Aug 12, 2008

I gotta start reading The Nation more often

Because if I don't, I'm going to continue to miss out on gems like this.

Corey Robin's piece is a fascinating insight into the intellectual heritage of the American right. However, he also says things that can apply more universally, and those are what really interest me.

For example:

While John Locke, Alexis de Tocqueville and David Hume are sometimes cited by the more genteel defenders of conservatism as the movement's leading lights, their writings cannot account for what is truly bizarre about conservatism: a ruling class resting its claim to power upon its sense of victimhood, arguably for the first time in history. Plato's guardians were wise; Aquinas's king was good; Hobbes's sovereign was, well, sovereign. But the best defense of monarchy that Maistre could muster in Considerations on France (1797) was that his aspiring king had attended the "terrible school of misfortune" and suffered in the "hard school of adversity."

Emphasis mine. As always, I'm eager to point out most of our Tories are quite good in that respect, the majority are most emphatically not wingnuts. However, what we might call the socially conservative populists, those shrill writers who infest the comment pages of many online publications do seem to fall into this category, often making such arguments in order to prop up the socio-economic status quo.

This is the driving force behind ridiculous claims like speeding fines being a stealth tax, or that New Labour are persecuting "the middle class white, hetrosexual male" (I always want to add "sexually frustrated" and "virginal" to that list, for some reason). Its a drive to claim victimhood and wield it as a weapon - cynically or subconsciously carried out by what is usually a fairly privileged class of people.

And it is a somewhat powerful weapon - most people have an inherent sense of fair play, and they do not want to pound on the underdog. Incidentally, the converse also illustrates something important for the British wingnut mindset - the idea of immigrants, foreigners and other groups they disagree with getting "benefits". Usually these benefits are laughably small, but nontheless they justify what would otherwise be the reprehensible attacking of less powerful group in society. Its not the wingnut hates immigrants, so the arument goes, oh no. They just want a level playing field.

Suddenly they're not whiney little pricks, they're valiant freedom fighters and activists, don't you know?

Anyway, moving on:

But how do they convince us that we are one of them? By making privilege democratic and democracy aristocratic. Every man, John Adams claimed, longs "to be observed, considered, esteemed, praised, beloved, and admired." To be praised, one must be seen, and the best way to be seen is to elevate oneself above one's circle. Even the American democrat, Adams reasoned, would rather rule over an inferior than dispossess a superior. His passion is for supremacy, not equality, and so long as he is assured an audience of lessers, he will be content with his lowly status.

And doesn't that hit a few nails on the head? Instead of fighting, say, for greater equality for all, which may result in some of the best off statistical outliers being brought closer in line with the rest of society, but with major benefits, instead the hope is to retain privilege by subordinating oneself to a hierarchical power structure, even though it may not be in one's best interests. One isn't at the top of the hierarchy, but equally one is not at the bottom either. And so it works because the desire to have someone else to kick around, blame and feel superior to is more powerful and addictive than "dispossesing a superior".

Unlike the New Left, however, Goldwater did not reject the affluent society. Instead, he transformed the acquisition of wealth into an act of self-definition through which the "uncommon" man--who could be anybody--distinguished himself from the "undifferentiated mass." To amass wealth was not only to exercise freedom through material means but also a way of lording oneself over others.

This could very well explain the obsession with Glibertarian talking points, such as the aforementioned speed cameras bullshit. The thinking isn't that of "taxation is inherently immoral" that a more usual libertarian or even anarchist may take. Its that taxing me is wrong, because then I cannot use my wealth to lord it over others.

Mannheim also argued that conservatives often champion the group--races or nations--rather than the individual. Races and nations have unique identities, which must, in the name of freedom, be preserved. They are the modern equivalents of feudal estates. They have distinctive, and unequal, characters and functions; they enjoy different, and unequal, privileges. Freedom is the protection of those privileges, which are the outward expression of the group's unique inner genius.

This ties into the previous statement - inequality is bound up in the wingnut concept of freedom. Presumably unaware of the problem of massive inequality being de facto a danger to freedom. In short, positive freedom is entirely ignored - or derided as against freedom, while negative freedom alone is exalted above all (note: I'm not a fan of either being favoured - I believe a balance of the two is necessary for actual freedom). The Feudal analogy is also very interesting, given the Mail article I posted the other day.

And finally, I just wanted to point this out:

Reactionary theologians in eighteenth-century France mobilized against the left by aping its tactics. They funded essay contests, like those in which Rousseau made his name, to reward writers who wrote popular defenses of religion. They ceased producing abstruse disquisitions for one another and instead churned out Catholic agitprop, which they distributed through the very networks that brought enlightenment to the French people.

Tell me that does not sound like the Spectator Coffee House. I defy you to try. I wonder if that is the first recorded case in history of wingnut welfare?

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