I Was a Teen Conservative: How I Learned That Life Is Too Complex for Right-Wing Ideology | Alternet
Monday December 17, 2012 12:59 pm Leave a comment
I didn’t expect to get much from this Alternet article. but I was pleasantly surprised. Like some critics are saying about the new Hobbit movie, the slow start might put you off, but it's worth sticking with.
It is the "confession" of a one time freedom-loving Republican "conservative" who, as a teenager in the 60s, worshipped Barry Goldwater (whose attitudes then were close to Ron Paul's today) and thought he represented mainstream Republican ideals. Gradually, over the ensuing decades he realised that if that ever had been true, it was becoming less and less valid as time marched on.
Even as a 14 year old he had to swallow hard to accept Goldwater's opposition to the Civil Rights bill that finally made racial discrimination illegal. But the first major game-changer was the infamous Kent State massacre where students were gunned down by the National Guard while protesting, peacefully, against the Vietnam War:
To a Jeffersonian, the brandishing of state power in order to conscript people to fight in a faithless conflagration and then to oppress the right of assembly stipulated by the First Amendment was repellent.
He watched with growing alarm as the definition of “leftist insurrection” became protest against the war or in support of civil rights and, crucially (for students of the rise of American Authoritarianism) how the previous Republican focus on Liberty switched to Control:
…while the Jeffersonian conservatism that I signed up for gave the benefit of the doubt to freedom, a new conservatism now chose order.
Reagan’s 1980 election set the new trend in concrete and the Police State put down firm roots:
Under Reagan… the Justice Department paid a purposely ominous attention to what adults read and watched; the war on drugs grew more ruthless; cynicism about science, particularly as it had to do with the environment, grew more pronounced; antagonism to the freedom of women to make choices about their bodies grew more vehement.
He charts how the Republicans overtly sold their soul to Money and made explicit their religiously based control-freakery:
…three impulses distinguished the new right. The first was how the right’s enmity toward centralized state power was matched by an adoration of centralized corporate power. This constituted an abandonment of the principle of a truly free marketplace—with entrepreneurship and the flourishing of small business becoming more constrained and difficult — and the overarching principle of decentralization. The second impulse was the displacement of liberty as conservatism’s core priority by a new priority, “values,” by which the right invariably meant sexual behavior, predominantly the sexual behavior of women and homosexuals. The third new impulse was most profound. This was a reconceptualization of the republic as one in which citizens are bound not by a Constitution in which God isn’t once mentioned, euphemized, or alluded to but by an unwritten Christian covenant that implicitly subjects free will to an organizing ethos that’s unmistakably theocratic. What was a freedom movement became an authority/wealth/religious movement.
And he gained important insights into the poison of “ideology”:
The extent to which ideology hijacks independent thought, refracting an issue through the lens of an already-settled bias, was all the more disturbing for how long it took me to see it. Ideology is pathological: It provides a psychological structure posing as a theoretical one.
Which led to some puzzlement on my own behalf when I read the only thing I could take issue with:
I honestly believe my children are best served by a free politics that needs two wings to stay airborne and a push-me/pull-you tension between what is a right and what is a privilege, what is entitled and what is not, what reasonably progresses and what responsibly conserves
which seems to me to be supporting the very ideological division which he laments in the rest of the article.
Be that as it may, his transition is very similar to my own journey here in the UK. Born into a Daily Mail family where the Labour Party and other potential Socialists were painted as the devil incarnate while the Tories wore the badge as the party of “individual liberty” I dedicated my adolescent political years to the struggle against the march of totalitarianism which, so I had been conditioned to believe, was the inevitable consequence of Communism or Socialism. This was helpfully illustrated by the plainly authoritarian Soviet and Chinese states, together with their slave states in Eastern Europe and their puerile satellites such as Romania, Albania and North Korea. No one with an ounce of libertarianism in their body was going to be following that path in a hurry.
I resolved to become a more effective enemy of Communism by studying it and exposing its philosophical flaws. I got lucky. I bumped into a proper Socialist who educated me more completely than I’d ever anticipated. I still have a soft spot for the Socialist Party of Great Britain as a result. What I learned was “proper” communists were just as outraged as I was by the obvious authoritarianism in the so-called communist states. If anything they were more angry because their true ideology was being so badly tainted by what the totalitarians were doing in their name. The SPGB and a few other genuine socialist parties are as genuinely libertarian as I am. The only reason that I didn’t end up calling myself a socialist was that, when the chips are down, they’re still committed to an “ideology” and have an almost religious faith in the Marxist analysis of Capitalism and its inevitable self-destruction.
While I was still absorbing these new insights, Britain’s own Reaganite came to power in the shape of Margaret Thatcher and Britain started overtly aping the authoritarian progress of our American cousins, at least in economic terms and, of course, the war on drugs.
Fortunately, they’ve never had the constituency to support the development towards Theocracy and though they’ve made occasional attempts to squeeze the homosexual or abortion genies back inside their bottles and dallied with the “values” question, all such attempts have been thwarted, usually as the result of one or more of them being found guilty of some hypocritical breach of such values. The inevitable public ridicule usually forces them to scuttle back underneath their stones and keep stumm. But their attacks on working class organisation, arguably inspired, or at least encouraged, by Reagan’s defeat of the Air Traffic controllers, were hugely successful and their massive increases in Police powers were a sign of things to come.
The biggest difficulty “free thinkers” now face is that the rest of the world still prefers to believe in black and white, right or wrong answers to the complex questions facing humanity. Those of us who have confronted and overcome our childhood conditioning – whether right or left-wing – usually recognise that all the other forms of conditioning are similarly flawed, to the extent that if you still think the answer to any significant political question is even partially provided by a political party, you almost certainly do not understand the question and have little or no chance of arriving at a real answer.