July 06, 2009
Who betrayed my conservative principles?
I don't know what I should title this post. Maybe "How I became labeled as a conservative." But labels are the damnedest things. People start calling you something, and pretty soon the label begins to takes on meaning, and if you're not careful, the label can influence your thinking one way or another, and you can find yourself reacting. The reactions might take the form of conforming, rebelling, ignoring, or just passively going with the flow, but if you're a human being it's hard not to react in some way. Even not reacting -- what we would call ignoring -- involves a process of deliberation. You're not ignoring in the true sense of the word, because if you know something, you are not in a state of being ignorant of it.
I feel compelled to elaborate on a somewhat flippant statement I made in an earlier post:
Too bad we can't bring back the ideologically easy days when "conservative" simply meant those who supported the war.Ideologically easy? Perhaps I spoke too fast. While it is undeniably true that many an American (and many a blogger) found himself or herself labeled "conservative," there's nothing easy about the underlying ideological question.
Why, how, and since when is it "conservative" to support your country during a war?
And since I'm on the subject of "easy" ideology, there's another form of "conservatism" which has been on my mind.
The failure or refusal to believe that President George W. Bush was like Hitler, and was running a Nazi-like regime.
Or how about not believing that the 9/11 attack was an inside job?
Just to be clear, yes, I supported the war, and yes, I ridiculed the idea that Bush was a Nazi and that 9/11 was an inside job. That being the case, I became tagged with the "conservative" label no matter how many times I said I was a libertarian. This debate (in which my libertarianism was attacked as suspect) is typical, and I lost track of the number of times I was called a conservative (and worse) by lefties. But hey, I'm one of those annoying snots who rejects all labels and refuses to be bound by them, so I contemptuously ignored most of these references.
Times have changed. It now seems that supporting the war, not believing 9/11 was an inside job, and opposing the belief that Bush is a Nazi are no longer conservative positions. Even foot dragging on Gitmo has become suspiciously liberal.
Where does that leave the previously labeled conservatives?
Why, they're supposed to be dragged into a contest. Something involving "conservative principles." What are they? Beats me, as it seems to depend on whom you ask. To some, it's enough simply to be against big government, or statism. But to others, you also have to be against all things which are said to threaten "family values."
Social and religious conservatives often use the term "family values" to promote conservative ideology that supports traditional morality or values. American Christians often see their religion as the source of morality and consider the nuclear family to be an essential element in society. Some conservative family values advocates believe the government should endorse Christian morality, for example by displaying the Ten Commandments or allowing teachers to conduct prayers in public schools. Religious conservatives often view the United States as a "Christian nation". For example, the American Family Association, says "The American Family Association exists to motivate and equip citizens to change the culture to reflect Biblical truth and traditional family values." These groups variously oppose abortion, pornography, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, some aspects of feminism, cohabitation, and depictions of sexuality in the media.I don't know how accurate the above list is, but it does not articulate either my political positions or many of my political principles, and to the extent it defines "conservatism," then I cannot truthfully be said to be a conservative, regardless of how devoutly I support the war, and regardless of how much I doubt Bush's Nazism and 9/11 involvement.
What I want to know is, whatever happened to my conservative principles? Can it be that I was a conservative, but no longer am? How is that possible? Looking back over the six years of this blog, I don't think my positions have changed on very many issues. I think I am conservative about some things, liberal about some things, and in general I still consider myself a small l-libertarian who simply thinks what he thinks. Naturally, to some I will always be a conservative, but to others I will fail the litmus test hopelessly.
Can I accomplish more with or without the label? I guess that depends on whether the conservative label is a matter of principle or pragmatism. And on whether the label is a definition.
Should labels be put ahead of principles, or should principles be put ahead of labels?
I don't mean to sound facetious, but I think it's often forgotten that betraying a label is not the same thing as betraying a principle.
AFTERTHOUGHT: I think much of the problem is that once you adopt any label shared by other people, they will then insist you adopt what they call their principles. (This can be further aggravated by an unfortunate tendency to confuse opinions with principles.)
UPDATE: My thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link, and a warm welcome to all.
Your comments are appreciated -- agree or disagree.
UPDATE: Thank you Sean Kinsell for the link. (Especially in a post which does such a great job of barfing at Andrew Sullivan!)
posted by Eric on 07.06.09 at 11:51 AM
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