Last week at Rules for Radicals, we noted that modern political discourse takes place along a simple left-right axis. We decided – or at least I did – that neither the Right nor the Left is entirely good, true and virtuous. Each have their advantages, of course, but neither is perfect. And one of the benefits of being a Radical is that you are free, unconstrained by popular dogmas, to strive for perfection.
Before we begin this week’s lesson, let’s define some terms. We’re going to start calling the set of beliefs generally associated with the Left “Progressivism” and those associated with the Right “Conservatism.” Hopefully, you are already familiar with these words. If not – well, perhaps this isn’t the column for you. There is a word search on the last page, however, which might be more your speed. Best of luck.
Now that we’ve thinned our ranks (quality of readership, rather than quantity, will continue to be the goal here at Rules for Radicals) let’s get to work. Contemporary political discourse essentially boils down to the competing ideologies of Progressivism and Conservatism. Unfortunately, I’m convinced that neither of these is anything but outdated and useless. A provocative claim perhaps, since everyone reading this column most likely identifies with one or the other movement to some degree. But I’m assuming serious readers of Rules for Radicals are an unusually open-minded and hard-to-offend group. If you lack such qualities, the word search beckons.
We’ll start with Conservatism, because the modern Conservative movement, compared to its Progressive nemesis, is 1) Sillier, 2) More outdated, and 3) Less powerful. Debunking it will hardly require breaking a sweat, but it will get us warmed up in anticipation of our real target, the modern Progressive movement.
If you yourself are a Progressive, you’re probably used to thinking that the world is run by wealthy, three-piece-suit-clad Republicans deciding the fate of the world in smoke-filled rooms. You certainly didn’t think that YOU ran the world, or at least people who think like you. But take a look around; the ideological zeitgeist of the Western world has been shifting leftward for at least 200 years now. If Conservatives were in charge, would they have let that happen? Given that true power in a democracy lies in the ability to shape the opinions of the masses, would they have let the Universities, public schools and print media become overwhelmingly staffed by left-leaning Progressives? The answer is: only if they are incredibly stupid.
Which is certainly not a wild suggestion. Perhaps you’ve heard the name “Sarah Palin”. Take a break from this column and refresh your memory with a half-hour on Youtube, keeping in mind that North American Conservatives, acting through the Republican party, had at one point gotten very excited over this woman’s candidacy for the second-highest position of power in the world. She is reputably a plausible candidate for the 2012 ticket. As President. No matter what your ideological sentiments, there is no argument against this blindingly obvious fact: The modern Republicans have become the party of the word search. Conservatives in the other Western nations are generally not a whole lot better.
So modern Conservatism is anti-intellectual, prone to failure, and generally acting as if it is consciously trying to minimize its influence on policy decisions. Worst of all, the philosophical groundings of Conservatism are laughably inadequate. A Conservative is, by definition, one who opposes change. That is to say, he prefers the present state of the world to any conceivable alternative. Not only is this inconsistent – societies are constantly changing, and to remain a Conservative for any appreciable length of time suggests a deplorably whimsical nature – it is also demonstratably harmful. If true Conservatives had reigned for the past 40,000 years, we’d all still be swinging from trees, hurling spears at each other. Change is often for the better, and an ideology that refuses to acknowledge this doesn’t deserve our support.
So Conservatism is dead. Hopefully, you had figured this out for yourself, prior to reading this column. If you identify as a Progressive – well, you probably didn’t need my help to develop a healthy dislike of Ann Coulter, although you probably enjoyed my cheap shots at Palin. If you identify (or preferably, identified) as a Conservative, things are slightly different. I am asking you, on the basis of 800 hastily-typed words, to renounce your ideological faith. Scary stuff. Fortunately, as we’ll see next week, this doesn’t mean you have to grow your hair out and join SFPIRG. Progressivism, up close and under a bright light, doesn’t look too hot either.