Thursday, July 28, 2011

Conservatism - A Personal Take

Conservatism is an uncertain term, appropriated over the last three centuries to apply to varying kinds of political assertion or belief. There are few people today who, even though they would call themselves true conservatives, would ally themselves, for instance, with a position which defends monarchism and the divine right of kings, though that position was once considered a key tenet of that tendency. As society has changed, so have visions and versions of political partisanship.

Parties and thinkers have adopted so-called "conservative" attitudes to respond to the needs of a changing world. In a pre-industrial society, conservatism did not have to account for the rise of the factory system, the middle class, and organized labor. The development of socialism, universal suffrage, the ending of slavery and the servitude, were responses to the concentration of capital, the exploitation of the working class.

At the end of the first decade of the new century, competing definitions of conservatism threaten to fragment traditional constituencies, making enemies of old friends, and unlikely bedfellows out of old foes.

Fair warning: I've never considered myself anything like a conservative, but my faith in progressive liberal pretensions has decayed over the years. I was raised in an impoverished, but basically conservative, household. Whereas economically, our family should have had a natural sympathy with a liberal political view, my parents tended towards a traditional view. Raised in the Midwest, they had supported FDR and Truman, but had voted for Stevenson and Kennedy. But in the 1960's, they turned, voting for Reagan as Governor in California, and (grudgingly) giving the nod to Nixon in 1968. I was forced to attend church as a boy, though my parents refused to do so. During the late 1960's, when I was radicalized by the Vietnam War, I became alienated from my parents, and we never reconciled.

Throughout most of my adulthood, I've considered myself a sort of "lapsed liberal independent"--supporting Democratic candidates across the board, though acknowledging, with increasing frustration, the essential corrupted nature of both major parties--neither of whom, I think it's fair to say, represent the interests of the general population. I tend to regard the Tea Party movement as a confused rabble of benighted fools, seduced by carpet-bagging corporate and capitalist interests, who've been manipulated into advocating policies and positions which are diametrically opposed to their own interests.

What would a "true conservative" agenda look like? Here's a talking-points list of principles, out of which a rational political program could be constructed:

Population. World population growth is totally out of control. 9/10ths of the world's problems are the consequence of over-crowding, stressed resource, and competition for dwindling stocks. As a public policy, every nation on the earth should have a no-growth provision. Conservation should mean quality of life, not simply expansion (quantity).

Consolidation (instead of constant growth). Economic theory over the last 200 years has been dominated by the growth paradigm which drove the Industrial Revolution, and the occupation and "development" of the earth. This expansionist bubble has had many good, and many bad effects; but we're clearly at the end of this phase. Any economic policy which drives population growth, and constant expansion and/or consumption of resource use, and land, should be abandoned.

Nationalism. Nationalism has gotten a bad name over the last century, principally because it became associated with negative applications. As a form of division and allocation, the creation of nation-states is a natural development of the common interests of regional and local groups and geographical limits. Nations are formed to bring order and structure to social and economic affairs. The simplest interpretation of nationalist government would be to foster the interests of the citizens of a given nation. The establishment of a priority of self-interest and prosperity should be the driving motive force behind nationalism. Any national government which did not perform this function, would be a failure. True conservative policies would foster the prosperity of its citizens--before any other priority.

Preservation of resource and the environment. We now know that mankind is one part of a whole interactive, interdependent ecosystem. That system is finite. Man's imagination of his place in the universe must acknowledge these limits, and husband the earth's bounty in such a way that our planet may survive. The present rate of consumption and soiling/desecration is unsustainable. Population control is one priority. The others are preservation of resource from over-exploitation, and the setting aside of the remaining unspoiled precincts for posterity's appreciation, and the oxygen-nitrogen balance.

Isolationist Foreign Policy and Foreign Aid. There are certainly instances in which conflict and the needs of other nations may justifiably draw a nation into alliances, wars and spontaneous altruistic gifting. But a nation's first priority must be to preserve its own security, and the welfare of its own citizens. Nations should not engage in policies and actions abroad which cause their own citizens to sacrifice and suffer needlessly. Alliances may preserve peace, but they often cause a widening of conflicts which might otherwise be limited. The United States, for instance, did not directly intervene in the long Iran-Iraq War--which in retrospect certainly seems prudent. Our incursions into Iraq and Afghanistan, however, now appear to have been grave errors--campaigns in which we expended great wealth to no real purpose whatsoever. True conservatism begins at home: Preservation of a nation's wealth, is the first priority. With the luxury of prosperity, modest kinds of aid are possible. But "nation-building" is far beyond the meaning of this kind of limited charity. Democracy, if it is to prosper, must grow from within. It cannot be "imposed" from without. This is one of the lessons of the modern world.

