Conservatism: An Ideology of Imaginary Childhoods

John Oliver of The Daily Show nails it:

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What he said

“Look, Lois – the two symbols of the Republican Party: an elephant, and a fat white guy who is threatened by change!” Peter Griffin, Family Guy.

Joyce Armstrong’s books on fundamentalist movements emphasize their common dynamics: people threatened by change, seeking a return to some imagined good ol’ days. Yet the policies designed to bring about this return to the good ol’ days are almost always a completely modern invention. Fundamentalist Islam (Wahabisim), the scouting movement, biblical literalism, spoken Hebrew, the State of Israel, country music – all of these were inventions of the last century. I’m reminded of Napoleon’s efforts to achieve legitimacy by aping of the symbols and manners of French monarchs of old.

Of course, nostalgia for a mythical past is not unique to conservatives. Liberal embrace of folk songs, and idealization of pristine nature and “native” cultures, seems to reflect a similar sentiment. Indeed, urban sprawl is driven by urban people wanting to live in the rural X-urbs, beyond the sight of their nearest neighbor – a vaguely libertarian dream.

And let's not forgot that

And let's not forgot that libertarians, along with their conservative brethren, are often guilty of constitutional fetishism.

The past really was often

The past really was often better in many ways. Politically speaking the past is usually better within the lifespan of a single government because government tends to get worse over time, for reasons that James Buchanan explained. For example, in 1979 I lived in California. Comparing the Californian government then with the government now, I would say it has apparently got worse, overall. Technological advances have largely disguised the rot, but I think in California the rot has outpaced the tech.

The past really was often

The past really was often better in many ways.

Sure, for straight Christian white dudes.

I made a general statement

I made a general statement about all history. Your response implies that we live in Politically exceptional times.

Frankly I don't think we have, overall, improved upon our ancestors in the political sphere, except insofar as certain changes were evidently driven by technology rather than accumulated political wisdom. I'm thinking of slavery for example. The general outline of history from what I know of it seems to be improvement between states, decline within a state leading eventually to collapse. A state, having sucked its subjects dry, having killed off the life of the mind, dies because it has eaten its own seed corn. Another state replaces it which initially is not do bad.

California is commonly said nowadays to be nearing collapse, it having killed its economy. This increasing damage affects all, male and female, black and white, atheist and religious.

Racial/gender/religious grievancemongering distracts us from the shithole that we are all heading toward.

Ignoring or belittling

Ignoring or belittling racial/gender/religious "grievancemongering" alienates potential allies who assume that belief in a freed market entails belief in the non-existence or non-importance of racial/gender/religious bigotry, since the only people they see saying nice things about free markets are conservatives and libertarians who take pride in being politically incorrect as if it's iconoclastic to be rude and unsympathetic.

California has some of the highest property values in the nation. Granted, much of this is a result of zoning restrictions and other meddling. But people still really want to live there, and are willing to pay for it. So I don't think imminent collapse is as obvious to most people as it is to you.

Ignoring or belittling

Ignoring or belittling racial/gender/religious "grievancemongering"

I said nothing whatsoever about gender or race until you brought them into the picture for the express purpose of belittling the decline I had been discussing. Now I'm the bad guy because I refuse to fall for your changing the subject. Meanwhile you take the side of those who historically are the racist bad guys. As I pointed out, conservatives have no interest in rolling back the clock on Jim Crow and other Democratic follies - which is precisely why you criticize them. Conservatives are supposedly pining for an imaginary childhood merely because their nostalgia for 1979 does not happen to include nostalgia the economic decline caused by Democrat-imposed Keynesian economics and the malaise caused in large part by the horrendous Democratic President. Just because Republicans don't pine for the leftist elements that marred the seventies, that somehow means they pine for an imaginary past.

Well, no, it does not, it only means they are discriminating in what it is that they like about the past. The only thing that's exploded is the left wing assumption that conservatives are indiscriminate in what they like about the past.

I said nothing whatsoever

I said nothing whatsoever about gender or race until you brought them into the picture for the express purpose of belittling the decline I had been discussing.

Race and gender were explicitly discussed in the original post. Watch the video again.

As I pointed out, conservatives have no interest in rolling back the clock on Jim Crow and other Democratic follies - which is precisely why you criticize them.

