People and Monoliths

No, this isn’t about Kubrick movies (fond of them though I may be), but about the political discussions I have with my best friend (apart from Mrs. Mondo), Maj. Mad Dog, Esq.

As I’ve mentioned before (and doubtless will again), the Mad Dog and I are essentially political opposites — he’s a Euro-style Social Democrat, while I’m more of an anti-Statist man of the Right. Neither of us really fit into our work environments, either — he’s in the military (hardly a hotbed of Progressivism), and I’m an academic. We talk politics often, although we know we’re starting from different sets of assumptions and values. In a way, we’re kind of an embodiment of the so-called Culture Wars.

And it’s that topic that has engendered our latest discussion. Over at The American Culture, Sam Karnick discusses what I think are essential differences between Progressivism and modern conservatism (a.k.a. classical liberalism). I posted a link to it on another site, and the Dog argued that the Right (as embodied by Fox, for example) is inconsistent in its stance toward individual rights.

I’m willing to give at least one cheer for that position — I agree that the Right is inconsistent, but I believe that this stems from the fact that the Right isn’t monolithic. In fact, we’re a pretty intellectually/philosophically diverse group in a number of regards, and have been since the early days of post-WWII American conservatism. While George Nash’s excellent book offers full details on this business, suffice it to say that there has always been conflict between, for example, social conservatives and the anti-Statist Right. Remember, National Review cast out the Birchers and Whitaker Chambers dissed Ayn Rand.

In a way, this ties in to the epistemic closure misnomer/meme that a number of folks in the blogosphere have been trying to make recently. The argument (that debates over the nature/direction of conservatism indicate closedmindedness in the dextrosphere) simply ignores the fact that we’re always examining our core assumptions and negotiating the conflicts, and we always have been.

In this regard, Jonah Goldberg has pointed out that the Progressive camp may in fact be more closeminded than the Right. For example, progressives seem to think that when and where the government can do good, it should do good. That’s settled. On the other hand, I can and do see instances on the Right where, where even though we know something is a bad thing (drug abuse, for example), some of us believe it isn’t the State’s place to interfere.

So where am I going with all this? I think the answer is that it’s a mistake to see a conservative and assume he or she is necessarily a tea partier, member of the religious right, or apologist for Corporate America. We’re not a monolith — we’re people. That’s something we could all stand to remember from time to time.


About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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6 Responses to People and Monoliths

  1. Jen says:

    I can buy into the idea that the Right wants to encourage personal responsibility rather than passing legislation about every little thing. I love that plan. But then why all the hullabaloo over abortion?

    I think the party blew their White House chance by trying to pair McCain with Palin in an attempt to pull in the religious conservatives along with the people who just don’t see the point of legislating behavior. They got too greedy when they tried to be all things to all people, and it was off-putting. That’s when they lost us here, at least. So maybe if the party didn’t try to put itself forth as a monolith, fewer people would view it as [an evil] one.

    Apologies for this — I have a 3 year old in my lap trying to talk to me about Cookie Crisp cereal, and multitasking isn’t my strong suit.

    • profmondo says:

      Well, that’s the conflict between social cons and libertarians I was talking about. It’s in the nature of parties to try to be all things to all people — they’re looking for votes, after all.

      But there’s a difference between Republicanism and conservatism. Just because all chocolate is good doesn’t mean that all good things are chocolate.

      And I think that if the Cookie Crook would just get a freakin’ job, he could buy his own Cookie Crisp. Show some pride, fella.

  2. majormaddog says:

    I think this is where we sometimes argue past each other. By saying the Right is not monolithic and quoting Jonah (the cancer causer), you seem to be making the point that conservatives are more open to other ideas within the bigger realm of conservatism than are the folx on the Left within progressivism. (There’s one problem right there in that I prefer to go by liberal, rather than progressive, but your view of classical liberalism has it equivalent to conservatism). You base your idea on a view of the -isms in a philosophical sense. Social conservatives and Anti-Statist folx on the Right all have a home within big conservatism.

    But I look at it a different way (and you acknowledge this idea in response to Jen’s comment above). The Democratic Party v. the Republican Party. These are the political homes of most of the folx we’re referring to above. Yet the politically acceptable views within those parties? There’s a wide range of libertarians, conservatives and liberals/progressives within the Democratic Party. And the members of that party are often quite free to vote against their party on issues very important to the people who vote for that party. Yet the Republican Party, home as it may be to both social conservatives and fiscal conservatives does not contain what anyone would consider a liberal member. And certainly there is no chance that a member of that party could vote against the perceived interests of the rabid voters of that party without much heartache. Sure you can cite me Blanche Lincoln and Joe Lieberman, but these (IMHO) pale by comparison to Bennett in Utah and Crist in Florida. Only the most conservative survive. And you want to talk about monolithic, look at the House Republican voting record and show me any significant deviation from the party line.

    So, I guess I’d say that the sense of your post and Karnick’s article may be technically correct in the philosophical sense, but they’re entirely wrong if you consider what going on in the world of your preferred political party versus my preferred political party.

  3. profmondo says:

    First off, Mad Dog, Olympia Snowe. Susan Collins. Joseph Cao. To an extent, Lindsay “Amnesty and Trade” Graham. And that’s w/o even trying. Also, I think you can make a case for Crist and Bennett being part of an anti-incumbent fervor, not just being insufficiently doctrinaire.

    Beyond that, you’re just asserting that conservative=closeminded. It reminds me of the old joke: “I’m principled. You’re stubborn. He’s a pig-headed fool.” What’s the difference between those conditions, from where you stand?

    • majormaddog says:

      I won’t quibble with the particular Senators and Representative you cite above. Even if I considered those examples to be equivalent, which you know I don’t, I think my point is that, playing on my terms, the progressive/liberal party is not less of a big tent than the conservative party. Unless you’re saying Evan Bayh, Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln and the other quite moderate to conservative senators aren’t equivalent to the names you cite. Or the 10% or so of the Dem caucus in the House that are Blue Dogs have an equivalent number among the GOP caucus.

      And be careful with the use of closeminded there bud. Your original post has Jonah (the cancer causer) saying “the Progressive camp may in fact be more closeminded than the Right.” I’m not sure if that’s supposed to mean that we’re both closeminded and the Left just more so. But in any case, I think you’re saying Jonah is calling progressives closeminded and I’m calling conservatives closeminded, so that means I’m just like Jonah. Nope – them’s fightin’ words Professor.

  4. Pingback: People and Monoliths Redux | Professor Mondo

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