Sunday, July 5, 2009

Observing a Necessary Distinction

I've been rolling around in my mind the labels conservative and liberal. Their meanings are precisely relative, artifacts of a given time and culture. Conservative means to preserve what is; liberal means to move beyond what is. Well? Both seem like good ideas. Provided that what is, is good, and what is hoped for is good. The ideas, paired, are perfectly Evolutionary -- somehow, things become better and better, preserving what works while making the impossible happen. Flight? Impossible -- we have no wings. Until we liberate our genome by inventing wings. Perfectly reasonable, if it's possible to Evolve wings.

Sadly, there is no magic. Thus, conservative and liberal do not, or rarely, synthesize as thesis and antithesis into some dialectic of wisdom. It was not magic that ended the institutions of slavery. The conservatism of that age was an evil thing. It was a time when liberals where the heroes. Likewise with the company-town Robber Barons. Tradition justified a grinding rather than a living wage. The fact that the free market and certain economic theories justified paying the lowest wage to make the greatest profit -- well, theory and practice do not monopolize justice. Is it right that the only options a man of a certain class might have would be only to beg or steal or to work at a substance level? Is everything that is, right? Manifestly not. Profit it good, greed is not good. So, the labor unions of a hundred years ago were moral and right, in theory. Now, they are as corrupt and more destructive than the evil they were invented to counter.

It has to do with servitude, then. Whether literal slavery, or socially enforced poverty, any conservatism that imposes inequity is wrong, and any liberalism that diminishes injustice is right. Just as, today, the liberalism that so self-righteously washes its hands in abortion blood is literally satanic. The liberalism of today that forbids the expression of emotion, any of the ism emotions of race or sex or patriot -- it isn't reactionary, because its precise oppression is technically new, although it has the spirit of the Inquisition.

Lincoln was conservative in that he wanted to preserve the Constitution, with slavery. A good thing, and not a good thing. He was liberal in that he wanted to build canals and highways. The terms are meaningful only in their appropriate context. In our era, theoretically, conservatives want to build roads, to facilitate the creation of wealth. Liberals want to redistribute wealth, which they seem to believe is mostly inherited.

Was Nazism conservative? Of course not. It did not seek to preserve anything real. The past it aspired to was only mythological. Its socialism was not conservative. Its nationalism was racism by another name, and racism is conservative only in the eyes of leftwing bigots, just as homosexuality is liberal only to rightwing bigots. Gay is liberal -- homosexual is human. Nationalism looks to promote the greatest good for a nation. In this, enlightened liberals and conservatives can disagree only about methods, not about goals. Militarism? What nations have been more expansionist than Red China and Bolshevik Russia?

Whatever else Nazism was, it was not conservative. Neither was it liberal. The labels do not apply. The proper terms would be left- and rightwing. These are the unthinking, emotional distortion or extreme of something more balanced. When feelings toward one's country become chauvinistic, or betraying -- that's wingnut. The terms after all come out of the French Revolution. What should we expect.

We live in extraordinary times, Evolutionary times. We can have world-class music at the mere flick of a finger, like Pharaoh. In times past, music had to be made on the spot, to be heard. It was highly perishable; it was ephemeral. Now, we can taste sweetness that offers no nutrition, flavors that have no connection to plant or animal or even to any mere element or compound. We can have transcendent visions whenever we wish, literally perceive sorcery -- at will we can summon up the impossible -- television, movies, DVDs. We have power over light and darkness. No wonder our brains think we are divine. But we're not divine, and we're not protected by providence in any way that we can count on. We may not earn our blessings, but we should be thankful for them.

This being so -- our living in a time of fundamental dislocation from reality -- we should at least ground ourselves in experience rather than theory. In such revolutionary times, it seems only prudent to be careful, cautious, conservative. It's like raising a child. The world on its own will teach every lesson there is about harshness and instability. Parents should be reliable. That way, when the time comes, what should be dared, will be, and what should be preserved will be honored. It comes back, as always, to wisdom. There is a time for serpents and for doves.



Richard and Becky said...

A pert post to follow July 4th, 'memorial day of what once was celebrated.' We live in the land of cliche...It's all relative.

Richard Dafoe

Jack H said...

It's mostly relative. :-) Cliche, like any social nicety, is not only inevitable but necessary. We can't be bright and intense all the time.

I'm getting a surprising amount of feedback on this particular post. Odd. I don't think much of it.

I looked at your blog. I'm a little envious. Forgive me for that, a little. It's my weakness that makes me human.


Will C. said...

"Whatever else Nazism was, it was not conservative. Neither was it liberal."

Brace yourself, I'm reading a book (yes, a book), called Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg. It makes some pretty good arguements about Liberalism's roots. Of course that is Liberal with a capital L and perhaps not the one you speak about. Evan Sayet's speech to the Heritage Foundation explains the difference quite well.
Anyway, Jonah ties in Woodrow Wilson, Margaret Sanger, Musollini, and Hitler to early 1900's progressivism. I'm not finished with it but I can let you borrow it if you send me some shoes. ;)

Jack H said...

I can't remember which is the reasonable one, big L or little l. That's why I provided my own definitions. I remember the fuss about Goldberg's title. Yes, it was Combes, Hannity's parasitic twin, who had a problem with that. But this little essay of mine, if I remember correctly, is all about that -- labels and relativism.

You know you're three weeks late. Were you on vacation? I'd think living out there in the hill country or the swamps would be all the vacation you'd need. The freedom of it, not having to wear clothes and such. At one with nature, listening to the soothing lullaby of the hogs grunting and squealing. Idyllic. How us city folk, burdened with electricity and the written word and so on, could profit from your rustic example. Be free, my savage, simple friend -- be free.


Will C. said...

Electricity you, better hope your thermometer doesn't tic tic tic upwards. Or the blackouts will roll like the moon-induced tide.

Speaking of which, long ago I read the details of how the moon calms and tempers our oceans and weather. A regulator, perhaps a better word an "accumulator" in a fluid mechanics pipe diagram, absorbing the surges and steadying the flow. Now I read that the planet Jupiter has a similiar funtion, tempering the cosmos above us. Actually, more of a vacuum cleaner, sucking up those deadly comet and meteroite chunks destined to collide with us. The article described how dangerous a world we'd live in if not for good ol' Jupiter and it's massive gravitational pull.

Amazing how God made all of these perfect little mechanisms, just so we could live in peace.

Missed my obsequious tangents didn't you...

Jack H said...

More sententious than obsequious. Blah blah blah, the fluid dynamics of the hydrostatatistic homeostasis is hyperfluxicly mandatorious for the gravitational inevitabilitude of the cosmos. Yip yip, snort snort.