The Illusion of Conservatism

What Are Conservatives Today?

For most Americans, politics isn’t a big part of their daily lives. They don’t care about what Republicans or Democrats are for, as long as they get stuff done.

But conservative rhetors take exception to this. They believe that reason occurs mostly through language, and must be destroyed. They routinely assert that liberals disparage conscience, a claim that can only be based on factual distortion.

The aristocracy

The word aristocracy today is largely used to mean a wealthy ruling elite. In 1789 European societies, this meant a titled class that dominated metropolitan governments and ruled over large territories of land. Lesser, untitled landowners whose wealth and social status were more modest are better defined as the gentry.

It was not always easy for these aristocratic elites to mobilize rural society as a conservative bulwark against urban radicalism. In England, for example, they could tap rural deference to the church, but this was often countered by urban radicalism rooted in class hatred.

Aristocratic politics relied on deference and a deeply internalized attitude of self-regarding superiority. Today, conservatives still use aristocratic tactics to promote their agendas. But they do so by claiming to conserve institutions, which is not really what they want to do. They are actually interested in conserving only particular types of institutions that reinforce their own power. This is why they oppose reforms such as health care and welfare that lessen the dependence of common people on their aristocratic patronage.

The irrationality

A fundamental feature of conservatism is its contempt for democratic culture. Its adherents see in democracy an affront to established institutions, particularly landed aristocracy, church-established churches, and powerful armies.

The political strategists who advised Ronald Reagan sought to submerge this contempt beneath a torrent of anti-communist rhetoric and a relentless attack on the federal bureaucracy as a whole. But they did little to diminish the overall irrationality of conservatism.

The most basic irrationality of conservatism lies in its belief that there is a moral order, and that it consists of inherited institutions backed by a tradition of prescription and prejudice. Conservatives therefore believe that their goal is to preserve these established institutions, and that replacing them would be a mistake. To achieve this end, they use language that stands just beyond the reach of rational debate or rebuttal. Conservative rhetors constantly pelt liberals with words like “elite” and a mass of others whose meaning is semantically related to it, and they have established a vast pipeline of false ‘facts’ to underwrite their messages.

The war room

The war room is a space designed to inspire creativity and quick decisions. It is not a meeting room, but rather a place where employees are focused solely on the task at hand. The lack of distractions allows for better collaboration and increased efficiency.

The new campaign repackages information already posted on the government’s energy facts website and adds some new falsehoods for good measure. Its main goal is to convince investors that Canadian oil and gas is the best option for them.

The group behind the war room is led by Miles Sonkin, who goes by the alias “Iggy Semmelweiss.” He has a long history with far-right extremist groups and has been involved in at least two alleged cults. The BBC’s investigation found that some of the group’s “generals” instruct members on how to romance, emotionally manipulate and socially isolate women before luring them into performing on webcams for sexual rewards. They also teach them how to smear critics and manipulate local media.

The crisis of civilization

Historians and political theorists like Patrick Allitt and Russell Kirk have pointed out that an organized conservative movement did not emerge in the United States until the 1950’s. But the ideas of conservatism have been in play since long before that, shaped by the cultural hierarchies that define it.

In recent years, conservative rhetors have been able to use the fashion for civil society as a counterbalance to democracy’s supposedly hierarchical government in order to submerge their own contorted notion of hierarchy into it. Suddenly, the very idea of a democratic opposition becomes suspect. Rush Limbaugh has compared Tom Daschle to Satan just for opposing George Bush’s policies.

At the heart of conservatism lies a skewed conception of civilization. It is a social order dominated by an aristocracy. Its domination requires the destruction of civilization in general — including conscience, democracy, reason and language – in other words, the kind of culture that Tocqueville lamented would disappear with modernity.

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