Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Conservatism and legitimization: the only thing worse than authoritarians…

…are authoritarians who don't play by the rules they pretend they say everyone else should play by. If there is one blessing (or curse, depending on one's point of view) of the Bush Era it was that many of the right-wing elements in the west that concealed their fascist-like contempt for basic human dignity suddenly publicly embraced it. In the United States, this was seen in the form of political legitimization of torture, a shameless mainstream media blitz of right-wing propaganda, stolen elections, perverse legal backbending quasi-legitimized by the Supreme Court appointments of a president who himself possibly only achieved his office because of a Supreme Court decision, militarism, and demonization and intimidation of people who refused to buy into the junta.

Naturally, where G20 meetings happen, protests follow. And where protests happen, authoritarians crawl out of the woodwork to reaffirm their commitment to a police state. Witness former Canadian Conservative MP Monte Solberg:
During the summit, commentators took great pains to distinguish legitimate protesters from the anarchists who were bent on violence.

I’m afraid I can’t be quite so generous, for sometimes the two blended together.
The op-ed reads a lot like a screed from Fox News:
I deeply appreciate the police. They didn’t initiate this, the protesters did. I’d be happy if the worst vandals amongst the protesters had to spend many weeks in jail.

I hope they get sued for the damage they’ve done and have to sell their entire Michael Moore DVD collections and their victim-affirming Noam Chomsky libraries.
This is the power of mass media. The kind of authoritarian rhetoric found on CNN, Fox News, and right-wing tabloids, is now deeply ingrained in so-called conservative movement of an ostensible "progressive" country. Politically, Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore probably couldn't be more at odds, but in the minds of members of the 21st century authoritarian junta, they're the same thing.

"For the past 90 years or so, the Republican Party has, at its best, come to embody the cause of personal freedom and economic dynamism. For a similar period, the Democratic Party has, at its best, come to embody the cause of fairness and family security." — David Brooks, New York Times columnist ("The Democrats Rejoice," 2010)
Politics today is about framing, and anti-authoritarians are bad at it. This needs to change. First off: stop using the terms authoritarians choose to describe themselves. They are not conservative, traditionalist, freedom fighters, or pro-life. They are authoritarians. Glenn Beck is an authoritarian. Monte Solberg is an authoritarian. Sean Hannity is an authoritarian. The United States Republikan Party is authoritarian, and so are its equivalents in other countries.

Conservatism is, ironically, perhaps a newer political tradition than modernity-affirming liberalism, and perhaps even more counterintuitively for the American mindset, it's probably closer to dead. Although I generally regard it as rather authoritarian itself, conservatism does tend to have some merits and even some occasional moments of clarity. The people above do not. They couch themselves in a term that refers to reaffirming tradition, ties to the community, and careful social consideration before making change. The conservatism of Edmund Burke is mostly dead, and where it lives on it has refused to acknowledge the problem of the considerably more right-wing authoritarianism stealing its mantle. Even relatively moderate conservatives like David Brooks have generally refused to acknowledge this, preferring instead to play a bipartisan balancing game between the two major parties.

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