Wednesday, November 17, 2004

MyDD Book Club, Discussion #1 --
In a sort of electronic salon, MyDD (the first liberal blog I read regularly) has started running a book club. In the first discussion, readers talk about the essay "What Is Conservatism and What Is Wrong With It? by Philip Agre.

My own short reply posted in the thread:

But Why Are Conservatives Conservative?

In his essay, Agre goes over how conservatives have made language their tool and seeks to fire his own salvo by identifying conservatives with "aristocracy" and "destruction" while identifying liberals with "reason" and "democracy."

Agre is correct in identifying an aristocratic bent to conservatism, and his advice to assess the '60s shows an awareness of what modern American conservatives abhor. (Still, we should not fail to recognize that the '60s included some negative aspects like free love and drug use, just as Agre notes we should acknowledge that there is both good and bad rap.)

But I feel that in a rush to (perhaps rightly) demonize conservatism as anti-reason and anti-democracy, Agre has glossed over the existence of traumatic current events as a trigger for waves of conservatism. In a desire to paint conservatives as self-interested aristocrats, he fails to show how some conservatives come by their views honestly before going about their business by any means necessary.

The modern conservatism founded by Burke was essential a reaction against the French Revolution and while it is proper to be horrified by some of the excesses of the Revolution that does not mean one should re-establish the old monarchy.

Modern American conservatism practiced today is fundamentally a reaction against the 1960s and while it is proper to be horrified by some of the exceses of the '60s that does not mean one should re-establish the 1950s.

In general, conservatism is a reaction against the excesses of the masses. This reaffirms the Hobbesian instinct that the masses cannot and do not deserve to rule. (For a similar example of this, look at the hand-wringing of some on the left who decry what they see as the stupidity of a nation for re-electing George W. Bush.) What is missing in Agre's list of solutions is how to grapple with the most recent traumatic event affecting conservatives, September 11.

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