Widening the Field of Debate

In my life, I’ve known about as many people on the far left as on the far right. A comparison came to mind. This comparison is based on my personal experiences and so take it for what it is worth.

The most thorough critics of our society that I’ve met tend to be on the far left. Why might that be the case?

I suspect this relates to the outsider status that those on the far left have in American society. Unlike on the far right, far left positions aren’t particularly respectable or even always allowable in mainstream American society. The average American rarely, if ever, hears any left-wing perspective about anything. It is as if the left-wing perspective doesn’t exist, except as a Cold War spectre (although I also suspect this may be changing, however slowly).

All the time, right-libertarians and fundamentalists are seen in the MSM, as regular guests and sometimes even with their own shows. There have even been some genuinely extremist religious leaders on the right who have had the ears and personal phone numbers of major political figures, including presidents. Yet it is rare to come across Marxists, socialists, and anarchists anywere on the mainstream, whether media or politics. Could you imagine how shocking it would be to turn on the tv and see, on a primetime network news show, a panel of left-wingers discussing a presidential election debate where one of the candidates was as left-wing as is Ron Paul right-wing? In the US, liberals are the symbolic representatives of the entire left and, in most cases, they make sorry representatives at that.

Besides socialists and Marxists, there also have always been left-libertarians and many progressive evangelicals in the US, but you don’t even see them much in the mainstream. Most American libertarians I’ve met don’t even know that left-libertarians exist or know the origins of libertarianism itself. Likewise, most religious people on the right seem to assume that they have sole proprietorship of religion, especially evangelicalism, and are clueless about the large and growing religious left. Among the young generation, there are more progressive than conservative evangelicals (and the same is true for young Christians in general).

Furthermore, as a label, socialism is gaining majority of favorability among the young and certain minority groups, and still you don’t hear much about this in the mainstream. The Milwaukee sewer socialists were once highly praised in this country and yet today they are forgotten. Why is that?

None of this inspires politicians and pundits, reporters and journallists to take any of these views seriously.

Every newspaper has a business section where one regular comes across libertarian and other right-wing views. It used to be common for newspapers to also have labor sections, even including left-wing opinions and analyses, but not these days. Where in American society, besides the alternative media, is the far left supposed to be regularly heard? Why don’t they have a place at the table, even if only a voice to offer balance?

The left-winger’s outsider status probably radicalizes them more than otherwise might be the case. Because they are excluded from the system, they have less invested in the system and so are in a position to be the most critical.

This is why I argue that liberals need left-wingers. We liberals need them to keep us honest and keep us focused on what matters. Mainstream liberalism not unusually fails for a similar reason that equally applies to much of the right, a resistance to fully and radically challenge the status quo, the established order. From progressive to libertarian, from Democrat to Republican, they all are simply varieties of ‘liberals’ in the broad sense and all of them grounded in the classical libreralism, the Enlightenment Project that is the inspiration and foundation of American society.

Left-wingers aren’t entirely outside of the liberal order. In this post-Enlightenment age, no one entirely escapes the touch and taint of ‘liberalism’. But many left-wingers are definitely further than most people from the center of the American ‘liberal’ order. It is only on the far left that you find people genuinely struggling (beyond mere reaction) for a path beyond this ‘liberal’ era and hence beyond the mainstream debate that remains constrained within th narrow political spectrum.

I say this as a liberal, atypical but still more or less liberal in the mainstream sense. As a liberal, I find it surprising that I’m usually more radically critical than are many libertarians on the right. I see the problems within the liberal order, both in terms of progressivism and capitalism. I see these problems as someone who is part of this liberal order and hopes the best for it, but my vision has been made clear by listening to the views of those standing further out. I’m giving credit where it’s due.

Those on the left often know more about those on the right than vice versa. This as true as for politics and economics as it is for religion and science. I’ve noted this in my debates about genetics with hereditarians, specifically race realist HBDers. Many on the right think they are outsiders, that they are being excluded and no one is paying them the attention they deserve, but in my experience those on the left (especially the far left) pay them lots of attention — it’s just that those on the right are too oblivious of that attention, having the insider privilege to be oblivious to those truly on the outside. These right-winger’s views aren’t as challenging to the status quo as they’d like to think, often just a reactionary position that attempts to shift the status quo backwards slightly.

Right-wingers are more invested in the system. Like liberals, most want reform, not revolution. They are basically content with the established order.

