Why conservatives never quite catch the boat
In a sad effort to boost my sagging stats (only twelve people visited UR last week—seven of them were commenters, and the other five were me), I have decided to begin attacking other bloggers. I thought I’d start with one of the wisest and most perceptive conservatives around, Lawrence Auster, and one of his excellent frequent correspondents, “Thucydides.”
Thucydides writes in, apropos of nothing (the sheer brainpower in Auster’s salon is enough to carbonize an ox, especially if the ox is pro-immigration):
It occurs to me that one reason most liberals refuse to recognize the problems of illegal or excessive legal immigration, even though some of the effects, for example, driving down wages for the lowest earners, should attract their concern, is that their utopianism prevents them from acknowledging that we have a culture worth preserving. Their dreams are of some universal rationalist civilization in which human difference will evanesce, by comparison to which our existing culture seems lacking. They gain an elitist self satisfaction on the cheap by positioning themselves as critics of what actually exists; it is unjust, discriminatory, racist, etc. The minute they would acknowledge that we do have a culture that, whatever its flaws, compares favorably to most others in the world, that we do have things to be thankful for, that we have reason for gratitude, they are out of business as superior critics and morally worthy people who imagine a better world. Since their whole sense of identity is bound up in this posture, they cannot for a minute think of abandoning it, even when it clashes with their other goals.
Being unable to acknowledge that there is anything worth preserving about our culture, their universalism takes complete control. Since all people are the same in all places and times, regardless of their particular historic inheritances, any sort of division or border seems in need of rational justification, and they, given their assumptions, cannot find one.
Very well put. They cannot ever allow themselves to be in the position of defending our particular culture, because then they would not be superior to all cultures.
In my opinion, it’s not well put at all. Its logic is almost right, but it’s not quite right.
Who, for example, is “we”? What is “our culture”? Why should subjects of a particular political entity have anything particular in common? What is the difference between this set and the set, say, of all the people whose names start with the letter A, or the set of all people with brown hair?
Not that I am a universalist (a word I like a lot, along with Brahmin, idealist, progressive-idealist, ultracalvinist, or any other names I may invent, or others may submit, in UR’s ongoing name-that-death-star contest, whose prize is as usual a bottle of Laphroaig; the referent is the same thing Auster means when he says “liberal,” a word I dislike intensely).
Au contraire. I recognize that the section of North America ruled by the government in Washington, DC, is very different both in geography and population from, say, the section of West Africa ruled by the government in Abuja. In fact I feel as if I’d have a great deal of trouble assimilating into any of the many cultures in Nigeria, and I see no reason to assume the converse would be any different.
But the US, too, has many cultures. What do Thucydides and Auster even mean by “culture?” I am really not sure. I prefer to think of America’s major social divisions as castes; here is my taxonomy, here is my analysis of the conflicts.
Surely, if one attempts to construct some description which combines all these castes—Brahmin (liberal, Democrat), Dalit (ghetto, Democrat), Helot (laborer, Democrat), Optimate (old-school aristo, Republican), and Vaisya (middle American, Republican)—you get mixed nuts with maraschino cherries and calamari. If this is somehow a single “culture,” a description I doubt can be defended with any conceivable definition of the word, its main common denominators are McDonalds, “public” schools and CNN. Pound, Hamsun and Céline, come back, we miss you, all is forgiven.
In fact, when you look at the actual issue Thucydides is concerned about, but use my framework rather than his, you see (IMHO) a very clear and intelligible pattern.
The Brahmins, universalists, ultracalvinists, etc., do not hate “our culture” at all. They have a very distinct culture of their own—with a family tree that spends a remarkable amount of time in Massachusetts, upstate New York, etc., etc. (In Charles Royster’s excellent and only mildly neo-Unionist picture of the Civil War, The Destructive War, he mentions a foreign traveler in 1864 who asked some random American to explain the war. “It’s the conquest of America by Massachusetts,” was the answer. Massachusetts, of course, later went on to conquer first Europe and then the entire planet, the views of whose elites as of 2007 bear a surprisingly coincidental resemblance to those held at Harvard in 1945. But I digress.)
No, the Brahmins love their own Brahmin culture. And they hate the culture of their enemies, the Optimates and Vaisyas. I mean, where does a bear shit? Not in the Vatican, that’s for sure.
