Discussion in 'Debate and Discussion' started by Jason McCullough, Jan 18, 2013.
This is a really interesting take.
That is pretty awesome.
Interesting, but I'm partial to Corey Robin's framing of conservatism, which I've mentioned before and enjoy as much for his contributions as for his great synthesis of other writers.
I don't see much resembling a revolution so much as a slow accommodation of marginalized groups into the established order (with huge asterisks). Indeed, I'm convinced ensuring that's the case is what passes for a Democratic Party prime directive, these days and perhaps for much longer than that. The absence of a real revolution may not affect the degree to which conservative elements feel threatened, but I do think it limits the scope of the reaction and the degree to which you have authentically address the "sunburns". But I do agree with your link that there are advantages to engaging with privileged groups in a nonthreatening manner in order to coax decency out of the seams.
I really should get around to ordering The Reactionary Mind.
Glanced at because <3 Maistre in the same sense <3 Darth Vader... but I dunno that laying him alongside Burke (still less calling him Mr. Dull Conservatism is a very realistic straw-man. I thought he was always seen as a Mephistophelean counter-revolutionary from when - at least I'd thought - Isaiah Berlin had popularized him as a "counterenlightenment" thinker.
(I had been aware that some sub-intellectual jokes like Goldberg had tried adopting him as a Burke-like figure, and found this mildly hilarious, but if he was a well-regarded old conservative grampy the whole time then I've definitely missed a beat.)
Pleasantville is a great film with an excellent progressive message. I have always loved
Adam Cadre 's take on it:
Sometimes I start a thread over at That Forum just to see what the difference will be. Jesus wept.
Yeah I know. I sure don't miss sinij!
It really saddens me that Gus feels more comfortable on a forum with Veteranus, Sinij, and StGabe than he did here. :(
I think that's a little unfair to StGabe. He's not nearly on Vetarinas's and Sinij's level.
But I agree entirely about the saddening.
Glancing over at The Other Forum, I did see this, by Enidigm:
"You know for the amount and speed of demographic and sociological change going on in American - i'd like to get an actual measure, but i'd bet it's one of the fastest in the world, and possibly fastest in world history - even the most moderate conservatives are pretty constrained. Turn Germany, France, UK, Russia, China, India, or virtually any other country the many shades of colors and opinions we have in the US as fast as we have since the 60s and see what happens, and when you look at countries like South Africa you see what "white flight" really looks like. Most of the time the push back has been competely toothless or at best symbolic, like the bible-as-philsophy subject in public schools, or fences on borders that never really get built. As bad as Republicans can be, as intellectually dishonest and willingly blind - i mean, yea, sure they're Christians and conservatives and gun owners blah blah, how horrible - but they're not able to do 1/50th of what the left fears. "
This is I think a partial explanation (note, explanation does NOT mean excuse) for some of the tea-party pushback. In terms of culture, conservatives have gotten their ass kicked so hard in the last 50 years it's not even funny. I mean we have every day stuff like mainstream porn, gay marriage, an African American President, etc, which would have been considered "rolling over in my grave/over my dead body/downright UnAmerican" by a lage majority of Americans nowadays. So culturally speaking, conservatives have taken a vast hit.
On the other hand, economically speaking the converse is true: a 50 year history of labor movement decline, stagnation or deflation of real world median wages, massive increase in mal-distribution of wealth, massive decrease in working class bargaining power, etc etc. So from an economic perspective, liberals have been getting hosed for close to 50 years.
There is a near-cognitive-dissonance thing going on here which helps to explains all this. To some degree on the conservative side, even though they routinely give lip service to pro-wealth economic goals, what really drives them emotionally in many cases is culture. Or to put it another way, Thomas Frank was largely right all along re: Whats the Matter with Kansas. There is a weird converse on the left: even though liberals are routinely bouyed by social progress, for a lot of folks in the policy/wonkosphere, it's "all about the economy, stupid!" - there are plenty of folks (including to some degree myself) who feel that the cultural progress is very important but if the foundations of bargaining equality are undercut by a massive set of pro-wealth economic changes, then the cultural progress in the long term may be meaningless. To put it another way, Mickey Kaus was totally wrong all along re: economic inequality not leading to social inequality.
