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Friday, August 12, 2022

Why All Liberals Become Conservatives If Given Enough Time

Far from the early liberalism of Brandeis, Dewey, Lippmann, and Lafollette who at least grounded their fanciful notions on a practical, populist activism, progressivism today has become a circus side show, a shell game, all quick fingers and no substance; a burlesque show with tits and pasties, booty and promise but nothing for sale but wiggle; a vaudevillian act with a pull-by date, an exhausting show of face-paint and mime; a familiar, predictable, crude repertoire.

Early liberalism was as ideologically shaky as present-day progressivism.   Both were founded on the conviction that progress towards a better world is possible, that Utopia is not fiction, and that with will, enterprise, and belief it can be achieved – a conviction which, given the violent , chaotic, and impossibly brutal course of history, is airy, happy, and wrong.

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The early Twentieth Century liberals picked their fights carefully. Capitalism’s exploitation of labor, the central idea of Marx and Engels, was enough of an evil to require the full force of righteous action.  The rights of the working man, for so long ignored and abused by Robber Barons and their straw bosses, were to be restored.  Unionization not only meant the restoration of a countervailing force, a political equilibrium with teeth and purpose; but a moral victory.

The union movement, as discredited as it would become in later decades was at least  based on sound philosophical principle, guided by political intellect, and combining both Darwinian survival and Marxist synthesis to produce systemic change in the economic system.  Today’s progressivism is a catch-all jamboree of emotional idealism, solidarity, and good times.  As flawed as liberalism’s faith in socialism was, it at least had a moral fulcrum.  Progressivism has no such foundational center – no one guiding philosophical principle.  In its conflation of all social ills – misogyny, homophobia, sexism, racism, economic inequality, and environmental destruction – its stuffing all America’s problems into one big grab-bag, it has lost intellectual focus.  It has become one big revival tent with only salvation, redemption, and promise in the wings.

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Progressivism is a youth movement, a reprise of the Sixties demographic bubble, a time when those under thirty were the majority, collective adolescence the character, and idealism the meme.  Older liberals who cut their teeth on civil rights and Vietnam are now tolerated, but given a back seat, and expected to applaud at the prompt.  There is no room in the tent for their brand of reflection.  Logic and exegesis went out with Augustine; and passion for reform, anger at injustice, and an embrace of anything that tastes sweet and good is in.

The progressive bolus of sanctimony and righteousness has finally been coughed up.  Conservatives, and many moderate Republicans have had enough hectoring and badgering; and are rolling back the most offensive measures imposed by the hysterical claque in Washington.  The electorate today, fat and happily middle class as it may be, is no different than it was in Jefferson’s day - still individualistic, enterprising, and suspicious of government.  The more autocratic its policies and the more indifferent it is to public sentiment, the greater the people’s resentment.

This, however, is only the most obvious sequela of the reign of faux idealism. More fundamental, transformative changes are underway.   Progressives are becoming conservative.  The inevitable resetting of moral and political perspective from adolescence to maturity is happening.  Toys and tin soldiers are put away and big boy guns and cannons are replacing them.

Conservatives has always understood that the recurring cycles of history are no accident.  As Shakespeare understood when writing his histories, the actors, script, and sets of historical drama may change, but the plot remains the same.  History has been one irresistible soap opera of palace coups, family jealousies, insidious schemes, and strange bedfellows.  Regardless of character, pomp, and circumstance, the outcome of history is forgone.

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As long as human nature remains unchanged, such predictability is assured; and anyone who assumes that the merry-go-round will stop and that a new world order will replace the likes of  Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot is just whistlin’ Dixie. These men were not the bloody despots of the distant past, but today’s men of influence and a future certainty.

The Twenty-first Century has begun in turn.  Vladimir Putin has invaded his small, defenseless neighbor Ukraine and has brutally caused thousands of civilian deaths, urban devastation, and a siege of destruction.  His territorialism, tribal interests, and complete carelessness about the use of power is no different from Hitler’s putsches or the marauding armies of Genghis Khan. History indeed repeats itself.

What keeps adolescent idealism alive for so long? Why is political fancy perpetuated so long after it should have gone the way of toy swords, buckles, and princess outfits? Why have history books remained gathering dust on bottom shelves? What has fed such dreams?

Perhaps more importantly how and why have age-old progressives become conservatives.  What are the mechanisms that finally re-introduce Genghis Khan, empire, and African tribal warfare into common perception? What makes formerly died-in-the-wool idealists committed democrats?

Most idealists see every repeat of history’s most nasty bits only as incentives to do more.  Progress is not denied but only delayed.  It is not that Putin’s violence is a demonstration of the perpetual resurfacing of malicious intent, but an incidental, unfortunate, unexpected blip in history from which lessons can be learned.  Realists see his actions as expected, predictable events from which there is no evasion.  Aggression will always be an expression of human nature; and if met with equivalent force will result in peace, victory, or compromise.  The post-war environment will be changed as the result, neither better nor worse than the previous one, a temporary hiatus in the waves of self-interested advance. A modern Pax Romana.

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Liberals do not become conservatives overnight.  There has to be a  gradual unclogging of arteries, more fluidity, clarity, and accelerated thought; but it takes only one illuminating event to bring the past to a close.  If, after all the predation, territorial wars, brutality, and inhumanity of the Twentieth Century, such offenses still continue; and if the same disregard for polity and community continues to be repeated despite the most optimistic predictions, there must be something to the idea of historical permanence.  Once grasped, never forgotten.  A progressive early, a conservative late, a historical imperative as conclusive as quenching a thirst.

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