Right-libertarians claim they’d like a smaller federal government that regulates capitalism less, but very few of them want to fundamentally change either the federal system or the capitalist system that is at the heart of our present social order and its attendant problems. Fundamentalists complain that religion should play a bigger role, but they tend to see this as simply as a process of putting the religious right into positions of power within the present system.

Except for the extreme fringe of anarcho-capitalists and Randian Objectivists, those on the right don’t seem willing to be so radical as to be a genuine threat to the social order. It requires a radical mindset to follow one’s principles to their fullest expression and furthest endpoint, a mindset that most liberals and most right-libertarians lack.

Why is it common to hear right-libertarians attacking big gov while defending big biz? And why isn’t it common for left-libertarians to do the opposite, attack big biz while defending big gov? Why do so many left-libertarians seem more consistently principled in criticizing all threats to liberty, political and economic? Why are left-libertarians more concerned than right-libertarians about all forms of concentrated wealth, centralized power, and hierarchical authority?

I hear conservatives and right-libertarians constantly talk about free markets. But if you question them, most have never given it much deep thought. Their views are mostly based on political rhetoric and talking points. They are repeating what they’ve heard, instead of thinking for themselves. It never occurs to them that even most people who disagree with them also want free markets. It never occurs to them to consider what freedom actually might mean or should mean. I’m almost shocked by how many right-libertarians take a globalized economic system as being a free market, despite all the social oppression and military force involved in maintaining it. What is libertarian about that? In a principled sense, it is the complete opposite of any meaningful sense of liberty.

The harshest critics on the right are those that even the right doesn’t pay much attention to. That is particularly true for the anarcho-capitalists. They at least have the balls to take free market theory as far as it can be taken. When an anarcho-capitalist speaks of free markets, they are touching upon the fundamentally radical essence to the freedom part of that equation.

I’d like to see more radical thought in general. It is what we need right now and I suspect people are becoming more open to it. I do want a far left to keep  liberals on their toes. For the same reason, I want a far right to keep conservatives (and other moderate/mainstream right-wingers) on their toes as well. Widening the field of debate at both ends will lead to more vibrant debate in between the extremes.

 

Conservative Critics of Conservatism

I’ve been very critical of conservatism this past year and have spent much time doing research. My motivation isn’t that I hate conservatives or think they’re ‘evil’ (well, some of them are obviously not nice people and possibly psychopaths, sociopaths, or Social Dominance Orientation types: Limbaugh, Cheney, Rove, Murdoch, Ailes, etc; and there are, of course, the Right-Wing Authoritarians who are the unquestioning followers that I’ve written about many times). I do get irritated and it’s not unusual for me to vent that irritation, but ultimately I desire to understand. My irritation isn’t knee jerk hatred for anyone who isn’t liberal. In fact, I can at times be quite critical of liberals as well, but the failings of liberals tends to just depress me.

Anyways, in my desire to understand conservatives, I have found that the best critics of conservatives are those who consider themselves conservatives. I’ve been reading a few books by such conservatives: Conservatives Without Conscience by John W. Dean (originally intended to be written with Barry Goldwater before the latter became sick and died), Crazy for God by Frank Shaeffer (his views have helped me understand the religious right), and Bite the Hand That Feeds You by Henry Fairlie (which I discovered because the author was mentioned in an article in reference to Joe Stack’s suicide manifesto). The last book is by a British conservative which means most US conservatives wouldn’t accept him as one of their own, but I think his views on conservatism are some of the most insightful I’ve come across. I love Fairlie’s notion of a Tory. My understanding is that Toryism is connected with conservatism in Britain, but in the US Toryism seems more similar to the Democratic party. Another book I’m thinking of buying is Take Back the Right by Philip Gold (which I came across in reading Conservatives Without Conscience).

I keep coming across these rare independent-minded conservatives. I decided to keep a list for reference which is the reason I’m writing this post. Besides those already mentioned, here are some other conservative who have criticized conservatives (and often paid the price for dissent): Bob Inglis, David Frum, and Bruce Bartlett. I should also include William F. Buckley jr who criticized the radical right and helped kick them out of the mainstream conservative movement (only recently has this radical element been invited back in with the Tea Party, Glenn Beck, and the Koch brothers). Let me make special note of Ron Paul who is the only recent Republican politician who has openly and strongly opposed the misuse of power by Republicans.

