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Todays "Conservatives" are a contradictory mix of fearful and spiteful groups with competing agendas ...

Reader comment on item: What Is the Future of Conservatism in the Wake of the 2012 Election?
in response to reader comment: A Centrist Catholic's Response to the truly dangerous Christofascists pretending to be "Conservatives"

Submitted by GW (United States), Feb 4, 2013 at 14:03

What is "CONSERVATISM"?

  • Is it the Tea-party version of know-nothing, anti-intellectualism ?
  • Is it the paranoid conservatism of Richard M. Nixon and Spiro T. Agnew?
  • Is it the informed benevolence of Dwight D. Eisenhower's anti-big business, anti-military-industrial administration?
  • Is it the conservatism embodied by the illuminated leadership of Nelson Rockefeller, GOP governor of NYS and presidential candidate?
  • Is it the pro-business commitment of Calvin Coolidge and Jay Rockefeller?
  • Is it the religious authoritarianism of such holy people as Anita Bryant, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson?
  • Is it the soulless social-Darwinist individualism of Ayn Rand?
  • Or is it embodied by the trust-busting concern for a healthy and strong American society echoed by Teddy Roosevelt?
  • Is it the political belief of Barry Goldwater – "the father of US Conservatism"?
  • Is it the pragmatic, socially liberal, masculine dogmatism of Ronald Reagan? Or the more feminine and practical side of his wife, Nancy Reagan?

Does Mitt Romney's "Corporations are People" sentiment echo warmly in your ears, even though Adam Smith decried the corporation as an aberrant corruption of a capitalist partnership? Should we cede more power and privilege to "corporations" than we give to people? And if that is conservatism, how will "corporate democracy" protect the interests of the minority shareholders or of the non-shareholders?

Is a conservative better characterized by the bloviations of any of the following media giants: Glenn Beck? Sean Hannity? Rush Limbaugh? Sarah Palin? Ann Coulter? Laura Ingraham? Would you prefer that your family doctor be as "conservative" (or more "conservative") than them? How about your minister being more conservative than you? Your school principal? Your boss?

Conservatism is so many things. How can it effectively appeal to all? It seems to need to depend on fear and greed to keep others in line, but it asks for a number of contradictory bedfellows in order to work:

  • Pro-big business conservatives seek to enjoin union workers and minimum wage workers to sign on to a political agenda that benefits business above all else.
  • Pro-military supporters as conservative as pro-military contractor shareholders, even though contractor military personnel were not covered by the Geneva Convention and tended to be led by a different set of rules?
  • Can a movement that touts individual freedoms and liberties be the same movement that is religiously and morally authoritarian? (It has been said that It has been said that Republican conservatives are being controlled by the evangelical/fundamentalist Christians who want to replace our democracy with a theocracy.)
  • Can anyone who believes that the role of government in a balanced society is to promote the growth and stability of a productive middle class also support policies that work to the benefit of the top 1% while working to the detriment of all others?

In 1960, Barry Goldwater published "The Conscience of a Conservative", a book that covered such topics as education, labor unions and policies, civil rights, states' rights, agricultural policy and farm subsidies, social welfare programs, and income taxation. But his granddaughter C.C. Goldwater says that Barry Goldwater considered himself a liberal in his later years, and that her grandfather "didn't leave his party, his party has left him. Though he's often depicted as the father of conservatism, Barry Goldwater would be considered a moderate today. He was firmly pro-choice, a supporter of gay rights … Fundamentally, it's clear that Barry would not have been comfortable with the increasing influence of the Christian right over the GOP." (I bet it's likely that even Ronald Reagan would be pushed around by Boehner and Limbaugh and Glenn Beck as being not-conservative enough. Ronald's son believes that the recent GOP lost him and it probably would have lost his father as well.)

How many people would expect a conservative to be harsh and stern against the corporation and to be a pillar of strength for the individual and especially for the poor, the weak and the less advantaged?

The Bush-Cheney track record is that it used "conservatism" as a disguise for other ends – for promotion of a Unitary Presidency, dishonesty in public deployment of national resources, and a recklessness that fostered an environment of greed that left a financial collapse in its wake and favoritism for corporate shareholders (and even more so for the corporate elites).

Right Wing Authoritarians:

The problem with "CONSERVATISM" is that it tends to be dominated by "Right Wing Authoritarians (RWA)". "Bob" Altemeyer, a retired Professor of Psychology at the University of Manitoba, did extensive research on authoritarianism, identifying the psychological makeup of authoritarian followers and authoritarian leaders. Altemeyer's work is extensively referenced in John W. Dean's 2006 book, "Conservatives Without Conscience". According to Altemeyer, what are the characteristic traits of a RWA?

1: Unhealthy Hostility and Fear Toward Outsiders.RWA's are more likely to:

  • Be prejudiced, almost to the point of hostility, against many racial, ethnic, nationalistic, and linguistic minorities.
  • Punish "criminals" severely in a role-playing situation.
  • Admit they get personal pleasure from punishing such people.
  • But go easy on authorities who commit crimes and people who attack minorities.
  • Volunteer to help the government persecute almost anyone.
  • Be mean-spirited toward those who have made mistakes and suffered.
  • Be fearful of situations and people who represent differences in customs and personalities from their own

There's an inability and unwillingness to walk a mile in someone else's shoes. Systematically misunderstanding others is second nature with this sort of outlook. The actual interior experience of others is something that such a mindset simply cannot dare to seriously consider. It is simply presumed to be "evil."