This is false. Many conservatives are interested in rolling back the clock on Jim Crow (see my previous comment about Sam Francis), dismantling abortion rights, weakening women's rights in general, instituting racialist immigration restrictions, and promoting religion through government, etc.

Conservatives are supposedly pining for an imaginary childhood merely because their nostalgia for 1979 does not happen to include nostalgia the economic decline caused by Democrat-imposed Keynesian economics and the malaise caused in large part by the horrendous Democratic President. Just because Republicans don't pine for the leftist elements that marred the seventies, that somehow means they pine for an imaginary past.

Then you missed the point of the video parody entirely. The entire message being belittled here is the idea that, to quote Pat Buchannan from the video, "the America you and i grew up in [will] disappear forever." But if the current complaint here is regarding Obama's economic policies, then it is a terrible argument to say "things were better when I grew up", because all that is needed to negate the consequent is to demonstrate that when the speaker grew up, the same or similar economic policies were in place. If Republicans want to express their dissent with current economic policies, they cannot point to a time period when similar economic polices existed as an example of what they prefer. It's just bad logic, even if it may in some way be in favor of a freer market, which I'm not so sure I believe, since I heard nary a whimper from these same Republicans and conservatives when Bush was spending his way into oblivion. In fact many of them were--and continue to be--gung-ho about one of the biggest government boondoggles and contributors to current economic conditions: the War on Terror.

So what was Edmund Burke's

So what was Edmund Burke's imaginary childhood? What is Thomas Sowell's imaginary childhood?

Thomas Sowell probably

Thomas Sowell probably played a bit too much GI Joes or whatever the equivalent was for his generation.

Good point

Of course, Burke leapt fully-formed from the brow of Zeus, so everything about his childhood is imaginary.

It's comical: leftists,

It's comical: leftists, noticing that conservatives do not after all want to return the South to its true past,i.e. the Democratic era of Jim Crow, but prefer that it remain Republican and nonracist. The left, noticing that while the right is nostalgic it is not stupidly and undiscriminatingly so, decides that it is the fault of conservatives for failing to live up to the demented caricature that the left has imagined for itself of an undiscriminating backwardness. And so the left thus accuses the right of longing for an imaginary past - one without Democratic Jim crow laws.

noticing that conservatives

noticing that conservatives do not after all want to return the South to its true past

Perhaps you are forgetting about paleoconservatives, who do want to return the South to it's true past? See, for example, Samuel T. Francis.

Oh, so now we are including

Oh, so now we are including every sort of belief system that can broadly be categorized as "conservative"? My, how large-tent of you. Of course it's purely for the express purpose of smearing conservatives by association with unsavory folks who call themselves conservative and falsifying my generalization. But if you were consistent you would include in those tent also those conservatives who falsify your generalization.

If you include enough in your category you can falsify pretty much any generalization. It's a very left wing move to do this selectively. These are the stupid intellectual tricks that leftists teach each other in the academy. When the right winger speaks, here are some tricks sure to trip him up because they are broadly applicable skeptical attacks which can trip up anybody saying anything about anything. Skepticism is a great tool for undermining the enemy. But you're also trained to be selective in your application. As you are here. So my generalization is falsified by broadening the category of "conservative", but you conveniently forget to do the same for your generalization.

Oh, so now we are including

Oh, so now we are including every sort of belief system that can broadly be categorized as "conservative"? My, how large-tent of you.

The tent is as large as the people it willingly associates with. William F. Buckley did a pretty good job of weeding out the nutcases in the conservative movement through National Review, such as Joseph Sobran, but elements of racism and other forms of bigotry were openly expressed in National Review ever since its founding (they opposed integration and published expressly racist positions). They apologize for the Jim Crow era now, but they continue to make the same mistakes regarding, say, Mexicans, Muslims and women, just as they wrongfully treated and viewed black people.

More later, gotta go.

Your claim that cons pine

Your claim that cons pine for an imaginary past is sustained by cherrypicking quotes from cherrypicked conservatives and then misconstruing them and blowing them out of proportion. In contrast my claim that cons have not the faintest desire to return to the Democrat-imposed Jim Crow era is true of the overwhelming majority of cons, such an overwhelming majority that the remainder are not even worth discussing. You may as well argue that libertarians are terrorists because McVeigh's self-justification was anti-government.

