Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The more things change, the more they stay insane

Richard Hofstadter, The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt, 1955 (via)
...the new dissent not only has no respect for non-conformism, but is based upon a relentless demand for conformity. It can most accurately be called pseudo-conservative...because its exponents, although they believe themselves to be conservatives and usually employ the rhetoric of conservatism, show signs of a serious and restless dissatisfaction with American life, traditions and institutions. They have little in common with the temperate and compromising spirit of true conservatism in the classical sense of the word....Their political reactions express rather a profound if largely unconscious hatred of our society and its ways...The pseudo-conservative, Adorno writes, shows "conventionality and authoritarian submissiveness" in his conscious thinking and "violence, anarchic impulses, an choatic destructiveness in the unconscious sphere...The pseudo-conservative is a man who, in the name of upholding traditional American values and institutions and defending them against more or less fictitious dangers, consciously or unconsciously aims at their abolition".

The ideology of pseudo-conservatism can be characterized but not defined, because the pseudo-conservative tends to be more than ordinarily incoherent about politics. The lady who, when General Eisenhower's victory over Senator Taft had finally become official, stalked out of the Hilton Hotel declaiming, "This means eight more years of socialism" was probably a fairly good representative of the pseudo-conservative mentality.
In defense of the 1950s John Birchers described here, they at least had actual existential threats, actual enemies, and actual subversives to sustain their mood. Their present-day inheritors don't have those excuses, so their paranoia seems ginned up out of whole cloth. Of course, the media engines for doing this are also more powerful than they were back then. It's really easy to see the machinery inflating al Qaeda or Van Jones into figures of fear.

More. This really seems to capture the adolescent pseudo-libertarian streak that runs through modern conservatism (and I say this acknowledging that I have some authority issues of my own, which shade my politics):
For pseudo-conservatism is among other things a disorder in relation to authority, characterized by an inability to find other modes for human relationship than those of more or less complete domination or submission. The pseudo-conservative always imagines himself to be dominated and imposed upon because he feels that he is not dominant, and knows of no other way of interpreting his position. He imagines that his own government and own leadership are engaged in a more or less continuous conspiracy against him because he has come to think of authority only as something that aims to manipulate and deprive him.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

"...inflating al Qaeda or Van Jones into figures of fear."

Van Jones is just a left-wing crank, and I agree is not very frightening. His appointment was more a reflection of bad judgment on the part of the Obama administration than anything else.

On the other hand, al Qaeda's actions have killed several thousand American citizens at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as well as in other incidents such as the USS Cole Bombing, the attack on the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, etc.
Fear of al Qaeda is amply justified, and to dismiss it suggests a peculiar blindness - particularly when you have tried elsewhere on this blog to gin up anxiety about 'militant Christian Taliban groups." If there was ever a fine example of 'more or less fictitious dangers," it's the hogwash you wrote there.

mtraven said...

al Qaeda is a threat, but not a big threat. Certainly not an existential threat that justified spending trillions of dollars on two wars that look like they will stretch out over decades. And certainly not something that justifies the average American cowering behind the sofa.

The Christian Taliban are much more capable of doing damage because of their proximity to the levers of poltical power. For instance if they succeeded in making abortion illegal the number of dead women could easily exceed the 9/11 death toll.

Anonymous said...

In your original 'Christian Taliban' piece you were upset that some little group down in Texas was going to publicise the names & addresses of people with whom the disagreed - just like the gay militants have done with the names of people who signed petitions to put California Prop. 8 on the ballot, just like they have done with the names of people who signed the Washington state Project Marriage petition in 2009, etc. This is a peaceful political tactic used by all sides. Big deal.

The probability of abortion being outlawed at the behest of 'Christian Taliban' groups is disappearingly small. Even if Roe v. Wade were overturned, the issue would just revert to the state legislatures, where it was before 1973. Abortion was not uniformly banned then. All a woman who wanted an abortion needed was a bus ticket to New York.

And how would a nationwide abortion ban, in the remote event it came to pass, result in a number of dead women in excess of the victims of 9/11? Women don't die as a result of not having abortions. All proposed anti-abortion laws I have seen allow for exceptions to save the life of a woman.