I respect anyone who is independent-minded, whether liberal or conservative. I don’t entirely agree with what these critical conservatives believe, but I find myself in more agreement with their more intelligent or at least more moderate version of conservatism. It’s interesting that David Frum who was the Bush speechwriter who came up with “Axis of Evil” would lose his job at a conservative think tank for pointing out the obvious. Dissent is not allowed in the present GOP and dissenters are punished. So, my respect for people like Frum (no matter how much I may disagree on particular issues) is well deserved. These dissenters are the future of the conservative movement (after the movement self-destructs).

I’ve been a bit critical of Barry Goldwater because it has seemed to me that he helped the conservative movement become radicalized. Afterall, it was Goldwater who wrote (and which is often quoted by radical rightwingers): “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!” I’m sure I disagree with Goldwater on many issues, but in reading Dean’s book I’ve come to understand why Goldwater is worthy of respect. Goldwater wasn’t trying to radicalize the conservative movement. He was trying to bring conservatives back to what he considered traditional political values. Dean’s book has been helpful, especially in relation to Bob Altemeyer’s research which Dean references heavily. I found it interesting that Dean’s description of a “conservative with conscience” would, in at least moderate form, fit the description of many liberals which made me think of Fairlie’s description of the Tory conservatism being most similar to the Democrat party.

However, there was one aspect of Dean’s description that stood out (p. 71): “Freedom always trumps order and safety when government needs to weight them.” Two things occured to me. This statement represented the seed of radicalism that exists even within the moderate conservative in the US. Conservatives aren’t very conservative in the sense of actually wanting to conserve. They want to be “free”… which brings me to my second point. Such an ideal of freedom is rather ideological. Liberals value freedom as much as conservatives, but liberals desire different freedoms and don’t use as much ideological rhetoric in defending those freedoms. The conservative often lacks understanding of complexity. Freedom from one thing tends to put people under the constraint of another thing. So, to the extent that one is free from government, other institutions and organizations will have greater power they can impose. If the government doesn’t regulate religions and corporations, they will (as they do in some countries) impose their power upon the public. There is no absolute thing called freedom because it’s a relative concept, an abstraction that we judge according to.

Fairlie’s Tory doesn’t desire freedom at all costs. The Tory instead desires to conserve. Unlike present US conservatives, the Tory tries to avoid radical change. It’s for this reason that the Tory is suspicious of capitalism and of concentration of wealth outside of the government. The government serves the public good, but capitalists have no such requirement. Even though the government may fail in its responsibilities, the government at least is obligated to attempt to live up to its responsibilities. The capitalist, on the other hand, doesn’t even have to pretend to be concerned about the public good. Also, capitalism tends to change quickly and so isn’t a dependable source of public good. Economies go up and down, CEOs and entire businesses come and go… but a government (like a church) is a permanent fixture. In a constitutional democracy like the US, the government is intentionally designed to be inefficient. This is a good thing considering the most efficient government is fascist. Centralization of power is dangerous and that is why our government has a division of power, but the only thing that keeps power from being centralized in any single corporation is that the government disallows monopolies from forming. Without regulation, capitalism (as it presently functions; I’m not speaking about theoretical ideals of capitalism) will tend towards the accumulation of wealth in fewer and fewer hands. The constitution limits the power of the US government, but transnational corporations aren’t limited by any constitution.

As such, US conservatism which values capitalism and religion more than it values government doesn’t seem very conservative. Where are the Roosevelt conservatives who believed in conserving the environment and in conserving natural resources? Where are the Lincoln conservatives who believed in maintaining the Union at all costs? Despite my respect for Ron Paul, what is the point of running for political office on the platform that government is the problem? Going by the examples of recent conservative presidents (from Reagan to Bush jr), it seems that to run the government according to the ideology that government is a failure only helps to create a failing government. American conservatives don’t seem to trust the democratic process. I’ve even noticed a recent trend of conservatives denying that our political system is even a democracy. These conservatives want to treat the Constitution as if it were the Ten Commandments.