You consider it

You consider it cherrypicking to note that National Review--the flagship magazine of the conservative movement--openly opposed racial integration and continues to advocate bigotry towards gays, Mexicans, Muslims, etc? That's a mighty strange definition of cherrypicking you have there.

National Review was founded

National Review was founded by William Buckley, so I don't know what to make of your simultaneous praise of Buckley and condemnation of his magazine. My guess is that you're twisting the facts, which would account for the curious twist in your own account.

My statement was:

conservatives do not after all want to return the South to its true past

which, in face of your quibble, I elaborated to:

my claim that cons have not the faintest desire to return to the Democrat-imposed Jim Crow era is true of the overwhelming majority of cons, such an overwhelming majority that the remainder are not even worth discussing.

I stand by it, because you have given me no evidence that it is untrue. I looked up Joseph Sobran, and if Sobran wanted to reinstate the Jim Crow laws, he appears to have managed to survive as long as he did by keeping that opinion to himself, keeping it in the closed bathroom stall so to speak. I read NR for years, so this is not some distant society that you can bullshit me about like Margaret Meade. My claims are in any case same as yours: in the present tense. I'll even go along with your cherrypicked conservative. This video clip that you showed us appears to be based mainly on Glenn Beck, who is shown liking something about what an old cola commercial says about life at that time. I know almost nothing about Glenn Beck. I don't watch his show. The average Digg user is far more obsessed with Glenn Beck than I am. But I will wager you (in units of reputation only) that Glenn Beck, a randomly selected conservative from my standpoint, does not desire a return to the Jim Crow era imposed and sustained by Democrats and Progressives.

National Review was founded

National Review was founded by William Buckley, so I don't know what to make of your simultaneous praise of Buckley and condemnation of his magazine.

You don't understand how it is possible to both praise and criticize the same person?

My guess is that you're twisting the facts, which would account for the curious twist in your own account.

Exactly which facts are you accusing me of twisting? I certainly can't defend myself against the charge of twisting facts if I don't even know what you are talking about!

I looked up Joseph Sobran, and if Sobran wanted to reinstate the Jim Crow laws, he appears to have managed to survive as long as he did by keeping that opinion to himself, keeping it in the closed bathroom stall so to speak.

Did you notice anything out of the ordinary about his association with the Holocaust denial movement?

I'm still not sure why you are fixated on the idea that I believe all or most conservatives want to reinstate Jim Crow; I don't recall ever making that claim. I did agree with the analogy that many of the policies the conservative movement currently supports are bigoted towards various other groups aside from blacks, although one shouldn't forget that contemporary "race realists" or whatever euphemism anti-black racists are calling themselves these days predominantly identify as conservatives or libertarians.

This video clip that you showed us appears to be based mainly on Glenn Beck,

Along with Bill O'Reilly, Pat Buchannan, and others, all of whom are making essentially the same point: Things are fundamentally changing right now and we are at risk of losing whatever ephemeral, unnamed aspect of our childhoods which conservatives seem to pine for.

Here's a litmus test. Do you

Here's a litmus test. Do you agree with Janeane Garofalo that the tea parties are "racism straight up", or do you think she's a moron for saying so and should shut the hell up about politics if she wants to stop embarrassing herself further? If the latter then I'll ease off on you. If the former then it's what I expected.

Probably not, but then, I

Probably not, but then, I haven't seen her statement in context, nor do I have much familiarity with the tea parties. I don't believe and object to the claim that everyone who is involved with the tea party movement is racist. I find most of them to be merely inconsistent and conveniently timely - they were not complaining about bad economic policies under Bush. I don't think this inconsistency is primarily a result of racist motives spawning from a dislike of a president who is black, although that is part of it. The inconsistency is primarily a result of party loyalty, movementism, and buying in to the scare tactic that since the Democrats might be slightly worse on some issues, that is reason enough to identify as and support Republicans and conservatives.

Incidentally, I have watched some of Janeane Garofalo's stand-up, and found that I agreed with much of her political worldview. Make of that what you will.

I was watching. The backlash

I was watching. The backlash began under Bush, with the bailout that Bush supported. The tea parties are a natural progression of that. You may not be aware of the history if your habit is to ignore conservative blogs.

Constant speaks truth

The last Appleseed I went to was rife with Bush hatred, that is not exactly the first place one would look to find Bush-bashing.