(Note, that may be a general philosophy of politics of life to live by: Thomas Frank = egotistical but mostly correct; Mickey Kaus = egotistical and totally full of crap)
PS - Any prior pro-Kaus sentiments I may have previously expressed on this or the other board in years past, I do hereby disavow: Mickey Kaus can eat my shorts.
Why does that only matter in the US, though? The cultural revolution, sexual revolution, and gay rights was nowhere near as radioactive in Europe as here.
Clearly we need to unban those people here to lure him back.
Jason, two reasons: the history of aristocracy in Europe and the history of Calvinism in the US.
In Europe over the last century, there has been a cultural revolution against the old "superior aristocracy" culture. Which means, when members of the old privileged classes lose their privileges, they not only gain no sympathy from the mass of voters but are often seen as getting their just desserts. So there is no voting base to outrage with stories of loss of privilege and the "uppitiness" of previously non-privileged classes (with the exception of anti-immigrant sentiment in some parts of the Euro-zone), and thus the privileged classes simply don't have any equivalent of the tea party as a mass movement to vote in the interests of privilege. Thus, the loss of privilege, although it gets fought vigorously on the financial front in Europe, just doesn't have the mass-politics "culture war" impact as it does in the US. Short version: in Europe the wealthy elite who have lost cultural status just don't have any equivalent of the tea party to act as spear carriers to actually influence elections directly, thus the resistance tends to be weaker and more subtle.
In the US by contrast, there remains a chunk of the country, particularly in the conservative-Christian (and I mean conservative in a religious sense here) part of the population that continues to see wealth as a sign of good character and moral virtue and continues to see poverty as a sign of bad character and moral turpitude. This chunk of the country is easily convinved (by those willing to exploit cultural change) to support economic policies which are not in any rational way linked to the cultural issues involved. Thus, the wealthy elite who have lost privileges find themselves with ready access to a hefty pool of motivated cannon fodder with which to feed the trench warfare of modern politics. Specifically, a relatively small number of wealthy donors, by tossing a relatively modest amount of cash to a hardcore primary challenger, and by exploiting the cultural resentment of the hardcore-calvinist tea party base voters, can mount primary challenges which force the Republicans in office to promulgate the tea party line or get booted via primary. This dynamic does not exist in Europe, as far as I know. (Also, I don't know much about primary politics and the power of extreme/base votes in Europe; there may be a political-structure issue where the US with its "winner take all" politics is institutionally different from the Euro-zone. I defer to our Euro-friends on this issue.)
So that's your answer, Jason.
The true pushback of the elites versus progressivism happened in the twenties and thirties in europe, and they had a mass movement to carry their water. It didn't quite work out as intended of course.
To save time, every time you say "Europe had X" imagine me saying "but why only in Europe?" How come the elite lost in Europe, but not here?
Culture. Specifically, calvinism. As to why calvinist beliefs had a greater impact here than Europe, that is beyond my paygrade. Might have something to do with the fact that in a frontier culture, early on, there was something to the idea that good character equated with more wealth (if that is even true, which I'm not 100% sure on). Might also have to do with the institution of the Catholic Church having more influence in Europe than in America, but again speculation.
Also, Jason, what is your explanation for the difference? Or do you not see a difference?
There's clearly a difference, I just at root can't come up with anything other than "assume we're way more racist" or "assume we're way more Calvinist."
I don;t think it does much good to try and distil it down to a single root cause. I'd wave at all kinds of things: Puritan work ethics, yes; Calvinist fatalism, yes; racism, very yes; American Dream self-mythologising land-of-opportunity narratives, definitely yes (and this one's still robust today - the inevitable counterpoint to the American Dream of success being open to anyone with the will is that the poor simply lack will and therefore deserve it). I think never having had an aristocracy - having had "old money" - is part of it too; while resentment at people who are only wealthy because of what their ancestors did a thousand years ago is easy, resentment at people who are rich because of their grandparents only a handful of decades ago is somewhat less so - you can relate to wanting to leave something for your children, after all.
As a former conservative and current "traditional ye olde schoole white guye" I think there's a ton of important insight here.