Your argument presents not just 'more or less fictitious dangers' but fantasies and delusions. The imagined casualties you suggest stand in contrast to the very real ones that Al Qaeda has brought about not only in the U.S. but in Britain, Spain, Indonesia, etc.

mtraven said...

You are the one who set up the comparision between al Qaeda and the Christianists. While I believe these are both threats, they are threats of very different kinds. In my estimation, the first has been over-hyped, the second one under-hyped. But I see no need to make a choice between one or the other as a topic of concern.

I think the chance of the Christianists seizing power is minimal myself, but it's not for lack of trying, and they continue to be a serious voting bloc if nothing else, and cause trouble where they do get in power (Oklahoma just passed a nasty anti-abortion law). Abortion and our native Taliban are very much live issues in American politics.

Thousands of women died yearly from back-alley abortions before it was legalized.

Anonymous said...

" For instance if they succeeded in making abortion illegal the number of dead women could easily exceed the 9/11 death toll."

A study of pregnancy-associated deaths published in the latest issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (2004) has found that the mortality rate associated with abortion is 2.95 times higher than that associated with pregnancies carried to term.

Therefore the 'Christian Taliban' position could have a net positive effect on the longevity of women. Buts its never been about women's lives , it's always been about "equality" and the convenience of no consequences.

In the year abortion became legal ( California, 1967) , death from illegal abortion in the USA had plummeted to under 50 from over 1000 in 1940. Medical Procedural advances undoubtedly the cause of such a decline. If Roe v Wade were overturned ( it should as it is 'bad' law) then the States would enact there own version of abortion law, there would be a small transistory effect on women. Abortion is here to stay , it may have some sensible term restrictions placed on it like in Europe if the States have to legislate.

There again , one would have to be delusional to even think that R v W would ever be over turned ... this is the counter-balancing leftie paranoia working in inflating the influence of the so called "Christianists". Its Sort of like a version of anti-semitism , instead of seeing Jewish conspiracy everywhere , the paranoid lefties see plotting "Christianists" with their "guns" standing in the way of a Brave New World... and Utopia wouldnt be Utopia without abortion.

My angle is this: Smart college girls , the creme of our females ..almost never ever have babies (yes , pro choice is really only one choice) and pursue a career until its almost too late. As a nation, the consequences of abortion and its ideological advocacy costs us dearly.

crawfurdmuir said...

Why is free access to abortion the cynosure of modern American leftism?

I used to think it was the left's tacit view that abortion, particularly government-funded abortion for poor women, would be the deus ex machina that delivered the country from the dilemma of the welfare state - that we could somehow eliminate poverty by eliminating the poor (or at least discouraging them from reproducing) - and thereby bring its spiralling costs and concomitant social disorders under some sort of control.

Certainly an implicitly eugenic thesis underlies the claims made by the authors of "Freakonomics" about abortion leading to a reduction in crime. It is also in keeping with the avowedly eugenic inspiration of family planning and reproductive health advocates such as Margaret Sanger.

However, the demographics of abortion have not worked out as this analysis suggested they would. The underclass is as fecund as ever. It is, as Anon. #5 points out, educated, upper-middle class women (overwhelmingly a white population) whose childbearing has been most markedly curtailed by recourse to abortion.

I wonder now if what is at work amongst the left-wing intelligentsia is not something like the argument sardonically made in Brecht's "Die Lösung":

"... Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?"

The left sees white voters as an obstacle to the "progress" it desires. On the one hand, it wants more Latino immigrants, and subsidizes the largely black and brown welfare-dependent classes in their fecundity via AFDC. On the other, it seeks to encourage the white petit-bourgeoisie to abort and contracept itself into permanent minority status (very nearly the case now in California, Texas, and perhaps other states). Thereby it will "dissolve the people/ and elect another" friendlier to its ambitions.

mtraven said...

Why is free access to abortion the cynosure of modern American leftism?

Simple: Because there can't be a much more basic freedom than the right to control your own body. And because it is the left who has been in the forefront of recognizing women as people.

That's all there is to it really, no complex racial conspiracy required. But I must note that it is the left taking the actual libertarian position on this issue, while the right is eager to use the full force of the state against women's autonomy.

crawfurdmuir said...

Being able to fornicate without consequences is hardly a very important freedom. Orwell described this kind of deliberate politically-fostered confusion of license with liberty in his "1984." as "prolefeed."

