The Horrors of “Conservatism” as Fashion

Undoubtedly one of the biggest mistakes we as a society made during the twentieth century was allowing “conservatism,” in its degraded, U.S. version, to become the fashionable political ideology. As wildly implausible as it might seem that an old money, upper class scion of Yale as William F. Buckley could succeed in his goal of making “conservatism” “shoe,” his weird term for fashionable, he did so beyond his wildest dreams, and we are all the worse off for it.

Perhaps he succeeded because, as the Donald has lately demonstrated, old, rich, white men exercise disproportionate influence over the culture of the United States and can persuade a significant subset of the population to acquiesce in almost any idiocy. So it was with Buckley persuading the U.S. to make “conservatism,” in its degraded, faux, U.S. version, ideological high fashion.

To begin, we need to remember that it is not unreasonable to insist that conservatism is always relative to the culture it exists in, which is about the only way one can claim to be “conservative” in defense of the distinctively liberal Constitution of the United States. The immediate problem arises, of course, that a keystone of conservative thought, real conservative thought, as faux, U.S. “conservatives” are occasionally aware, is adherence to principle, an, um, principle that U.S., faux “conservatives” typically honor in the breach, if at all. In the historical context from which the poles of “liberal” and “conservative” emanate, real conservatives adhered to the principle of monarchy, or automatic deference to the king. English philosopher John Locke articulated modern liberalism, the philosophy that, above all others, informed the American Revolution and its new Constitution, as an explanation for why the people of England could legitimately overthrow the monarch and choose their own form of government, as Americans would do just under one hundred years after Locke wrote his explanation.

So, “conservatives” in the United States start out in a bind. They cannot simultaneously claim loyalty to the U.S. Constitution and to monarchy. Perhaps because the closest the U.S. has ever had to monarchy was slave owners, U.S. “conservatives” have never dealt well with the legacy of racism that our history of slavery has bequeathed to us. Buckley himself explicitly defended racial segregation. Because “conservatism” is the proposition that all change is suspect at best and deserves automatic opposition, and treating as equals the descendants of slaves represented a major change in the policy and politics of the United States, of course our faux, U.S. “conservatives” opposed major civil rights legislation that had the effect of prohibiting discrimination against African Americans.

Buckley at least had the virtue of being genteel and demure. One wonders what he would think about the screeching hucksters his faux, modern, U.S. “conservatism” wrought, especially that screeching huckster par excellence, Donald Trump, now so called President of the United States, who got that position by appealing explicitly to the most racist impulses of U.S. voters. He had ample precedent in doing so, with his predecessors in the business of being a “conservative” screeching huckster, such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Anne Coulter appealing to the basest impulses of racism in the U.S. to ensure their own popularity and sell lots of books and radio ads. Indeed, there is no more reliable way to become a high fashion darling of the “conservative” set than to spout always fashionable racism.

The problem with faux, U.S. “conservatism” being fashionable is that it allows all manner of shoddy ideas to retain, merely by dint of being fashionable, a patina of intellectual respectability that they do not deserve. So, despite repeated, manifest failures, Republicans, the political home of our faux “conservatives,” continue to push the idea that the solution to any and every public policy problem is lower taxes, no matter the prevailing circumstances.

Similarly, white supremacy, usually thinly disguised in suitably pseudo intellectual guise, remains a favorite pose of “conservatives” in the United States. So, Andrew Sullivan, everyone’s favorite pseudo intellectual, faux, U.S. “conservative,” whips out the exceedingly shop worn “model minority” theory in order to use the removal of a Chinese man by force from an airplane to excuse the United States of its history of racism. The idea is that this cannot be a deeply racist nation because, by golly, those Asians have managed to overcome prejudice to succeed here. The implicit, at least in Sullivan’s case, claim is that the same would be true of African Americans if they would only work as hard as good, upstanding Asians. As Jamelle Bouie, that wacky liberal (he’s black) points out, Sullivan is just boring at this point, which is the nicest thing one can say for casual racism. It’s encouraging to see a smart black man call casual racism boring. That suggests he feels he has little to fear from it. If that is the case, it is so because of hard work by African American activists in the face of violence and oppression by U.S. “conservatives” for nearly the first two hundred years of the Republic’s existence. The white people who helped the African American civil rights activists were those annoying liberals, who actually want to try to make people’s lives better, much to the annoyance of good, upstanding “conservatives,” who know that what is, is best.

Now that casual racism is boring, perhaps it will cease to be fashionable, and take “conservatism” with it.

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