Friday, December 4, 2009

Decency on the Right: Andrew Sullivan

It is most useful to remember that right-populist demogogery has traditionally found enemies within conservative as well as liberal circles. Indeed, American conservatives whose ideas have their provenance in the writings of Edmund Burke, Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson are reacting to the cheapening and vulgarization of American political discourse by the demogogues about us. No finer example of the power of solid and authentic conservative thinking is Andrew Sullivan's. Please reflect on his heartfelt credo, "Leaving the Right," posted Dec. 1, 2009,on the Atlantic website.

For those on the Obama left, read Howard Kurtz's commentary on both Sullivan's and progressives' outlooks.


vrm3 said...

So where does Andrew Sullivan go? Why in the world did he feel compelled to identify himself as part of a movement in the first place? What a boringly herd-like thing to do.

The laundry list in his indictment of this mythical beast he so detests -- the Right -- is very impressive. Many of them resonate with me. Sullivan's assumption that they are shared values on the Right is what strikes me as foolishly simplistic.

Neither the Right nor the Left are monoliths in the US. Fiscal conservatives; supporters of limited government; libertarians; hawks; and social conservatives -- the core components of the Right in the US -- disagree on a wide variety of issues. Sullivan appears to have hyperfocused on the rantings of some highly visible demagogues and rabble rousers; and on some controversial issues, and made the assumption that they are shared values, which they are not.

How odd.

Vic McDonald

Rezman said...

Ken Wilber, the philosopher and explorer of developmental psychology and human potential, has created a framework in which we can examine the polarization of our times.

Read this brief piece on how his Integral theory applies to politics:

The nub of the problem, according to Wilber, is that liberalism is stuck in a pre-modern worldview that only external reality is true (this has been described by other thinkers as the “myth of materialism”).

Wilber says that the “The typical liberal, recall, does not believe in interior causation, or even in interiors, for that matter. The typical liberal epistemology (e.g., John Locke) imagines that the mind is a tabula rasa, a blank slate filled with pictures of the external world. If something is wrong with the interior (if you are suffering), it is because something is first wrong with the exterior (the social institutions)—because your interior comes from the exterior.” Conservatives, on the other hand, believe that only internal reality is true.

What’s a post-modern worldview? One in which interior and exterior are both real and irreducible, even though they are validated differently; one in which, despite remarkable plasticity, there are nested hierarchies. Or, as political satirist Bill Maher says, a society that allows women in the workplace is better than one that keeps women in beekeeper suits.

So, is Andrew Sullivan’s drawing a line in the sand from the lunatic right in the United States a significant act? Certainly. But why haven’t principled conservatives been blowing the whistle on right-wing Leninists who will use any pretext to delegitimize even the appearance of liberalism, much less any actual progressive values?

I suppose Sullivan’s gesture is too little and too late, but better late than never. And even though he says the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, is a reason why he’s not a liberal is facile, he’s now my leading contender to inherit the mantle of the late William F. Buckley, although Christopher Hitchens’ newfound blend of conservatism and atheism is attractive.

Yet before we cheer the apparent self-destruction of conservative wackiness, let’s remember that public pain is easily transformed into tyranny—e.g., the National Socialists in post-Weimar Germany and the Bolsheviks in post-Tsarist Russia. Your last blog post that included Fritz Stern’s letter “The Rise of the Far Right,” in The New York Times is an apt warning.

What’s more, the Democratic Party’s liberalism is merely corporatism with an occasional human face that stops looking human if we see the body counts of wars, imprisonment, death by chronic disease, and the economic boom and bust cycle. Once we realize that the distribution of wealth hasn’t been as skewed since Charles Dickens wrote about the injustices of Victorian England, it reveals that other issues are epiphenomenal.

Yes, I’m thankful that liberals realize external causation keeps the playing field from being level. That modern insight has affected vital structural changes in society that have not only improved the quality of life for everyone, but have done so in our nation’s recent past.

But what’s equally true is that internal causation provides us with the ability to perceive meaning and transcendence in lives that are often materially rich, yet spiritually impoverished.

The real job of future conservatives—whether as a governing party or as a loyal opposition— is to realign itself and reject the myths and falsehoods that Andrew Sullivan listed so thoroughly in his article.