• Richard Farr

Putting the con in conservative

The theme is a growing one – at long last: a crucial fact about American politics, without which little else can be understood, is that most Americans who call themselves “conservative” are, as a simple matter of fact, not conservatives in any historically meaningful sense. On the contrary, the twin ideologies bearing that name are a devil’s bargain between overwhelmingly rich, educated, hyper-individualist pro-market* fundamentalists, and poorer, more poorly-educated people who have been duped by the former’s false promises into celebrating a racially-tinged nostalgia for (as Samuel Beckett famously has it) “the good old days when we wished we were dead.”

(* Pro-market … or “pro-business” – which, ironically, is often a quite different thing. One can see this from the failure to be shocked by, or attack, monopolies – aka royal licenses to print money – such as the cable industry.)

Ex-cons like columnist David Brooks think the falling away from traditional conservative values is a feature of the Trump era; in fact, as I argued elsewhere, the faking has been going on for 40-50 years, and arguably it has been going on since modern conservatism emerged with the industrial revolution 200 years ago.

(Certainly not all conservatives fit into these two camps. Philosopher Roger Scruton, perhaps the most intelligent and historically aware of modern conservatives, is worth reading on what conservatism is supposed to be about. But he seems far too little concerned with the damage done to “tradition” and “the sacred” by the beloved forces of business and the market, and this isn’t surprising, because he carries a telling stain with him: he was Margaret Thatcher’s pet thinker, and the “conservative” Margaret Thatcher was a hyper-individualist pro-market fundamentalist with a vengeance.)

Now constitutional scholar Charles Freid has made the detailed case that our increasingly “conservative” Supreme Court is also a total con: its major recent decisions, like Janus and Citizens United, routinely do exactly what all good conservatives are supposed to abhor: set fire to long-established precedent in an openly political search for an end to the influence of “liberal” values. The details are worth reading:


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