Separation of church (and capital) from government. Religious doctrine and influence have no place in a true parliamentary democracy. Similarly, the power of capital to control government through influence and co-option of the means of dissemination of information must be limited. The buying of government should be a crime. The right of the people to worship and congregate should not be abridged, but no single faith should be allowed to exert influence through government.

The Family. The nuclear family is the most successful social institution in history. When people lived in tribes or small bands, other kinds of loose organization may have made more sense. But since the advent of agricultural settlement and the domestication of animals, the potential stability of customary social arrangements has made the family unit indispensable. Pressures threatening the viability of heterosexual contract notwithstanding, the use and value of the family, both for the conception and raising of children, and the focus upon normalized sexual interaction, remains unchallenged. Every effort should be directed towards preserving the hetero-sexual family unit.

Much has been made in recent decades about the higher purposes to which political organization might be directed. So-called "humanitarian" priorities have tended to get the best press. One hears the "one world" phrase brought forward, to justify certain kinds of policies. But we are manifestly not "one world"--we are a group of nations, each of which has differing priorities. Where our priorities as nations overlap--as, for instance, in the matter of global warming, its causes and possible cures--there can be a basis for international cooperation. Common interests may facilitate common efforts. But as citizens of different nations, national priorities still must take precedence over international ones. It is not our business, for instance, to see to Chinese prosperity, or African prosperity, or Mexican prosperity, over and above that of our own. In fact, in many instances, our attempts to assist other nations or groups, either through outright gifts, or through military actions, have had counterproductive affects. In areas where famine is a cyclical process, artificially propping up indigent populations, without instituting controls over their population growth, has had the net result of exacerbating the cycle, with each subsequent crisis worse than the last.

Another priority we've heard espoused, in America, is that of the freedom of capital, to act independent of restriction. The "pursuit of happiness" has been co-opted by those who would redefine that implicitly fair concept in terms of privilege--the right to exploit labor and resource for purely personal gain. But we all know that such "privilege" is not an inherent, unlimited "right"--and that limits are what government regulation of human affairs are about. We don't grant the "freedom" of some individuals to impose intolerable burdens on society, just as we don't allow people to maim and murder each other. Preventing an oil drilling corporation from polluting the ground-water of an entire region, is not an unwarranted "abridgment" of the freedom of capital to act in its own self-interest: There is a higher interest which a society places on its own well-bring, than the drive for wealth or power.

These are just a few notes on what might constitute a true "conservative" agenda at this point in our history. I don't expect anyone to agree with my version.


Anonymous said...

Maybe start over with like the Declaration of Independence, and US-Con. (tho they're probably difficult to locate in the Bay Area)

Curtis Faville said...

How about we start with population growth, and go from there.

It'd be nice if 200 years from now, the population of the U.S. were half what it is today, and we used one fourth as much energy.

We can at least dream....

Anonymous said...

well, read Malthus on that.

It might be lower; might not. Whiteys might win, and perhaps get a Lebensraum which would please the likes of Faville and Kirby O--they might not (given current trends, CA will be mostly hispanic in 50 years).

Curtis Faville said...

"CA will be mostly hispanic in 50 years"

It already is.

I agree with the guy in Finland. Bring on the AIDS virus--Ebola. Let's clean the planet of 3/4's of its human mouths.

Be a much nicer place then.

Anonymous said...

trying my best to understand all of this !

all I know is what I read/hear in those Rupert Murdoch

... "things" which is about 70 % of the media.

this next election will bring about 'meaningful change
just like the last one did.

God Bless America ... whoever She may be !

( the other 'anon'

Gary B. Fitzgerald said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charles Shere said...

As Christopher Alexander argues persuasively (A Pattern Language, pp. 12ff), there should be a thousand States, none of over 10 million inhabitants.

Curtis Faville said...

The Pattern Language was once my bible.

Then he moved on.

To rugs.

His conceptual frame kept getting smaller and smaller, until it was the dimension of a single floor.

Maybe no floor at all. As rugs were invented I think to put on the ground, as the mats inside tents.

I always liked his description of a proper public square ("something roughly in the middle")!

