstable and Alexander Hamilton declared that Monarchy is the best form of government, because it is so stable. They were very open about the fact that they consider classes in society important to maintaining stability of society. Burke and Russel Kirk, who wrote "The Conservative Mind" argued that class mobility is a threat to the stability of society and thus should be discouraged and minimized. The working poor need to remain the working poor and Burke used to argue that allowing them to even participate in government only hurts society.

Today however, conservatism has lost sight of its philosophical roots and has been reduced to the sound bytes - "small government" and "strong military" and most self-described conservatives cannot say coherently what those sound bytes really mean. They are now the textbook example of the angry mob that conservatives used to oppose on principle as a threat to the stability of society. Today we see conservatism standing for obstructionism and violence when they lose a democratic election. Today conservatives are the ones running around threatening the stability of society by talking about revolutions and assassinations.

There are a lot of people who still claim to subscribe to conservatism even though they cannot articulate what conservatism means beyond what they hear on Fox or from Rush Limbaugh, both of which are just corporatist perversions of conservatism. If you confront one and ask them to explain in detail what they mean by "small government" they will only occasionally stumble across the truth, and then it will be accidental and they will deny the obvious implications of their own beliefs. (which is - they are not rich and don't have property to be protected so they would be left out if their own philosophy held real sway)

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