I think it's very tempting to look at the world and if you see that it's well ordered for yourself, your family, and your friends, to be very reluctant to see anything change. I think that's normal and understandable. If I had to point to the most important difficulty in seeing the plight of others it's that the buffer effect that the well off suburbs creates means I simply don't encounter poor people, uneducated people, or any significant number of minorities or immigrants in any given week. I actually encounter the widest variety of people at church on Sunday since our church is very diverse in terms of race, class, and education (though clearly not religion) Even so, I don't tend to spend any time talking to my coreligionists about their circumstances per se.
For many years it was always very easy for me to see the socioeconomic conditions in this country as being very good because everything was going very well for me. Thankfully things are still going very well, but all you various liberal gadflies made it impossible for me to continue to believe that things going well for me was some sort conclusive proof that anyone for whom things were not going well simply weren't trying hard enough. (Thanks gadflies!)
I think my dad fits into this privileged distress category at the moment. His business (which has furnished him with a six figure plus salary for over thirty years) shrank a bit during the great recession (like almost all businesses) and he's now in a slightly worse position than he was in 2007 due to some poorly timed investment decisions. He tends to gripe about Obama and Obamacare even though he's currently looking to sell his business and retire (Obamacare isn't really even a motivating factor there. He's just 66 this year and has a place at the shore now.)
What's funny is that my dad has a monumental amount of compassion for the less fortunate. He gives to charity like a maniac and has served on the board of directors of a number of local charities. None of this really manages to influence him to seeing the structural problems in our society that constantly push down the lower classes though. From his perspective he still sees the recent changes as being a bad idea.
At the end of the day it's just very, very hard to empathize with people and conservatism tends to create a strange sort of empathy that encourages lots of generosity but not very much flexibility. It's one thing to choose to give some part of your wealth to others out of a sense of compassion but it's another thing to agree to fundamentally alter social policies so that fewer people need that kind of charity. Only the first thing is under your control.
Incidentally, there's hundreds of thousands large anti gay rights demonstrations in France at the moment. And if i get it right, France has been generally considered one of the most tolerant european countries on that front. So, don't know if the difference between Europe and the US is really as pronounced.
It's the difference between 19% and 33% homsexuality should be "rejected." Even that small of a gap is very recent; the US was 8% more reject in 2007.
I also don't recall French politicians ever riding a wave of anti-gay sentiment and then cracking down on them like happened in the, say, 1980s Florida. Obviously it's still there, but the broad level and intensity of opposition is just an echo.
One of the things here is that the tea party in the US is both an idealogical/political construct and also a cultural identity construct. Race is of course part of their identity politics, but I think race is just a subset: the overall sense of self identity amongst the tea party is that they are the true virtuous Americans and everyone else (which means both ethnic minorities which don't toe the party line, and also liberals, even white male liberals) is so non-virtuous that they consitute a severe danger to the "true Americans". This is important in understanding the tea party in that for a lot of the tea party, conservative economics, in terms of actual policy, is not that important. Frankly, I believe that if the talk radio set uniformly espoused a "liberal" economic policy, that a huge chunk of the tea party base would go along, as long as the policy was framed using a facade of conservative principals. In other words, a big chunk of the tea party, IMO are more about their sense of identity and virtue derived from being "true conservatives" (which in their view is synonomous with "true Americans") than about any particular policy stance. If the talk radio set embraced raising income taxes and cutting sales taxes (the opposite of the typical tea party policy atm), the base would go along IMO, as long as it was phrased in conservative terms. And of course, you could monkey with the number such that the wealthy benefitted mightily and the poor got hosed, and the tea party would barely notice.
I think this lack of seriousness about policy is one of the most confusing things to the wonkier liberals: if the tea party really is about fiscal conservatism how come they are threatening the debt ceiling? Or if they are serious about the deficit, why don't they contemplate raising revenue via reducing exemptions? And on and on. In all honesty, for a lot of the tea party, "conservative" is really just a label that means "virtuous" and not actually a coherent policy perspective.
Agreed; the Tea Party (and probably to a degree most of modern conservatism) should be looked at as a cultural movement first, and a political movement second.
No one expects the French Revolution!