2: Not-So-Healthy Tribalistic In-group Cohesion. RWA's are more likely to:

  • Strongly believe that "loyalty" and followership is the path all should take
  • Insist on traditional gender roles.
  • Use religion to erase guilt over their acts and to maintain their self-righteousness.
  • Be "fundamentalists", however, to also be the most prejudiced members of whatever religion they belong to.
  • Accept unfair and illegal abuses of power by government authorities.
  • Trust leaders who are untrustworthy.

These manifestations of tribalism: People keep to their lanes and leaders are to be trusted and obeyed, no matter what.

3: Faulty reasoning.RWA's are more likely to:

  • Make many incorrect inferences from evidence.
  • Hold contradictory ideas.
  • Uncritically accept that many problems are 'our most serious problem.'
  • Uncritically accept insufficient evidence that supports their beliefs.
  • Uncritically trust people who tell them what they want to hear.
  • Use many double standards in their thinking and judgments.

4: Aberrant Character Traits. RWA's are more likely to:

  • Be dogmatic.
  • Be zealots.
  • Be hypocrites.
  • Be bullies when they have power over others.
  • Work to inflame intergroup conflict.
  • Be highly self-righteous.

The cumulative picture is that RWAs have a set of tendencies that work together to foster a conformist identity that is maintained in part by demonizing others and that expresses itself in a tolerance for abuse of others who do not conform with that identity.


Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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Reader comments (46) on this item

Title Commenter Date Thread
Republican not = conservative [81 words]Yosi DermanFeb 28, 2013 14:21203936
Alternative For Conservatives [25 words]Clifford IshiiJan 26, 2013 15:13202815
Denying Evil [169 words]Mike FranklinJan 19, 2013 16:49202674
ignorance prevails..... [61 words]TomJun 10, 2013 14:17202674
The sin of the despondency [60 words]BenJan 13, 2013 16:05202587
3Bleak Future for Conservatism [475 words]Ali BabaJan 12, 2013 00:48202573
2Proverbial foolishness at its best [415 words]DEBORAH THE JUDGEJan 17, 2013 12:34202573
1Typical response of the Ultra-Conservative [628 words]Ali BabaJan 18, 2013 00:52202573
Amazing analysis [48 words]NickJan 19, 2013 06:04202573
Way to go Ali Baba!! Love it [64 words]NickJan 19, 2013 06:23202573
1Keep following the red bricked road [356 words]DEBORAH THE JUDGEJan 19, 2013 19:07202573
Apologies [297 words]Ali BabaJan 19, 2013 21:42202573
Thanks Nick! [12 words]Ali BabaJan 21, 2013 04:17202573
1Funny thing about God [145 words]DEBORAH THE JUDGEJan 22, 2013 17:13202573
Enough of your lame propaganda "Ali Baba" [528 words]ShishirMar 12, 2013 07:56202573
defining element of us political culture [197 words]mythJan 8, 2013 01:40202511
1The Future of Conservatism May Be Its Past [796 words]SigmundJan 6, 2013 15:12202465
2High marx [29 words]JoelJan 8, 2013 00:57202465
Good News [131 words]SigmundJan 9, 2013 07:32202465
Marx brothers [25 words]JoelJan 14, 2013 06:00202465
What is the future of Conservativism in the Wake of the 2012 Election. [170 words]AnneJan 6, 2013 08:24202448
Stupidity of the electorate [198 words]WillJan 7, 2013 02:34202448
1There would have been a difference in philosophies. response to Will [173 words]AnneJan 7, 2013 22:44202448
I agree, but... [147 words]WillJan 9, 2013 04:39202448
Changing philsophies from that of Big Government can do alot for the people. response to Will. [134 words]AnneJan 10, 2013 18:41202448
It's not just the culture... [150 words]HomefrontJan 5, 2013 19:30202437
Charles Johnson? [30 words]
w/response from Daniel Pipes
GabrielJan 5, 2013 13:05202434
Blog [6 words]GabrielJan 7, 2013 03:03202434
1A liberal's responds [286 words]Gunther SchiffJan 4, 2013 13:41202418
Partial Response to Gunther [204 words]Straight_Talk_LuigiJan 5, 2013 12:48202418
1Liberal La-la Land [312 words]WillJan 6, 2013 17:40202418
3Stop the liberals lying and destructive freight train ... [94 words]NuritGJan 4, 2013 03:04202404
The Cost of the American 2012 Election - And Was It Worth It? [678 words]M. ToveyJan 3, 2013 12:50202377
5It Wasn't About Conservatism [193 words]Gene TagliaJan 3, 2013 12:25202375
Election results [293 words]Straight_Talk_LuigiJan 5, 2013 12:38202375
And then some [221 words]DEBORAH THE JUDGEJan 8, 2013 22:57202375
Culture versus Romney [66 words]Dennis SchneiderJan 3, 2013 11:55202372
yes, "politics is downstream from culture" - I wrote as much a few yrs ago: [585 words]MarkJan 3, 2013 11:41202370
6Government schools create liberals [278 words]SusanJan 3, 2013 10:37202366
But Wait Until These Same Children Become Adults And Get Out Into The "Real World" [48 words]AnneMJan 4, 2013 07:17202366
1the need of adulthood [250 words]Mary H. StewartJan 3, 2013 08:30202363
Conservatives optimistic, yes—but convincing? [59 words]WillJan 3, 2013 06:46202361
4Liberalism appeals to all the baser appetites [702 words]KeithJan 6, 2013 00:36202361
2A Centrist Catholic's Response to the truly dangerous Christofascists pretending to be "Conservatives" [1432 words]rob the guyJan 29, 2013 18:29202361
1Todays "Conservatives" are a contradictory mix of fearful and spiteful groups with competing agendas ... [1138 words]GWFeb 4, 2013 14:03202361
Further comments [158 words]GKFeb 5, 2013 10:56202361

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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