Sunday, April 17, 2005

"Liberal" and "Conservative" Considered Problematic

Fairly early on in this series of exchanges, Thomas Bushnell clarified an entry on his blog with the following response:

"They claim to be conserving church over and against culture, when actually they are trying to conserve older culture against change."

Well, I don't think so. The word "conserve" here is the problem.

For one thing, we're a bit out of date with the terminology. Within the last year the one party has taken to calling themselves "reasserters" and has labelled the other side "revisionists". This is still not really acceptable because they've stuck the opposition with a pejorative, but at least they've put some distance between the current conflict and the French Revolution. And these labels do get at what the one side perceives as the fundamental issue.

At this very late date there's almost nothing to "conserve" about conservative culture. I'm just barely old enough to remember-- somewhat-- how the late '60s changed everything. What I do remember, and what I see looking back at materials of the time, is that there was most definitely a liberal establishment (see "the Johnson administration") and that for the most part both it and whatever there was of a conservative establishment were remade to the point of destruction in the turmoil of 1968 and subsequent years.

As far as cultural conservatism is concerned, there is plainly a nostalgia for an image of, oh, a certain vague picture of late '40s-mid '50s society. But race doesn't figure actively in this picture-- for that they jump directly to 1968, and at that point they become the radicals and the "liberals" become the cultural conservatives.

What we call political conservatives today are a creation of the middle '70s. By that point the dogma of liberal progress was firmly in place, and it remains the centerpiece of that party. "Liberal" and "conservative" simply remain in place as position labels from, oh, about 1933, but it would be idiotic to ascribe the liberal or conservative positions of the former era to present-day "liberals" and "conservatives".

All camps want to "conserve" their own values. The label is not a substitute for the actual positions.

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