Monday, October 21, 2013

From a Conversation on Political Philosophy: The Conservative Infatuation with The Violence of Empire and Inequality

I highly recommend this conversation between Corey Robin and Daniel Larison. Maybe now I'll get off my lazy ass and order Robin's book, The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin . Maybe it will stir up distant memories from philosophy classes that will make me better understand the underpinnings of today's conservatives. After reading Robin's blogging for years, I'm certain I'll learn something.

I took a few notes while reading the riveting conversation, when I wasn't busy looking up topics like pan-Slavism, which I had forgotten about. Mostly I was interested in Larison's apparent embarrassment in regards to the right's infatuation with violence.
Daniel Larison: "...there is no disputing that most conservatives in most Western countries in the past two centuries have supported their governments’ foreign wars. I am still not persuaded that this is because there is a conservative infatuation with violence. There are several other factors that may help account for it: deference to authority"
If authority is violent, and you defer to it, is this not an infatuation w/ violence? Is deferring to violence not support for it? If they're not infatuated with the violence (and I think they are, based on how many times I heard "nuke all Muslims" during debates about Iraq), then they are infatuated with the perpetrators of violence. So infatuated, in fact, that rather than think through the conservative implications of imperialism, they not only defer to the violent authority, but they use violence against those who oppose it.

I was physically attacked many times by people who got angry that they couldn't argue with me about the war. I was attacked a few times by people who attempted to make a coherent argument for the Iraq war, but found themselves floundering to the point that they had to resort to throwing a punch. I argued with conservatives and some neo-liberals, some of them in my own family, and was eventually told that either I should support my president in a time of war, or I was a traitor. This seems more like "the distorting effects of nationalism" Larison lists as another possible explanation for the tendency for violence on the right, but if someone allows nationalism to distort their view to such an extent as to accuse someone of treason (punishable by death), doesn't this expose an infatuation with violence that is tempered only by a desire not to get one's hands bloody?

To this day, I hear people try to defend the Iraq war (mostly lame arguments involving the "everyone thought they had WMD" BS, which isn't really a defense but a spreading of blame). Is this infatuation with defending the violent Bush administration not itself an infatuation with violence? If not directly, then indirectly through continued support for those who committed it?
Corey Robin: "the primary audience for violence on the right is the perpetrator and/or his/her allies. In other words, the right sees violence as primarily a source of rejuvenation among a ruling class that has gone soft. "
Is this not the best explanation for the support of GW Bush's $6 trillion dollar war? And even if you don't think the "deference to authority" is, in itself, violence, then isn't the right's continued defense of the Iraq war a result of the primary audience for violence on the right being the allies of the perpetrator? Isn't the right's continued defense of Iraq an attempt to milk every last ounce of rejuvenation from the violence in order to toughen up the right that has, supposedly, gone soft?

It reminds me of the Lee Atwater quote about the southern strategy (the audio of which was recently released). He says that you start of saying "nigger, nigger" in order to get votes for the GOP in the south, and then that starts to backfire, so you start talking about bussing, taxes, more "abstract" things that still, essentially, say "nigger, nigger!" In this case, it's hippie punching. Right wingers still want to punch hippies, and many of them still do, but that kind of lashing out tends to backfire, makes you look bad. So, now you're talking about opposing a violent, power crazed President who's lying us into a war, you must be a traitor who would be toast in any other country, so you should surrender to the power of the authority that knows what's good for you. It's certainly more abstract than a right cross to the nose, but the infatuation with violence has merely gone from actually throwing the punch oneself, to wishing that the powerful authority to which one defers would put you to death for your non-Patriotic use of the 1st Amendment. Just because your hands don't have blood on them doesn't mean you're not violent. It just means you don't like the mess, so you defer to an authority--a kind of outsourcing of the violence.

I often think of how, when he was running for office, GW Bush used the phrase "compassionate conservatism." Is the continued defense of the Bush administration, with a gaping lack of reference to compassion, and a continued reliance on the idea of spreading democracy at the barrel of a gun, not the  toughening up of a philosophy that many on the right saw as "too soft." Is not the current fervor to stop people from getting affordable insurance, or to cut food stamps, or to cut minorities off from the voting booth, or to blame the 47% who are moochers for all our problems, aren't these all methods to "toughen up" the right? Aren't these all just more abstract ways of punching hippies?
Larison: "If we assume that concentrating wealth and increasing economic inequality were goals of the right, I suppose I would have to agree that there has been success of a sort. But I don’t consider either of those things to be desirable or consistent with conservative assumptions."
If economic inequality were not goals of the right, then what is trickle down economics? Are we to believe that conservatives actually believed that if we cut taxes on the rich that would lead to more economic equality? And since Larison admitted earlier that a large part of conservatism is deference to authority, then isn't having more wealth in the hands of the supposedly deserving meritocracy an outcome the right would desire?

Anyway, great conversation. Very educational. Go read the whole thing.

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