Joe Scarborough, on Morning Joe this Friday morning, asked some prominent Conservatives what they think will become of Conservative thought once represented by the Republican Party. I have come to have little respect for conservative ideas which are all form and little substance. Conservatives have tried to sell America on limited government, free markets, and on becoming a nation with a growing population that refuses to raise taxes. While these ideas came from the work of Friedrich Hayek who wrote his economic doctrine at the same time as Keynes, we have had opportunities to see how Hayek’s theories have failed to produce the results he claimed we would benefit from.
Hayek’s proposals became Conservative talking points: limited government, free markets, low taxes, policy choices we have been bombarded with for far too long. Scarborough, George Will, David Brooks, David Frum and a long list of Conservatives are in mourning because an uncouth man is accomplishing their policies, a man who does not have their pedigree or even any understanding of conservatism. Interesting how Trump’s nods to fascism have brought America closer to conservatism than all the private schools and religious schools, all the effete academia of our nation’s top Conservatives (thinkers who do not govern). Hayek’s most famous book has the title The Road to Serfdom in which he contends that the reliance of ordinary citizens on assistance from their government will turn them into serfs.
These Conservative arguments brought fascism into our lives along with limited government, free markets, and low taxes. Is fascism an inevitable outcome of conservatism or is this just the aberration of one narcissistic, egomaniacal, paranoid man? The clearest picture I got of fascism I got from Elena Ferrante’s trilogy about Naples, Italy. Fascism hates liberalism, it hates protest, it hates labor unions. Conservatism agrees with fascism in these matters except for the baseball bats. Conservatives prefer to use elitism, money, and power to control bottom-up attempts to compete. They label these attempts by we the people to find our own power base liberalism, and they set Conservatives against a set of humanist policies which they loudly proclaim to be harmful to the government they envision. Their government is a top-down, hopefully beneficent government managed by educated elites which they believe offers the best economic program for America.
But the Conservatives married Racism aka White Supremacy. And the Conservatives married Christianity, although our founders, who had close ties with Britain, a nation torn apart by the religious machinations of Henry VIII and the Anglican revolution, wanted freedom of religion. Now Conservatives are reaping the repercussions of these choices and they have attracted the services of a Fascist enforcer. Conservatives married corporations and wealth inequality. Conservatives married fossil fuels and a denial of the damage being done to the planet. Despite all of these bad marriages Conservatives still demand that America accept them as symbols of moral virtue and high ideals.
If a true Conservative like the revered Ronald Reagan had been in charge of the COVID19 pandemic would he have applied the principles of limited government, small government, to tackling this threat to social and economic order in the same ways that Trump has? Would he have had to resort to a national response instead of forcing states with far fewer resources to handle this national emergency in 50 different ways? Would Reagan have worn a mask as an example to the people of the efficacy of adopting this barrier in order to support the health of the nation? Would Ronald Reagan have adhered to policies that seem ridiculous in a nation of millions, or would he have had to set those policies aside to be the leader the moment demanded?
Reagan still knew how to compromise. Trump, Barr, Mitch McConnell are drowning in their purity and so is America. Is it even purity or just greed – greed for power and money, a passionate need to bleed the last dregs of profit from an energy structure that we must change, or we will die with our smoke stacks still releasing deadly CO2 into our fragile atmosphere? America has an addiction that is every bit as damaging as cigarette smoking was to individuals. We are destroying the lungs of the world. Would Reagan have denied science because it did not agree with his dogma? Would Reagan have ended immigration even before the pandemic? I don’t know the answer any more than anyone can, but Reagan was not a purist. He responded to reality. If the principles of Conservatism have to be compromised over and over again in response to actual events wouldn’t that suggest that Conservatism is a philosophical approach to government that is impractical and inflexible, that does not see we the people as real or important, but rather as expendable and interchangeable. Conservatism has shown us where it leads and it is not to a moral high ground; it leads to the moral bankruptcy of 45.
I am always labelled a liberal, and although I do not hate the term I do not define myself that way. I think of myself as a humanist, who believes a society should benefit everyone and not just the wealthy and well-educated. I do not see workers as serfs, although Hayek contended that serfdom would be the end result of liberalism. It appears to me that Conservatism is far more likely to produce a two class society consisting of aristocrats and serfs. Good luck with providing for everyone in a system that takes us back to societies that had no middle class, no merchants. As for my feelings I would like to see an end to the current incarnation of conservatism. Conservatives are doing much more than keeping their eyes on America’s bottom line; they are trying to claw us back to a society that is already obsolete and their policies are hurting America and Americans, not helping. Whether or not we have benefits like subsidized health care or a safety net for workers in a changing market place are no longer options we can keep or discard. These are now just the basics of our society. We need to stabilize these programs and move on to what our new economy will look like and how we will fuel it, how we will shape technology to our advantage as opposed to allowing it to create cyborgs to replace us. ( a nod to Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari).
How do we learn to cooperate globally if we can’t even make decisions that will affect our nation right now? Does there have to be a paradoxical structure to our politics? Does the existence of a “liberal” require the existence of a “conservative”? Will liberals drive the society off a cliff without the guidance of conservatives? If every yin has to have a yang what new duality could we invent that would be more useful than this conservative/liberal split that divides us right now?