Monday, July 10, 2006

Conservatism: Defeated by its Own Fictions

Contemporary postmodern theorists often argue for both the ultimate subjectivity of human experience and the creation of fictional realities as substitutions for an ultimate, foundational narratives that undergirds such an experience. Yet, for conservative political philosophy this fictional foundation is one of the hallmarks of its movement, whether it is a narrative of forcing traditional Judeo-Christian values into public life, arguing for a smaller government based on Jefferson or Hamilton’s writings, or that government should not intrude upon individuals and groups – no matter how much the conservatives’ actions actually contradict these claims. In fact, it is conservatism itself, whether in its more aggressive, hawkish neoconservative version that currently dominates the Republican Party, or traditional, small government conservatism that is itself a fiction, not sustainable as coherent political philosophy and only perpetuating itself through the dissemination of its own fictions.

For instance, conservative politics is grounded upon the ideal of smaller, more efficient government, and the latter part that equation – " more efficient" – is still a noble goal. The Bush administration, following the narrative of the Reagan administration, still perpetuates this myth of smaller government and the limits of government’s roles in individual lives. Yet, with the growth of the Department of Homeland Security and other organizations, government has actually increased in size and spending during Bush’s tenure in office. Further, though conservatives based their faux philosophy upon individuals not being intruded upon by the federal government, we have seen a disturbing trend towards forcing a particular morality upon the general public, including negating an individual’s right-to-die, as in the Terry Schiavo case, or legislating normative sexual practices, as in the conservative dissent to the Texas sodomy case before the Supreme Court.

But it is not only the inherent contradictions between its stated aims and its actual results that make conservatism an untenable political philosophy, it is also the exposure of its fictions, as with the Bush administration’s justifications for invading Iraq. Relying heavily on pro-American sentiment after 9-11, the fictional narrative created by neoconservatives such as Wolfowitz, Cheney and Rumsfield was that Iraq possessed WMDs that were not only illegal but also intended for the U.S. and its allies, as well as the false justification that Hussein was in close partnership with Al-Queda. Unfortunately for Bush and conservatives, truth has a way of coming to the surface, despite obfuscations and denials from conservatives in power. But it is this very perpetuation of the mythical threat – whether from a foreign state, a non-"normative" sexual identity, or otherwise – that sustains modern conservatism.

As with all fictional justifications and constructed foundational narratives, however, conservativism is beginning to crack under the pressure of its own falsehoods, as self-sustaining myths, whether in the form of smaller government (for conservatives, the federal reaction to Hurricane Katrina was the norm, since private individuals should rebuild, not the government) or false justifications for the invasion of Iraq. Ironically, at the same time that conservative moralists argue that progressives lack a clear moral foundation and are mired in relativity, conservatism is based upon these very fictional foundational narratives and genuinely act out a worldview that emphasizes the relativity of truth.