Thursday, August 11, 2016

Eunuchs in the Palace of Liberalism: Modern conservatism and what Ailes it

Sean Hannity, conservative ideologist.
I still, unaccountably, hear people who consider themselves conservatives talk about how much progress conservatism has made over the last ten to twenty years and how much that is attributable to media institutions like Fox News.

The first thing to say about this attitude is that it is utterly preposterous. Yes, there is a conservative media that didn't exist before the mid-90s, but what needs to be explained is why the rise of the supposedly conservative media has been accompanied by an almost complete loss of the culture.

Clearly conservatism is NOT winning. In fact, the influence of conservatism on our culture has ebbed to such an extent that if it were an animal, it would have to be put on the Endangered Species List.

So why do some conservatives like these think that conservatism is somehow thriving?

The reason is that for them (and this is perhaps the central problem with modern conservatism), conservatism is an ideology. In order to tell whether it is winning or not, one need only tally up the political offices inhabited by Republicans, compare that number to the offices held by Democrats. If the former number is bigger than the latter (or if it is growing in relation to the latter), then conservatism is in good shape.

This is malady that infects conservatism as it is represented by Fox News: The idea that the way conservatism wins is to gain political power. The more control conservatives wield over the engines of government, the better off everybody is—particularly conservatives.

This is Sean Hannity Conservatism. Roger Ailes Conservatism. It is the conservatism of the neoconservatives who have, for all practical purposes, dominated the Republican Party since the departure of Ronald Reagan from the political scene. 

Reagan himself was not of this sort. Reagan was the product of the National Review conservatism that produced him. National Review, which until the 90s was the flagship conservative voice in America, particularly when it had in its stable of writers people like Russell Kirk and Joseph Sobran, and to a certain extent its editor William F. Buckley, could be said to have had a soul, a soul that left the body some time, oh about the time that Reagan's vice president George Bush, Sr. took office.

What Reagan and the old National Review conservatism recognized was that politics was the effect in relation to which the culture was the cause.  

Go back and look at a copy of the old National Review (I have boxes of them in my attic). Note the prevalence of social commentary, film criticism, and book reviews—reviews of books of every kind, including poetry, fiction, literary criticism—in addition to books on policy. Then compare it to today's conservative publications (including National Review), which, if they don't actually harbor writers who suffer from it, at least appeal to readers who are poorly read and largely unfamiliar with the Western culture that magazines like NR were founded to defend.

It was the culture, stupid—the culture which has served as the battlefield on which conservatives have been completely routed—on marriage, on education, on bioethics, on sexual ethics—in addition to the size and scope of government.

Conservatism now shares the liberal impulse to achieve some sort of earthly utopia, the only difference being that for liberals this utopia consists in a thoroughly administered life through the agencies of government while for conservatives it is realized in a free market economy.
If you listen to someone like Sean Hannity, you'll hear the eschaton being immanentized (something the conservative political theorist Eric Voegelin and his cheerleader Buckley spurned) on a daily basis. The purpose of political theories, in this reading, is to write and implement the program by which heaven can be brought to earth. It is the substance of ideology, which is, as Russell Kirk, whose book The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot single-handedly founded the conservative movement, pointed out is political religion.

How many times have you heard a conservative spokesperson use the expression "conservative ideology" as an expression of approval? If you were to say this in the presence of the old conservatives, they would lift their aged heads and fell you to the earth.

Not only is the expression "conservative ideology" an oxymoron, it is blasphemy to the ears of a real conservative. It is the unwitting declaration that conservatism is merely another political religion designed to give us secular salvation—through "the market," or the Republican Party. It implies that, as liberalism has always maintained, if we can just get society structured properly, we can all live in peace and contentment, free of external evil (the only kind of evil liberals believe in).

It is the denial of Original Sin, the doctrine which Chesterton maintained was the only Christian belief that could be empirically proven, and the denial of which underlies the fatal conceit of political utopianism.

Conservatives have ceded the culture to liberals, and think the way to fight it is to get their hands on the levers of power. They are sorely mistaken.

What Fox News has done is to redefine conservatism so as to hide the defeat. For example, the network did little to stand up to the judicial fiat by which the legal doctrine of traditional marriage was swept away—a judicial fiat it would have been called by its proper name in the days when Robert Bork was still alive. It holds tenuously to the prolife position only because it has to appease its more culturally conservative audience. And not only is homosexuality fully accepted on every program its runs, but it now regularly refers to the "transgender community," an expression pregnant (if one can use that word in such a context) with ideological assumptions no conservative could ever accept.

Modern conservatives are Eunuchs in the Palace of Liberalism, having been culturally emasculated and reduced to doing the bidding of their liberal overlords, and are receiving the appreciation they deserve.

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