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Posted by on Aug 15, 2011 in Opinion, TG Roundup

Pitfalls of Present day Conservatism


The country(USA) is presently smoldering, as it always is with the contradictions about conservatism and liberalism. I want to delve into these aspects of political discourse a bit here. It is time to debunk some of the myths as well as heresies about these points of view and looking at things, at a crucial moment. For that matter, anytime is crucial moment, as we cannot bring back the time lost but we can certainly create good times, if we want to and know that we can. In this article I will go a bit about conservatism. (Upcoming article I will write about the pitfalls of liberalism too).

Conservatism of what?

The wikipedia definition of conservatism says this.

“Conservatism (Latin: conservare, “to preserve”)[1] is a political and social philosophy that promotes the maintenance of traditional institutions and supports, at the most, minimal and gradual change in society. “

I will come to the points of how this definition is being defeated or changed by the current ‘conservative’ movement proponents shortly, but this definition of conservatism has taken shape in various forms like social conservatism, fiscal conservatism, libertarian conservatism and so on. One can refer to wikipedia for some info on these, but in general many who get attracted to conservative ideas tend to identify to one of these aspects and not necessarily agree on other aspects but perhaps for the sake of garnering broader political support they tend to align with other aspects of it.

But for general public, conservatism currently is simply translated into more palpable issues like government control on economy, war, abortion, same-sex marriage etc. AverageConservative  Americans don’t think in terms of the broader definitions of a philosophy but on perceived threat to some of these values which they think need to be upheld. But are they really? I would like to highlight some of the self-defeating arguments about these so called values.

Let’s just take the issue of what government should control and what it should not. The current (mostly extreme right wingers like members of Tea Party) proponents of this say government should be minimal and mostly relegated to just somethings like defense but everything else should be left to private sector. What they say is that taxes should be minimal so people will automagically (Yes, I know there is no such word but I want coin this as one can’t explain how this can be done) invest and that would result in all that is good including job creation and more money with the people. Will this work? Did it work? We can and should only go by what history(not so long ago) has taught us on this.

We have seen what happened when George W. Bush (junior) did this. In his proposition to reduce taxes he reduced them to the top earners also, devoiding any decent income to the government while starting on two ill-conceived wars(why they are ill-conceived is an entirely different topic). Sure it had some short term boost in keeping the unemployment low during his tenure but was it a real solution? Does it create a sustained job growth which should rather depend on permanent growth of economy based on technology and being in the forefront of leading the world in usage of energy and best of health care etc? When you say you are the most advanced country in this world, if you can’t even afford to take care of the elderly, are you the most advanced country?

I too did fall for this argument at that time that reducing govt expenditure would spur the money to go into private investment but it didn’t happen. Instead it resulted in private companies inventing short cuts to pocket large caches of money so that top few can lavish on. It has eroded the surplus budget whatever we had during the last couple of years of Clinton presidency and went underwater to the extent that this country has become a laughing stock in the world (I still say other countries or Europe are not saints here but when they look upon this country as the beacon of human progress, they have right to laugh at what this country is struggling at).

The other argument against government involvement that the best innovation would happen under fair competition which may not be possible with bureaucratic red tape is also not always true. Take the innovations like space shuttle, internet, human genome etc., they are all spurred by govt support. None of these any private sector company would have dared to invest in. It is not that government is wielding a stiffing control on innovation but it would rather spur the private sector to do the same often times when it is paralyzed by it’s own short-term outlook of what is profitable and what is not and in the process wouldn’t realize what is good in the long-term as well as what will sustain this earth more time. That is where we are lacking in coming up with Eco-friendly technologies too.

The oil companies find it an existential threat to them for anyone supporting new clean technologies whereas the conservatives supporting them?! What are the conservatives ‘preserving’ here? Do they want the earth preserved or not?! Is it not defeating their own purpose? They should remember what Teddy Roosevelt(one of the true conservative leaders) did for environment than kowtowing to oil companies.

Let’s talk about war. To quote from one Bernard Shaw’s plays “Soldiering my dear fella is attacking mercilessly when you are strong and getting out of the way when you are weak”(I don’t remember which one it is, probably Arms and Man). Even though I will not say this country attacked Iraq or Afghanistan because it is strong, it definitely created that impression the way it was done. Sure we were attacked on Sept 11, 2001, but did we attack back the right way until 2011?! This shows how smart we are in accomplishing things related to retaliation at least. Even if we wanted to create a doctrine of preemption (we will take the war to them rather than the enemies bringing it to us), did we fund these sweeping wars that some wanted to make a legacy on?

When Sept 11th happened the whole world was behind US including Russia and China. Everyone knows the perils of radical extremism and they looked at US to deal with it the way it dealt with Nazi Germany or the fanatical Imperial Japan. In stead all that goodwill was thrown with foolish unilateralism and bombastic claims of fostering democracies in places like Iraq where US had a record of supporting autocracies and even theocracies. You cannot implant an ideology on another ideology and you cannot force a country to give birth to a democracy in a time frame that you wish. You cannot will a pregnancy to suit your time table to deliver child, in this case a democracy! The other thing about ‘war’ as the first solution to ‘preserve’ this humanity is self-defeating. Isn’t it? You fight for unborn kids not to be killed (abortion issue), but you wouldn’t hesitate killing scores of them or grown forms of them, to preserve what? Conservatives should take a hard look at the ‘war’ as a strategy to advance their cause.

The abortion or family planning issue. Extreme right wingers go nuts on this issue to the extent that abortion should not be allowed even when the would-be-mother’s life is in danger or she didn’t want the child as it was because of a rape or unwanted. Which woman wouldn’t want a child unless it is in something horrible happened to her or going to happen? Even if some women don’t want it intentionally, why would they deserve to have children in that case? What are we trying to preserve here? The culture or what? If we ban abortion will it stop the culture from ‘degrading’? Moreover right wingers wouldn’t want to impose birth-control and yet wouldn’t allow abortion! Isn’t this contradictory? Does it mean they deny people will have sexual desires sans desire to have children? In that case why are there so many sexual scandals across many churches by the clergy! Conservatives should answer these questions. ( I have the other view about this issue which I will present in the article about liberalism).

About the same-sex marriage issue. Well this is a 21st century issue (probably earlier too) of more open and candid acceptance of it. Whether or not this kind of relationship can be accepted as binding as marriage is a tricky question. I have my own reservations about marriage between man and woman itself. Barring that it gives some security (again that is how society created it) to children, I don’t see the point of a thing called marriage much (Bertrand Russell saw it a century back) and I don’t see why same-sex couples are clamoring for this? (why do they want to introduce all the insecurities of a marriage into their brand new concept of same-sex relationship?!) But anyway my question to ‘Conservatives’ in this regard is when they are so opposed to ‘Government Control’ on anything, why would they want that control on human relationships?! Can the government really control this? I am not supporting anarchy here but, isn’t it that the government is a collective body which is supposed to protect one from robbery, exploitation or injustice rather than bothering about one’s personal choices?

So at the outset the present day ‘Conservatism’ is it really for the true conservative movement? Are is it being redefined?

Note: In general ‘conservative’ movement is aligned to Republican Party. Some aspects of it (like no govt control) are aligned to libertarian parties.