The left cynically offers people abortion, pornography, and other cheap indulgences of the baser instincts, even as it takes away their rights in property through taxation and regulation, impairs their freedom of association (and non-association), and censures their expression of views outside the narrow range permitted by 'political correctness.' Anyone not mired in the preoccupations of randy adolescence should see that this is a damned poor bargain.

mtraven said...

Being able to fornicate without consequences is hardly a very important freedom.

Not to you perhaps. Speaking of Orwell, perhaps you are a member of the Anti-Sex League?

Anyway, you asked why abortion was important to the left; I told you. If you don't like my answer, feel free to make your queries elsewhere.

crawfurdmuir said...

No, I'm not a member of the anti-sex league.

You are on a slippery slope in your absolutism on the point that 'there can't be a much more basic freedom than the right to control your own body.' Consider one of the few remaining sexual taboos of the western world, namely that against sexual relations between adults and persons below the legal age of majority. Yet it's beyond doubt that at least some adolescents who have had sex with adults did so of their own free will and accord. Were they not then exercising their right to 'control their own bodies'?

Do you advocate the repeal or judicial overturning of statutory rape laws and sanctions against pedophilia? Where, if at all, do you draw the line?

Even as the law admits there can and ought to be sensible restrictions on the exercise of first-amendment rights (you can't yell 'fire' in a crowded theatre) or on the exercise of second-amendment rights (felons can't own firearms), surely the law must admit there are sensible restrictions on the right you claim of persons to 'control their own bodies,' that are equally in keeping with a free and democratic polity. This is especially so when what a substantial number of the electorate believe to be an innocent life (that of an unborn child) is at stake.

mtraven said...

When did I say I was absolutist about anything?

The right to control one's own body is a fundamental right; that does not mean it can't come into conflict with other rights.

Children generally have limited rights and greater protections than adults. The relevance of your statutory rape example escapes me.

This has to be Michael S.? The ridiculous attempts to change the subject to some barely-connected wingnut obsession are a giveaway, as is the pretentious style. In case you aren't, you can read my earlier writings on abortion; I have nothing new to say about it here.

crawfurdmuir said...

You're the one who brought up the supposed threat posed by 'Christianists' to abortion-on-demand as being somehow equivalent to the threat posed to American lives and property by al Qaeda.

Your obsession with abortion, and with sexual libertinism generally, as being somehow basic freedoms, is something you have made evident in your comments, and you can hardly blame me for wishing to explore it further. You don't, from what you say about yourself here, carry these asserted freedoms into action in your own life, being a sedate middle-aged father bringing up his children.

Inducements to sexual license are, then, for other, lesser folk - that's why Orwell called them prolefeed. In "1984," it was, after all, the party members who belonged to the Anti-Sex League, after all - not the proles, who were to be distracted from higher thoughts and aspirations by appeals to their baser instincts. The output of 'Pornosec' was 'sent out in sealed packets... which no Party member, other than those who worked on it, was permitted to look at.'

When someone who is not a libertine himself promotes libertinism among others, Orwellian inferences about his motives for doing so naturally suggest themselves.

As for al Qaeda, what do you bet it was one of its hangers-on that arranged the recent stunt in New York City? True, these recent efforts, like that of the 'underwear bomber,' haven't been as successful as 9/11 was, and no thanks to the derisory efforts of the U.S. government, either. Just wait until al Qaeda recruits someone with more intelligence and skill. In the mean time, terrorism doesn't always have to do much physical damage. All it needs to do is terrify people on a regular basis.

mtraven said...

I have no wish to share details of personal life with a presumptious oaf like you, but I will say that I've had multiple occasions to avail myself of the more or less unimpeded access to reproductive technology that we enjoy since Roe v Wade and other political victories. None of these had much to do with "libertinism". And I'm very glad to live in these times and not earlier.

While both the Christian and Islamic fundamentalists would like to turn the clock back to, only the Christians have any sort of chance of doing so, at least in this country.

crawfurdmuir said...

How too bad you won't share those details. In you we find a real live example of a culture-distorter, albeit a minor one; not a soloist, but certainly part of the supporting choir. What a loss to anthropology that you have clammed up.

The popular culture of the present day and it seems almost entirely to meet the description of prolefeed. Who has made it so?

