Monday, November 11, 2002

Is The Success of the Conservative Revolution the Beginning of the End of the "United" States?

That is an extreme question, I know. But, I wonder, with Liberalism vanquished, how long this always rather impossible "union" of diverse states, values and interests that we call the "United States" can really hold together?

Someone recently suggested that in raising this question, in light of the Republican consolidation of power achieved in the last election, I am behaving like the Far Right extremists, found in greatest numbers in the West, who have separated themselves from our recent political traditions and refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of a "government" that does not share their values.

But these people illustrate my point exactly.

The far, far extreme of the Reactionary Right demonstrates, in the extreme, one of contemporary conservatism's most important features; it is separatist and uncompromising. It is my way or the highway. It is Right people vs. Wrong people. It is "us," and "them." Me, and my enemies.

Like these extremists, the people in power today also believe that compromise is dishonorable. Tolerance is weakness. Diversity is dangerous. Accomodation is betrayal. Criticism is treason. And, politics is war.

They do not believe the Constitution is a living document; they embrace what they term as "first principles" and reject more than 200 years of liberal, Enlightment impulses and evolution toward ever-expanding equality and democracy. They reject the influence of the Enlightment itself on our founders, and insist this is a "Christian nation" founded on religious principles alone. They reject more than 100 years of progressive influence on our economics and believe we abandoned economic "freedom," the only freedom they recognize -- and only for limited numbers of people -- in the 19th century.

They believe in power, property and established authority -- not the "natural rights" of ordinary men.

They are the political descendents of those who did not want the Bill of Rights in the constitution, and those who flirted with the idea of making Washington "King."

40 years ago, when conservatives first started making their move toward power, they removed the national "We" from our political conversation. There is no "Pluribus Unum" in their philosophy. Only "Unum."

Unfortunately for us, it is the liberal impulse -- the impulse and tradition that today's conservatives have declared as "unAmerican" and an enemy to be destroyed -- toward tolerance and compromise that has kept our rather unlikely union together for more than 200 years.

Furthermore, in a diverse society, freedom, as Michael Ventura said in a recent essay, does not mean you get everthing you want -- it means nobody -- no one person, interest, school of thought, political group, region -- gets everything they want.

Without tolerance there can be no "Pluribus Unum," without tolerance and a willingness to compromise there can be no "Freedom."

And, without the liberal tradition in our politics, we are no longer the "exceptional" nation -- we are just another place where the rich and powerful rule over those who are not.

The conservatives in power today see dishonor in not using their power to get everything they want. Because they believe what they want is the ONLY thing any of us SHOULD want. They don't see their political opponents as fellow Americans who they must work with, and whose diverse claims they must accomodate, instead, they see all of those who disagree with them as a monolithic and "unAmerican" enemy that they must fight against and destroy.

The end of tolerance, the disdain for diversity of opinion, the refusal to acknowledge diversity of interest, IS the end of freedom.

The last 30 years have been, as Ted Kennedy recently said, a Cold Civil War. Unfortunately, one side was, by its very nature, unprepared to see it as war.

The liberal promise of the Declaration of Independence was not born whole as a reality in the Revolution. It wasn't based in what was -- it evolved slowly, and with much resistance, from an idea, based on what could be. American liberalism has always compromised. It has always both accomodated and tolerated its enemies. It has always settled for what it could get today in the hope of getting more tomorrow.

It has done this because to do otherwise would be tyranny -- and a rejection of freedom. And because, at heart, it has always believed, perhaps erroneously, that its impulses were "natural" and the triumph of its principles inevitable.

The notion of separation rather than unity, the notion of politics as "war," the notion of other Americans as "the enemy," of singularity rather than diversity -- none of this is consistent with American liberalism, which has always relied on resistance, protest and moral persuasion, rather than revolution, and compromise and persistence, rather than tyranny and power.

With that tradition vanquished, as conservatives hope to make it, dis-unity and separatism may not be a choice in our future -- it may be an inevitability.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home