Sunday, November 14, 2004I just realized that I have repeatedly used the word "conservativism" which does not exist, instead of "conservatism," which does. Ouch. I have gone through my previous posts and tried to correct this unforgivable mangling of the language. If I missed one, please let me know. Mea culpa.
In this third installment of my critique of Philp Agre's "What is Conservatism and What is Wrong with It," I will look at his discussion of the tactics of conservatism, or as Agre describes it, "How Conservatism Works."
Agre lays out four methods by which the right dominates political argument. He argues that conservatives systematically undermine conscience, democracy, reason, and language. I found Agre's discussion here a bit hard to follow, perhaps because he his arguments blend into one another. From what I can determine, Agre is attempting to lay out the means by which conservatives corrupt the public discourse by hijacking the language of morality even while engaging in Goebbelesque distortions of logic and language and engaging in reprehensible political techniques. My use of the word “Goebbels” is quite deliberate. As David Neiwert in particular has explained, the modern right has moved steadily in the direction of neo-fascism. Josh Marshall has also explained how there seems to be an almost post-modern rejection of objective fact in contemporary conservatism. The whole “fact-based community” stuff is only the most obvious example.
Agre is clearly correct in his description of today's conservatism as Orwellian. But it must be pointed out that authoritarianism and propaganda are neither inherent to nor the sole property of the right. The extreme left has on more than one occasion employed both, Jacobin France and Communist Russia being two well-known examples. We must be on guard for anti-democratic practices wherever they appear. At the moment they seem to have dangerous appeal on the right, but this has not always been so. In engaging today's right, we must avoid becoming like them. We must not resort to eliminationist rhetoric or brutal political tactics. "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies."
As for how we do fight the right, I will turn to the final section of Agre's essay, "How to Defeat Conservatism" tomorrow in Part IV, Solutions.