As for Brahmin feelings on the Dalits and Helots, opinions are more complex. Orthodox ultracalvinists idolize Dalits and Helots, but most of them do not know any Dalits, and converse with Helots only occasionally and in their professional capacity. They certainly do not want to live in the same neighborhoods as Dalits—although some daring ultra-Brahmin youth do use this as a social selection device, especially with Dalits of the Hispanic variety, who for some reason are less violent. (The principle is much the same as that which leads young Sateré-Mawé warriors to torture themselves with bullet ants; the decision to accept the various discomforts of living in a Dalit neighborhood is the rite of initiation into an exclusive social circle. Though it also of course tends to be cheaper, allowing our “hipster” to attend more assiduously to his various unproductive pursuits.)
But if Brahmins needed to work up a lather of hate against Dalits and Helots, they probably could. However, this is not presently useful. It is quite the contrary. And so instead we see a lather of love. Again, we are not talking about the Pope doing his business in the woods, here.
The Dalit and Helot castes are wonderful allies for the Brahmins. First, they provide, of course, votes. If we counted just B versus OV votes, the OVs would win in a walkover. As a very rough proxy, the last US president to win the white vote was Lyndon Johnson.
Almost if not quite as important, the high crime rates of both Dalits and Helots (if illegal immigration isn’t a crime, what is?) make them such useful allies. These entire castes can be deployed as crude but effective demo-armies in the grand old leftist style.
Here, for example, is a major presidential candidate deploying them—rhetorically, at least—as a direct threat in order to extract money. (“It would be really nice if all riots would be quiet riots,” and it would be really nice if you could put your hands on your head and accompany me to the nearest ATM.) In fact, the only reason the riots are quiet (that is, pretty much nonexistent), is that sometime around 1975, the black man started to get a little tired of being used as the white man’s pawn—if I may indulge in a little blast of retro-rhetoric.
Therefore, what is going on is simple. Brahmins don’t really believe all cultures are equal. They believe their culture is superior, and they have a system of thought (“multiculturalism”) that contradicts all other systems of thought on the planet, past and present. Again, the Pope and the bear, etc. All cultures are brutal, aggressive predators, and all are positively orgasmic, Highlander-style, at the prospect of eliminating any of their competitors. Certainly the Brahmin culture, which as I’ve described is the current heir to the American and Western European mainline Protestant tradition, is the leading contender and going strong.
Ultracalvinism, this modern descendant of the Puritans, is an aggressive cultural predator that has evolved a cool new trick. It likes to partially reanimate or reinvent the corpses of its smaller and more-decayed victims, as “Aztlan” reinvented the Aztecs, “Kwanzaa” the Ashanti or “Ossian” the Celts, and pretend they’re real. Since there is actually no prospect at all of any actual revival of the Aztec, Ashanti or Celtic cultures, this is safe, and it demonstrates ultracalvinism’s so-called “tolerance.” Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly!
And ultracalvinism is also “tolerant” to branches of other religions which it has in fact taken over, such as Reform Judaism or “moderate” Islam. In fact, no “moderate” of any modern faith could find any conceivable reason to raise his voice in any conversation with any randomly selected Unitarian, which while it may not be entirely conclusive is pretty good evidence that they are actually devotees of the same religion. It’s the old zombie manuever.
So we end up with a very simple and quite mundane (exit the Pope, pursued by the bear) reason why the Brahmins are trying to augment the US’s Helot population: everyone always needs more allies. (Especially when your stagnant empire is crumbling.)
Of course this is not always a conscious thought. But it doesn’t need to be a conscious thought. It just needs to be adaptively successful. In other words, it just needs to work. And boy, does it.
So, again, I’d say Thucydides is not quite right. Perhaps he agrees with this logic, perhaps he doesn’t (if he finds this post he’s welcome to comment). But it is certainly not what he said. And “not quite right” may be almost right, but that “not quite” is the difference between the ventilation shaft and the ventral asteroid plate.
Which may not matter at all if you just want to fire up a mob. But dissidents in the West today cannot win by firing up a mob. They can only win by convincing young smart people, who will otherwise be convinced by the numerous extremely convincing official sources of information that are constantly competing for access to their tender eyes and ears.
Conservatives: if Washington could be conquered by peasants with pitchforks, don’t you think it would have happened by now? Do you think there are more peasants with pitchforks, or fewer, than there were ten years ago? Do you have any strategy for reversing this trend? If not, aren’t you just wasting time and annoying the pig?
In my opinion, it is not Larry Auster’s words that we can learn from—although those words are often remarkably cogent and well-informed. It is his actions. He may think in terms of a strain of American nationalism that hasn’t been effective since Robert Taft was a little boy, but his blog tells a different story. Compare it to National Review’s Corner someday, and you’ll see the difference. Auster’s random emailers (he hand-moderates everything, and only accepts comments via email) are much smarter and better-informed than most of NRO’s pros.