Some are in it for the money. Charles Revson, for example, used to study the appearance of prostitutes, whom he regarded as the vanguard of female fashion, and based his marketing of cosmetics on this. Gianni Versace popularized clothing designed on the same basis. Such men promoted nostalgie de la boue purely for their own profit.

On the other hand there were those like Susan Sontag, who proclaimed the white race a cancer on the world, and who said she wished to destroy the "Matthew Arnold idea of culture." She was in it as an ideologue, as you seem to be.

The confluence of interests between entrepreneurs, whether in legal industries such as fashion and entertainment or criminal ones such as non-medicinal narcotics, and ideologues who wish to re-shape society, is a fascinating phenomenon to observe. It has altered this country beyond recognition in 50 years. I've often wondered what makes the agents of this degeneration tick.

Bob Tyrrell, interviewed in this weekend's edition of the Wall Street Journal, said of the people you despise as 'Christianists':

"The evangelicals were people that hadn't been in politics... These were people who had thought there were settled customs in this country: Prayer in public schools was going to be allowed; abortion was going to be outlawed; pornography was not going to be available at the corner drugstore. And lo and behold, the liberals foisted all of these things on the evangelicals, who became political - not aggressively political, but defensively political."

This rings absolutely true with my experience. I'm not an evangelical Christian, but I have some sympathy for them. This was the freest and most prosperous country in the world when kids said prayers in public schools, when abortion was outlawed, and when pornography was not available at the corner drugstore. The country also enjoyed an atmosphere of propriety and dignity.

American life has not been made freer and more prosperous by the reversal of these conditions. Needless to say, its propriety and dignity are also long gone. It is in many respects less free, and is in cultural, moral, and economic decline. And all you do is to express smug contentment that you and others are able to indulge the baser instincts without let or hindrance.

crawfurdmuir said...

How too bad you won't share those details. In you we find a real live example of a culture-distorter, albeit a minor one; not a soloist, but certainly part of the supporting choir. What a loss to anthropology that you have clammed up.

The popular culture of the present day seems almost entirely to meet the description of prolefeed. Who has made it so?

Some are in it for the money. Charles Revson, for example, used to study the appearance of prostitutes, whom he regarded as the vanguard of female fashion, and based his marketing of cosmetics on this. Gianni Versace popularized clothing designed on the same basis. Such men promoted nostalgie de la boue purely for their own profit.

On the other hand there were those like Susan Sontag, who proclaimed the white race a cancer on the world, and who said she wished to destroy the "Matthew Arnold idea of culture." She was in it as an ideologue, as you seem to be.

The confluence of interests between entrepreneurs, whether in legal industries such as fashion and entertainment or criminal ones such as non-medicinal narcotics, and ideologues who wish to re-shape society, is a fascinating phenomenon to observe. It has altered this country beyond recognition in 50 years. I've often wondered what makes the agents of this degeneration tick.

Bob Tyrrell, interviewed in this weekend's edition of the Wall Street Journal, said of the people you despise as 'Christianists':

"The evangelicals were people that hadn't been in politics... These were people who had thought there were settled customs in this country: Prayer in public schools was going to be allowed; abortion was going to be outlawed; pornography was not going to be available at the corner drugstore. And lo and behold, the liberals foisted all of these things on the evangelicals, who became political - not aggressively political, but defensively political."

This rings absolutely true with my experience. I'm not an evangelical Christian, but I have some sympathy for them. This was the freest and most prosperous country in the world when kids said prayers in public schools, when abortion was outlawed, and when pornography was not available at the corner drugstore. The country also enjoyed an atmosphere of propriety and dignity.

American life has not been made freer and more prosperous by the reversal of these conditions. Needless to say, its propriety and dignity are also long gone. It is in many respects less free, and is in cultural, moral, and economic decline. And all you do is to express smug contentment that you and others are able to indulge the baser instincts without let or hindrance.

mtraven said...

"culture-distorter"? That struck me as an odd term so I googled it, and found it's a term of art employed by the worst sort of American fascists and anti-semites like Francis Parker Yockey and Revilo Oliver.

I interpret this to mean that you are not someone worth having a discussion with, but simply an enemy of me and decent society in general. So go fuck off to whatever hole you crawled out of.

crawfurdmuir said...
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