The empty reactiveness of today’s Republicans
To answer your question about how best to describe no-longer-conservative political figures such as Gov. Palin and other GOP bigwigs, may I suggest the label “reactionary.”
For it to be an actual, functional political ideology, conservatism has to be capable of articulating its own world view, belief system, ideal civilizational structure, and so on. The reactionary, by contrast, does not know or care what exactly he wants or strives for, but is only capable of articulating his strong intestinal (not intellectual) reaction against things he does not like.
The degree to which the Republican party has become the party of mere reactionary Democrat-hate, rather than conservatism, was on full display at the convention. Speaker after speaker gave snarky, angry, sarcastic speeches that didn’t really say anything about anything, other than that Obama’s political agenda was vaguely “bad” in some very hazy and ill-defined way. The concept of “big government” for example, was frequently denounced by the speakers in the most lazy and sloppy manner possible. There was a time when denunciations of “big government” actually bespoke a concrete political agenda—dissolving the Department of Education, etc. But now, it is just one more empty talking point; the party base has a reactionary dislike of the idea of “big government” on some very, very abstract, emotional level, but they are now too intellectually devoid of conservative principle to go farther than that, a byproduct of living in a culture where liberal logic provides basically all of society’s conventional wisdom. The GOP reacts angrily to the Democrats’ ideas, but have no real understanding of why they are actually bad according any logic that goes much farther than “because we’re the better party.”
This is part of the reason the Republican party is obviously so unspectacular once in power; none of the party’s power players understand their own supposed values as anything other than talking-points to get elected, or talking-points to drive their “base” into fanatic bouts of applause and screams, which are now clearly almost entirely Pavlovian. It’s not unlike a lot what you see in modern Europe, where the two main parties don’t really disagree on much of substance, yet still yell and scream and oppose each other with an apocalyptic intensity that seems ridiculous and childish to anyone with an eye on the actual issues.
J.J.’s vivid description of the Republican party’s shrill, empty pantomime of conservatism reminds me of H.G. Wells’s descripton of the Holy Roman Empire as a corpse pretending to be a living being.
John D. writes:
I think that J.J. may be onto something here but I don’t know if it should be called merely “reactionary,” as such. It is correct to observe that people in general, not just conservatives, have lost not only the will to form and articulate a clear and consistent world view, but they are beginning to lose the ability to do so. I read an article in The Atlantic a few weeks back that could be telling of a larger phenomenon that is becoming apparent in today’s culture. It seems that technology may be taking its toll on how we use our brains in general. The theory that it illustrates is one worth debating. It is nevertheless an interesting concept.
Carol Iannone writes:
Regarding J.J.’s comment, this is exactly what I’ve been trying to say. The Party tries to villainize the Democrats and get the faithful all excited, but the Republicans themselves offer little besides content-free slogans. True conservatives should begin to resent being used in this way. For example the Republicans or their supporters ridicule and castigate Obama for saying we should learn Spanish. But Republicans are not going to do anything about federally mandated bilingualism in the public schools either. Maybe they won’t counsel learning Spanish but they’re not going to touch the bilingualism either. Yet they try to get the rhetorical advantage and arouse conservatives by bringing up the Obama remark.
Laura W. writes:
Thank you to J.J. for his vivid and satisfying description of the void.
“Vivid description of the void.” That almost sounds Nietzschean, but it’s not. We’re just trying to understand the truth about something that is false.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 06, 2008 12:06 PM | Send