I sometimes get confused between the conservatives proclaiming freedom and the conservatives who act like authoritarians. When neoconservatives use libertarian rhetoric, it becomes extremely confusing and it’s hard to know when the libertarian rhetoric is genuine. Certainly, Reagan and Bush jr were no libertarians even though they gladly used such rhetoric to win support. However, there are those who overtly claim to be libertarian and yet it’s not clear that they are. Rupert Murdoch is an avowed libertarian who has been on the board of the Cato Institute which is a libertarian think tank, but if Murdoch is a libertarian then it’s become a meaningless word. This pro-capitalist big business libertarianism is a strange creature. Even Rand Paul, the son of the great Ron Paul, is quick to defend big business as he did with the BP oil spill (even while the actions of BP had led to the destruction of local small businesses). So, this is freedom? Whose freedom?

This is where the US conservative has difficulty in seeing clearly, even when they are otherwise critical. A British conservative like Fairlie has more insight in some ways than even someone like Dean who knows the Republican party from the inside. I want to understand US conservatism. I sometimes think I even wish to be convinced, to be won over. I want to believe that a moral version of conservatism can still exist in contemporary American politics. I genuinely respect and even agree with some conservative values. If those particular values were central to the conservative movement (in place of the present authoritarianism and radicalism), even a liberal like me could possibly be persuaded to identify as conservative. I most definitely could be a conservative according to Fairlie’s view of Toryism. Maybe it’s my own (non-radical) ‘conservative’ inclination that makes me feel so critical of the far right in the US.

I read an interesting analysis that compared liberals and conservatives in the US. The person was pointing out the different ways the two sides perceived Communism. Conservatives believed Communism was a massive threat. This implied that these conservatives, oddly, had great faith in the possible success of Communism in taking over the world and yet little faith in the strength of democracy. Liberals, on the other hand, tended to agree with Benjamin Franklin: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” The liberal has great faith in democracy and so trusts in the democratic process which he believes should never be sacrificed. A conservative like Dean seems to want to move in the direction of the liberal, but it’s not clear that he is willing to allow himself to do so. Like a good American conservative, he defines freedom in terms of being free of government, but our government is a democracy which protects our freedom. Even when our government fails in its duties, the liberal has faith in the democratic process, has faith in American culture, in American institutions, in the American public. The liberal doesn’t see the government as inherently in opposition to freedom. To get back to the analysis of Communism, the person who made the analysis said that he, as a liberal, always knew Communism would fail in that authoritarianism will always fail. The liberal seems more conservative in that the liberal is more concerned about conserving: conserving government institutions, conserving the democratic process, conserving civil rights, conserving the environment. Conservatives are the opposite in wanting to (often radically) return to some idyllic past that may never have existed.

In conclusion, I’m still searching for a worthy form of conservatism that could exist in America. The emphasis in that statement is on the “searching” part. I’m trying to imagine what a truly moral conservatism would look like, but the reality of present conservatism makes it difficult. Bob Altemeyer’s research shows that authoritarianism strongly correlates with conservative ideology in the US (specifically social conservatism). Nonetheless, he is careful to point out that authoritarianism isn’t identified with rightwing ideology and can at times become linked with leftwing ideology. So, in theory, an egalitarian conservatism that actually seeks to conserve should be possible, even in the US. Prior to the Southern Strategy, the Republican party wasn’t dependent on the wedge issues of race and religion. Even during Reagan’s administration, intelligent people were drawn to the Republican party (actually even making the average IQ of Republicans of that time higher than Democrats… which is the complete opposite now). I’m eager for the Republican party to destroy itself in its increasing radicalization because the quicker it does the quicker it can begin to return to sanity. I hope I live long enough to see a new conservatism rise out of the ashes.

– – –

* As a note, I should add an additional category of critical conservatives. Similar to the libertarians and minarchists, there are the anarcho-capitalists who are critical of mainstream politics in general. For example, the anarcho-capitalist Stephan Molyneux makes criticisms using the exact same kind of data that is used by the liberal environmentalist Derrick Jensen. However, many anarcho-capitalists (like many rightwing libertarians) can tend to be more ideological than critical-minded… meaning their criticisms are extremely limited and biased. Anyways, it seems quite a few anarcho-capitalists are wary about being identified with conservatism and prefer to think of themselves as independents. In my opinion, the more moderate mainstream conservative-leaning independents (or independent-leaning conservatives) like Dean are maybe on average more intellectually respectable in their analyses (having less tendency towards extremes in their beliefs and ideas).