Anonymous said...

youve been reported to google, kurtis creepo.

and others

we're shutting yr filthy know-nothing racist site down, soon

Curtis Faville said...



Kirby Olson said...

Race is a fiction, and should be a game from Mattel. Teach kids how to play the race card, and the gender card, and the class card. It's an amazing game. That's the game of the left.

I know a family that escaped to Chile from Germany just before the Nazi collapse. They were officials in the SS. They reinvented themselves as Hispanics and now attend and teach at Ivy League schools in the US as multiculturals.

I love how well some people can adapt to whatever rules are coming down the pike. It's evolution, baby!

i think conservatism is simply the attempt to get back to competence as the only game in town.

I don't understand how the left plays so many weird games. They claim blacks are not competent so there has to be bussing, Affirmative Action, projects, and so on, but if someone says, maybe there's a Bell Curve, no way, that's racist.

I think I'd be ok with helping people who were retarded. I don't see anything wrong with being retarded. It's a fact that some people are retarded, and if they are, then I think it's up to the state and to all people to help them.

But if people are competent then they should pull their weight.

But instead of that we get all these strange games that people play with race and gender and class, and the people who are really good at it, who are mostly the nazis, always end up on top.

I'm too simple to play all the games, or even much to understand the games.

I wish we could think about other things like beauty, but Marxists deny that it even exists. That game is way too elitist, I uess. But it's worth it. I see beauty everywhere.

If I wasn't reminded of it all day long I would never think of race, gender, and class.

It's elitist and probably conservative to want to think about archais things like beauty, and about god. But I talk with god all day long and I think beauty is everywhere you go, excep when you meet a Marxist. Then there's nothing but race, gender, and class.

I get confused.

jh said...

in reverse order

family - i'm with you here curtis
yet i would differ in arguing that any family must have the freedom to be as large as they want to be
no one should presume no nation should decide nobody can have a say in the freedom which must exist for healthy families and self actualization within a family to take place

separation - it behooves us to rethink the mandates and understanding of the american founding fathers -- by doing that it becomes apparent that the separation had to do with granting churches freedom to exist and to believe free of govt was understood and firmly expected that the moral discussions in churches have a direct influence on local social life and on broader political and ethical matters as well....jefferson believed that as did madison...discussions of biblical morality and the issues of political decision derive from the same basic tradition in the west -
it is utter blindness to ignore this...govt' in ahmuhrikuh was not set up as an atheistic institution no matter what anyone thinks now

isolation - one of the original understandings and one of the areas of great growth in america is the realization of the melting pot...and at least the willingness to experiment with widespread tolerance of all voices all needs

it's high time that we all see ourselves as essentially imposters

the richness of american democracy if it still exists must be said to have come from people on the outside coming in either by force or freedom and finding the presumptions of govt. to be hypocritical at best...thus fomenting necessary change

i agree that we need to take care of our own yards and walkways
but the driving force to do so and the financial wherewithall seems to be tied into the global economy these days however mythical it might sound
economy= housekeeping

we need more wilderness we need to allocate more land that people cannot drive into...there is also a need to critique the monoculture agriculture of our part of the world
it is distressing wasteful and unhealthy

i don't know what you think or anyone thinks needs to be consolidated...if your argument is for more by way of local economy local goods local industry local responsibility for what is needed locally - i'm all for that

it's like trying to get people to slow down after they've been driving at 85 for years

ok 55 is the limit

how're you going to do that

it is just as reasonable to argue that it's not that we're overpopulated it's that we've driven population into concentrated areas

if people were permitted to set up towns and villages along the main river sources and more or less insist that the bulk of food for any one place would be locally accessed...the population problem wouldn't be so seemingly can give everyone in the world one acre in texas

misappropriation of land wealth and land ownership...that's the problem

tampering with human fertility
is like sipping tea with a quiet little demon...sooner or later...

to misjudge the inherent invaluable mystery in every human soul is to compromise all the other's where i agree with anti-abortion enthusiasts

only a fool would trust the humanist agenda to at once place 'man" at the center of all concern and then presume that to manage that requires widespread fetal homicide

women on birth control pills equals women on LSD in my book

we waste enough food to feed most of the hungry people in the world every day

creative re-appropriation of land and resources to facility whtever growth comes about - that seems more human - we need to face these difficulties as an artist would - the scientists have phuqqed it all up - we need to stop believeing those people

i think wendell berry has thought it all through admirably
he's the best living poet in the land to boot!!