Auster is collecting the smartest people around. So why does he keep pursuing rhetorical strategies that appear calculated only to rally people who already support his movement—rather than strategies designed to compete with and defeat ultracalvinism’s own reproductive system, capturing the cream of their youth and turning them to the dark side of the Force? Excuse me, I meant away from the dark side, of course.
If there is one general weakness in the conservative strategy, it strikes me as this unwillingness to admit that “liberalism” is actually mainline Protestantism, which is actually Christianity. Whether or not it obeys any specific detail of Christian or Protestant doctrine, such as the validity of the Holy Trinity, the existence of God, the divinity of Jesus, the predestination of the elect, etc., etc., etc., is entirely irrelevant. We are talking about a continuous cultural tradition whose superficial features constantly mutate. It’s a waste of time to generate antibodies to metaphysical doctrines. (I will say more about this in a bit.)1
Of course, if you are a Christian, you don’t believe these features are superficial. But doesn’t that make a nice trap? Neither side can call a spade a spade. The ultracalvinists need to hide the fact that they are spades, and the conservatives, since they believe that only conservative spades are true spades, refuse to bestow upon their enemies the prized status of spadefulness.
Whereas if you can make it past this trap, you are rewarded with an enormous store of clear and easy-to-apply metaphors for religious persecution, an entirely quotidian and extremely common phenomenon which everyone understands.
For example, if ultracalvinists are Christians, “political correctness” is religious orthodoxy. Hm, where have we seen this before? Perhaps in Massachusetts? I mean, is it any surprise that Ivy League schools are acting, in effect, as ultracalvinist seminaries? Isn’t that exactly what they were founded as?
And what are “multiculturalism” and “diversity” but religious tests for office? Hm, I don’t know anything of the sort in history. Maybe in Nepal? Nah.
In fact, religious conservatives, whose Christianity is generally of the non-mainline sort, although not every single one of them is an actual practicing snake-handler, have basically taken over the traditional role of Catholics in the British political system.
For example, Brahmins are all in a tizzy that the Justice Department under Bush has hired eight lawyers from conservative Christian law schools (Ave Maria and Regent). Of course, in the same period, it hired sixty-three from Harvard and Yale, but once the camel’s nose is in the tent, etc. It invites contamination. You can’t just let your institutions be captured like that, and the New York Times is very wise to object. I mean, they should know, shouldn’t they?
And this is why conservatives never quite catch the boat. They do not want to admit that what they are fighting is, in fact, a very old religious war, in which their side holds and has always held the losing hand. Conservatives cannot admit that conservatism is futile, because then they’d have nothing to do. No man will willingly abolish his own occupation.
So conservative political activists, too, do good service as their enemies’ pawns. Because the only winning political strategies I can imagine for conservatives, at least in the near term, involve things like boycotting elections. Since conservatives believe in “America” and in democracy, they will never do this. Therefore, they lose, and they will continue to lose.
This castrated pseudo-opposition is of enormous use to the ultracalvinist blue government. It disguises the essentially one-party nature of the Polygon, the vast majority of whose servants are Democrats, and whose bizarre idea of apolitical or “post-partisan” government would otherwise not withstand two chimpanzee-seconds of actual mental cogitation.
Furthermore, the conservative movement is remarkably effective as a scare puppet. The American political system consistently promotes the most idiotic, backward and ridiculous “conservatives” it can find. Every year, mainstream American conservatives are stupider, more venal, and more crass. The gradient from Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn and Albert Jay Nock to Jonah Goldberg and John Podhoretz, let alone to Michael Savage or Ann Coulter, is simply pathetic. Again, this is not somebody’s “plot,” it is not a conscious design, it is an adaptive pattern whose beneficiary is quite obvious.
Stupid conservative foreign policies are wonderfully useful as well. The war in Iraq has been the greatest boon to the Polygon since—well, since the war in Vietnam, in fact. Gee, isn’t it funny how that works?
There is no exit strategy for conservatives which does not involve (a) disassociating themselves completely from the failed Republican Party, and (b) successfully communicating with young Brahmins who are willing to question the tenets of the rapidly-ossifying ultracalvinist cult and the rule of the vast, moribund Brezhnevite institutions which sustain and transmit it.
Moreover, any such conversation has to involve you converting them, rather than them converting you—something by no means guaranteed with your average “South Park conservative.” And no, you are not going to convince them to handle snakes or speak in tongues. Focus on the basic fact that while they may think they’re rebels, they’re actually loyal servants of a theocratic one-party state, and you might even get somewhere.