Thursday, April 21, 2005

The sorry history of conservatives

It sounds like such a good word. “Conserve.” You think of land stewardship, lovingly restored furniture, thoughtful manners. Carefully tended gardens, the hard-working paperboy saving his coins, a handed-down recipe for cherry jam. Those conservatives really care about things, don’t they? Important things. It’s right there in their name! We all owe them some respect, maybe a little gratitude, for their contribution to our American way of life. Right?


Conservatives have opposed just about every positive advance in American history. Starting with the Revolution itself, they supported George III over George Washington. They supported slavery, the nullification of federal laws they didn’t like (regarding slavery), the repeal of the Missouri Compromise (over slavery) and the destruction of the Union (ditto).

They opposed the transcontinental railroad and the Homestead Act because they didn’t want small farmers – nonslaveholders – settling in western territories. They opposed the 14th and 15th amendments, civil rights, voting rights, unions, anti-trust legislation, and child labor laws. They opposed public education, women’s suffrage, the League of Nations, the UN, minimum wage laws, agricultural subsidies, the TVA, the REA, Social Security, the 8-hour workday, and worker safety regulations.

They opposed US entry into World War II, traded with Nazis during the war, opposed the GI Bill, the Marshall Plan, and the interstate highway system. Shall I continue? They fought Medicare, FHA mortgages, and the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. They supported right-wing dictatorships in Iran, Guatemala, Cuba, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, the Congo, Chile, Brazil, El Salvador, the Philippines, and Indonesia.

Meet the Conceptual Guerilla, source of the above list and coiner of the term “cheap labor conservative.” A former trial lawyer and master of rhetoric, he can take any position of the right and reduce it to its cheap-labor underpinnings in 40 seconds flat. Social spending? No; the more desperate the workforce, the cheaper they’ll work. Globalization and free trade? You bet; third world workers are really over a barrel and work dirt cheap. Demonizing gays? Encouraging racism? Yes! All forms of bigotry sow dissent among workers and distract them from their common cause as wage earners.

Conservatives will find a million faults with his history – how do you define “conservative,” the Civil War wasn’t about slavery, Nixon supported the environmental regs, there were Democrats who took some of those same positions – but it will be nitpicking. It’s a compelling list. Conservatives are on the wrong side of American history.

Here’s another take from Philip Agre at UCLA. He asks two simple questions:

Q: What is conservatism?
A: Conservatism is the domination of society by an aristocracy.

Q: What is wrong with conservatism?
A: Conservatism is incompatible with democracy, prosperity, and civilization in general. It is a destructive system of inequality and prejudice that is founded on deception and has no place in the modern world.

Conservatism is the antithesis of democracy. This has been true for thousands of years,” says Agre.

So don’t come waving your flags at me.


leolabeth said...

The tricky part is parsing the parties where conservatives have done their "conserving." For decades the Democrats wanted to conserve the status quo slavery and civil rights. The Republicans were the party of the abolitionists, not the Democrats. Martin Luther King was a Republican.
My how the mighty have fallen.

Alna Dem said...

Exactly right. His definitions are self-reinforcing to some extent... ("anyone who supported these positions was by definition a conservative"), but I still think he's onto something. If you study present and past political parties and ideologies, you can nearly always find the "conservative" thread he's talking about.

And what they're conserving seems to hold steady throughout history - their own power and position. As per Agre.

leolabeth said...

Right, they just change clothes and banner colors to suit the mood of the decade. It's a little shell game that only the most diligent historians really bother to follow closely.

It illustrates what is saddest to me about what's happening to this country. It's not the great power of the Repubs or the dithering of the Democrats, but rather the hijacking of both parties by corporate interests that worries me. Corporate heft has had a greater effect on the Republicans in part because they happen to be in power. The Neo-Calvinists have given the NeoCons lots of momentum too.

Alna Dem said...

Uh... (dumb look on face), who and what are neo-Calvinists? I think I missed that course!