Thursday, May 6, 2021

Why conservatism never wins

Because, well, define conservative.  I remember ages ago, in the stone age of higher education, we used to have 'comment boards'.  Those were bulletin boards where people would post an article or even write up a little paper, tack it to the board, and await comments.  One I recall was a story about how Scottish Fundamentalists had derided Jerry Falwell as a liberal.  I knew then that the term 'liberal' no longer had any meaning.  Conservative, too.

Donald McCleary, at the always interesting and informative The American Catholic, had this little reminder about why conservatism is a doomed alliance for Christians.  Not because of any evil or wicked conspiracy to destroy.  It's just that change, as they say, is inevitable.  So with each passing generation, what conservative means changes as new generations seek to 'conserve' entirely new understandings of what needs conserving. 

My oldest son, who had flirted with a career in politics, noticed that.  Since he takes his Catholic faith pretty seriously, he couldn't align with the Democrats, though he didn't say they were always wrong about everything.  Nonetheless, he felt the Republican Party was the better bet, all things considered.  Yet as he mixed and mingled, he noticed something.  Beyond the obvious, that many in the GOP are no more conservative than a liberal Democrat, he noticed many who called themselves conservative weren't what you would think was conservative at all.  This was especially true among the younger conservative Republican sector.

Many his age or thereabouts had no problem with LGBTQ interests or gay marriage.  They might oppose abortion, but to a limited degree.  Or they may be more open to it.  Perhaps socialism does work in some cases.   America is and always has been a racist nation, that much is true.  And on and on.   These were, again, the ones his age who wore the label 'conservative GOP' with honor. 

That's because that's what they've been born and raised into.  They may not go crazy communist or want America and the Christian West burned to the ground.  That's how they understand themselves as conservative.  But the conservatism they espouse are things that may well have shamed a 1960's counterculture hippie broadening his mind at Haight and Ashbury. After all, to many my sons' age, what us old timers call radical left is as 'status quo' as a tent revival was in the 1920s.  

That's why conservatism loses.  At the end of the day, it sees itself all too often as merely conservative compared to the liberalism it opposes.  That is, it stays firmly three steps behind and four years away from liberalism.  But as liberalism, or change, or progress, moves inevitably farther and farther away from today, the conservative inevitably moves, too.  He may still be three steps behind, but now he's five miles away from what older conservatives ever would have identified with.  He's still conservative compared to the liberals he sees, but he misses that the conservatism he's defending would likely have been too liberal even for yesterday's liberals. 

By the by, that might also explain why so many from my Protestant days who aligned so strongly with the Religious Right and conservative Republicans are the ones partying at gay wedding receptions and calling down religious liberty as the systemically white racist trick that it is.  They're still conservative Christians. And they're doing what conservative Christians do, and that's conserve.  It's just that they're now conserving what they and most 20 years ago would have condemned.  Such is conservatism in a nutshell. 


  1. Remember now what you wrote before.

    Like I said, it's all so tiresome. Let it all burn, what does it matter any more?

    1. Eventually it will all burn. I think the shock for so many is the speed of it all.

  2. Next you'll be telling us that "Progressive" no longer means "like Theodore Roosevelt".

    1. Heh. Yep. It's crazy isn't it. It's almost like there ought to be a different approach.


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