Unconservative

Yuval Levin warns that the voters who won the 2016 election don't see much worth conserving:
I think of alienation as a sense of detachment from one’s own society. It’s looking out at the society you live in and thinking, “That’s not mine” and feeling no connection, no links—seeing it as distant, as hostile, even seeing it as boring. We should never underestimate the power of boredom in social life. That kind of alienation was very much on display in the last election and in some people’s—especially early on in the Republican primaries, in the most devoted Trump supporters—there was a sense that “This society isn’t ours. We have got to blow this up and try again.” I think that’s dangerous in general, but it’s particularly dangerous to conservatism because conservatism in a sense is a sense of attachment and ownership and defensiveness of one’s own society. It certainly can see problems and is inclined to be rather depressed about things most of the time. But that follows from a sense of loss, not from a sense of alienation. It can lead, therefore, in its most constructive forms to a determination to revive, revitalize, recapture institutions, rather than to this sense that “it’s all over” or “the only option we have left is a Hail Mary pass.”
I think that the sort of alienation that was evident in some of Trump’s supporters is very dangerous for the American right because it tends to make the right less conservative. And to make the right hostile to its own society. First of all, I think America doesn’t deserve that. We have a lot of problems, our institutions are in real trouble, but things are not nearly as bad as the way in which Trump described them. Just think about the convention speech and, in some respects, even the inaugural. This describes an America that is much darker than reality and when you do that, it doesn’t leave room for thinking about solutions. It doesn’t leave room for thinking about how to come back.
I didn't see the inaugural address that way. Despite my skepticism about Trump, I heard the message that we're tired of being told we're locked into policies that demonstrably don't work, just because someone has decided that the alternatives are unthinkable to the progressive chattering class. I certainly acknowledge a "burn it down, plow it under, salt the ground it stood on" vein in my politics, but not because I'm willing to replace the status quo with just anything. I want either to replace it with policies with a proven track record or, if necessary, to replace it with something new and experimental, but only if we're committed to observing its results and changing it if it doesn't work, either. I'm tired of the magical thinking, from climate science to free lunches.

5 comments:

Krag said...

RE: "...in its most constructive forms to a determination to revive, revitalize, recapture institutions..."

I admit to feeling we are beyond that. I am firmly in the "blow it all up and burn it down" camp, but far more literally.

I don't think conservatives can recapture institutions as if they are physical objectives, and no matter how "good" things still may be in the US, it is the trajectory change that worries those I speak with. The critical mass of stupidity has been reached - the solution is not capturing that mass but excising it from the body politic.

Grim said...

Yeah, I wonder if it isn't the case that our institutions aren't in fact "locked into policies that demonstrably don't work." There's some sense in which we aren't, sure. But how many of our institutions are really capable of reform, absent a complete personnel change? People pursued a career at the EPA, say, for a set of reasons. No election is going to change that.

Tom said...

This is one of the problems I have with the word "conservative." It is thoroughly relativistic and implies conservatives want to conserve some existing state. But that describes the liberals today, who are supposed to be champions of change. It is liberals who want to preserve the centralized welfare state run by elites that we have now, and conservatives who want to make radical changes to it.

"Conservatives" today are the radicals and revolutionaries. I don't want to conserve; I want a new constitutional convention to radically alter the way the government works.

"Conservative" and "liberal" are really descriptions of vectors or directions of travel, not positions.

Grim said...

True. I would say that my politics are genuinely radical, in that at minimum I want the 10th Amendment enforced in a way that would require dissolving almost the entire Federal structure (and send the wealth and power back to the states). That's the least amount of change I would want.

More likely, as you say, a constitutional convention and a basic re-ordering of how our political structures work that addresses the difference in basic values that has grown up in America. We might need to reorder the fundamental structure of our nation to accomplish that.

This could mean dissolving the Union to allow different states to form new, smaller unions with coherent values. Or it could mean rethinking the idea of states, even: perhaps the new structure should recognize that the real issue is that city and country life impel people to adopt different values in numerous ways, and that it is thus necessary to peace and good order for cities and countrysides to govern themselves independently of each other. Instead of the states we have, with big blue cities inside them, we could have urban regions acting as states (something like William Gibson's BAMA - "Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis"), with the surrounding countryside fully independent of these cities politically speaking. You would still need a Federal government to ensure the defense of the nation and its borders, as well as to deal with issues (like water) that necessarily cross border lines.

Krag said...

That is one solution. I doubt it is do-able for the massive loss of power it would entail for the current ruling class. They would fight it to the bitter end. It seems a circuitous route to where I think we will eventually end up - war to determine the nature of our republic.

The faster the nation turns to violence, the quicker we get a resolution and begin making progress again. Everything else is just delaying the inevitable, in my opinion.