Sunday, February 27, 2011

Not My Conservatism

Lord Keynes has a great post on the recent election in Ireland, and it looks like the Irish are definitely rejecting the austerity straitjacket. However, there are still plots afoot to impose austerity on other parts of Europe and the United States. The United States has already experienced a kind of “stealth austerity” at the local and state levels, but it can still get much, much worse, especially if the most “conservative” Republicans get their way.

The reality of austerity, including the destruction of livelihoods, the forced emigration, and especially the toll austerity takes on family formation among the young, makes one wonder about the state of modern conservatism. Conservatives are always complaining about low birth rates and the decline of marriage in the West, but one look at Latvia, the austerity poster child and the neoliberal model that we are all supposed to follow, and we can see that the reality is very different. Indeed, more and more I am convinced that what John Kenneth Galbraith said about modern conservatism is definitely true: “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”

Older forms of conservatism, whether the British tradition of Edmund Burke or the Continental tradition represented by Joseph de Maistre and others, had the benefit of being about more than just fighting for the most powerful capitalists in society. Indeed, many traditionalist conservatives, such as the Vicomte de Bonald, were very much opposed to capitalism as it was seen as a kind of anti-conservative, revolutionary force. To be sure, the traditionalist conservatives had their faults, certainly, but at least they held onto some principles that can be translated into support for the common people and opposition to turbo-capitalism. How can you really support the Throne and the Altar when you worship at the stock exchange and bow before the throne of Mammon?

1 comment:

  1. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael might not have started out this way; each of them has been all over the ideological spectrum. But they do currently manifest, like the National and Liberal Parties in Australia, the ability of a more sophisticated electoral system to sustain, as distinct entities, both a socially conservative, nationalistic, agrarian-populist party and a neoliberal one.

    As well as to blunt the edge of neoliberalism by requiring Fine Gael to go into coalition with Labour, the commitment of which to abortion, even if all Labour TDs (never mind the majority of voters in a referendum) could be made to go along with it, is essentially a meaningless piece of electioneering against the sectarian Left and the Greens, since no coalition containing either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael would ever legislate for such a thing (neoliberalism still has its limits in what is, after all, still Ireland), and since no governing coalition could ever be formed unless it included at least one of them.

    Kevin Myers describes Irish Labour as "not Labour in the British sense, for it attracts few working-class votes, has no clear principles, and is largely a platform for the careers of its senior members. Some of them are ex-IRA men or supporters of the USSR, over which a discreet veil is being consensually drawn." How does one answer that?