* As another note, I thought of some other conservatives I could add. I just watched Nader do an interview of Napolitano. The latter seemed to express what I’d consider genuine civil libertarianism. I’ve also heard John Stossel make a very lucid libertarian argument for legalization of drugs and as I recall he made that argument on Fox News. A third example is Shep Smith who is on Fox News as well. This makes me wonder to what extent Rupert Murdoch might genuinely believe in libertarian values or what libertarianism even means to someone with so much wealth and power. Anyways, these people (Napolitano, Stossel, and Smith) represent an authentic conservative impulse within mainstream conservatism, but still I wonder. Who listens to them? Who among the conservative leadership takes them seriously? It was interesting to see how critical Napolitano was of Republican politicians and judges. Does the intellectual rationality of Napolitano truly balance out the anti-intellectual radicalism of Glenn Beck? Between Napolitano and Beck, which one has more influence over the views of the average conservative? If I had to guess, I’d say Beck has had the most influence recently for sure. When people speak of conservatism as a movement, who exactly are the main representatives and leaders? The reason I wonder is because when I listen to someone like Napolitano I can’t help but think that certain of his conclusions would be more similar to the views of liberals than to the views of conservatives.

Far Right’s Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Secessionism & Militias, Paranoia & Violence

I find it hard to comprehend the mindset of some rightwingers. I don’t disagree in principle with many of their values and ideas, but I always sense some hidden motive behind the rhetoric. It’s partly just that rightwingers are more prone to paranoid conspiracy theorizing than those on the left. I’m actually sympathetic to the paranoid state of mind. As they say, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.

However, sometimes it seems that the far right has a self-enclosed, self-reinforcing, self-fulfilling way of seeing the world. For example, some rightwingers get all worked up over a talk show host telling them the Feds are going to take their guns away. So, they stock up on guns and start acting suspicious which attracts the attention of the police or FBI. It never ends well for the paranoid rightwinger.

This kind of rightwinger might even be correct about some of their fears, but there is something demented about their being prone towards aggressive self-defense which not unusually leads to self-destructive behaviors. This style of thinking isolates them and makes everyone who is different than them into a potential enemy.

Fear is fine, but fear-mongering just isn’t helpful for the fear-mongerer himself or for anyone else. I mean what benefit does someone like Glenn Beck gain from fear-mongering? To be cynical, many say it’s all just a show and so it comes down to profits. And profitable it is. Beck wasn’t rich before fear-mongering, but since beginning his extremist style of punditry he has become massively wealthy. If he actually believed the nation would collapse or the socialists were going to take over, then what would be the point of his amassing all that wealth?

One element behind my thoughts are the recent talk of secessionism. Even some Republican politicians have openly and directly encouraged secessionist attitudes. Do these politicians actually want a new Civil War? Unlike the first one, a second Civil War would probably be over in days or weeks. And if for some reason the army itself became split in it’s allegiances, we would experience a war that might be more destructive than any war fought in modern history. Could you imagine the country splitting in half with the respective military forces lobbing nukes at each other. It would make the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan look like Disneyland in comparison.

The specific issue that started this line of thought is that some rightwingers are seeking the establishment of state militias. I’m fine with the proposition in the abstract, but the motives seem a bit suspect. When I hear the proponents speak about it, there is a lot of talking around in circles and much that is implied.

It’s all very strange. At the bottom of it all, I sense that some rightwingers feel their being left in the dust of the 21st century and so their itching for a fight. I suppose that, going by the demographics, many of these rightwingers are out of step with where society is heading. It’s just a fact that America is becoming less dominated by whites, by fundamentalists, by the culture wars. A shift is happening in demographics right now that is unlike anything that has happened before in American history.

Ultimately, I wonder how many of these rightwingers take themselves seriously. Are they just posturing? Maybe most of them are just posturing, but definitely some rightwiners are working themselves up and some are seeking ways to organize. What will happen if and when they organize is another issue. But I have no doubts that the authorities (be they police, FBI or maybe even National Guard) will come down hard on some of these groups. Be prepared for the same violent confrontations and bombings we saw from the rightwing militia types in the ’90s. It will be interesting to watch it all play out.

It’s not that I necessarily trust the government more than the average conservative. I just trust the far right fear-mongering machine even less. It’s like these rightwingers have a narrative stuck in their head and their determined to play that narrative out to its inevitable conclusion. Of course, the authorities are more than willing to play their part as well. Personally, I’d prefer a different story to be played out on the national level.