Er... mixing my references there.
But yeah, the experience of actual transformative revolution in Europe, where historically less powerful groups overthrew historically more powerful groups (as opposed to the American Rev where it was basically: "meet the new white landowner, same as the old white landowner") is probably a big part of the "American Exception".
I reckon you can probably pin some of the difference on the US constitution and system of government (including electoral systems). It just seems deliberately setup for dysfunction, confrontation and general lack of compromise. The gross politicisation of your third branch (the supreme court) probably has an effect as well - what chance Rowe v Wade getting handed down today?
Essentially "winner take all" elections with no preferencing means that a political party that commands say 10% - 15% of the vote would have next to no influence in the US. However in much of Europe (and potentially in Westminster places like UK, Canada or Australia) this would give them real, tangible political power - not enough to rule, but enough to either co-rule in coalition or at least enough to influence government policy in some areas. The Green party here in Australia for instance gets around 11% to 12% of the National vote and has had influence on a great many policy positions of interest to them.
Parliamentary systems (ie where the "leader" comes from the parliament, the equivalent of your Congress) means the leader has to carry at least his/her own party with him to get things done - and by definition they wouldnt be the leader if they didn't have a majority.
I was going to say almost exactly what Talorc did. When comparing Europe and the U.S. in areas like this, two interdependent things immediately leap to mind -- political institutions and slavery.
I think you need to reread his contribution to that MRA super thread. He may not have the resentment they do, but he is certainly of like mind.
This may be the least kind post you've ever made.
Vetarnias, Eniderp, StGabe, Sinij all in a row. Awesome.
Taking a crack at the "US vs. Western European conservatism gap" question I tend to look askance at the "conservative elites in Europe as feckless aristocrats who can't party with tea" and "Calvinism" explanations. As Johan mentioned most of the former influence was shaken out early on in the 20th century before the (global) phenomenon of a centre/centre-left (by modern standards) "postwar consensus" of Keynesian happy times, running until around 1970s. As for the latter, well, I think the Netherlands had a few Calvinists, albeit without the US's exceptional history of religious revivals.
At any rate my broad brushstrokes key factors would be "the American south as a politico-cultural section unto itself," and relatedly, "the American party system," which until the 1960s (and even residually into the 1980s and 90s) had ideological heterogeneity in both parties, with strikingly conservative legislators in the Democratic party, including racist "social conservatives" - conservative to the point of radical opposition to democracy for certain ethnic groups - in the era of "liberal triumph." To my mind, coherent social democratic parties in parliamentary systems elsewhere were able to put the postwar consensus on a slightly better footing to endure the post-1970s tide of neoliberalism and anti-state ideology.
In the US, the Democrats - the milquetoast, spineless, cowardly democrats - have never been a more coherently progressive party than today. That in itself says a lot about how the country came to this pass.
Yeah, I agree that the US's curious history vis a vis racial politics is probably responsible for a lot of the delta between us and Europe.
It's amazing people still refuse to believe privilege exists. I was watching an interview with Warren Buffett on CBS Sunday Morning he stated point blank that he won the lottery. His sisters, he said, who are just as smart as he is didn't have the same opportunity. Had been born black or female or anything but white and male he wouldn't be where he is today. Warren Motherfucking Buffett.
It's all a bit hard to remember, since it was forever ago and the threads were merged, thus removing any ability to actually observe distinct conversational threads, but I don't think it's fair to describe him as an MRA. In memetic terms, he's far more "Priviege-Denying White Guy" than "Nice Guys of OkCupid". (The main argument I had with him was about gender essentialism and prescriptive identity / gender identity as a social construct, and he was at least trying to engage with me in an intellectually honest way, citing papers and discussing reasonably-executed research. I think he's wrong, but not a terrible human being, or incapable of having correct opinions except by accident.)
I was amazed at how normal and humble he seems.
Try sitting in a room full of undergraduates at a university and see them all knee-jerk when "privilege" comes up in discussion. It's a little depressing how unsurprised I am to find that people still refuse to believe that privilege exists. It is a really, really hard thing to get people to discuss without everyone getting defensive, what with the whole "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" mythology we've got here in America, never mind the American Dream.
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