Next Conservatism 6: Five Myths Falling

Some assumptions that have held up Movement Conservatism for years are cracking under a load of blind foolishness and mistakes. Good. They’re pretty much useless in confronting the three Great Renovations discussed in the previous column.

Myth 1: Conservatism is a Movement

What doesn’t move isn’t a movement. Movement Conservatism is the right to stasis, cloaking in virtue the preservation of a status quo that some people happen to like.

Since Buckley, Weaver, Kirk, and the other modern founders, the idea has always been that Conservatism transcends change. It was Buckley’s faith, Weaver’s “paradigm of essences”, Klinghoffer’s philosophical Shangri-La that could “restore to men and women a metaphysical dream that allows for ultimate meaning in our existence.” Its worthiness was measured by how sincerely it tried to prevent what other people might call achievement. By its own hard standards it failed. Government got bigger under the care of Conservatives. Debt exploded. Military adventures consumed it. In defense of their own interpretations of the Constitution, Conservatives tried to bend the Constitution against other Americans. It stood athwart the stream of history yelling stop, and all it stopped was itself.

Myth 2: Political Solutions are Required

Here’s another case study: while the minority government that (for the moment) runs North Carolina is waging a doomed expensive fight over restrooms, the Raleigh–Durham–Cary–Chapel Hill area is home to the famous Triangle comprising North Carolina State University, Duke University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Durham, Cary and Chapel Hill. It’s as though two universes exist on the same soil. The social conservatives in the legislature sought with their bathroom bill to yell stop at a problem that seems not to really exist; a classic Conservative statement of a worldview based on visceral fear instead of evidence. It’s safe to guess that Triangle companies and institutions such as Nufarm, LabCorp, Red Hat, Novozymes, Oracle, Overture Networks, Microsoft, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, K&L Gates, Linde, Lenovo, Intel, et al., plus Duke, NC State, and UNC are all 1) disinclined to think like this; 2) doing more for the state economy than the bathroom bill is doing; 3) producing solutions to actual problems instead of producing problems that don’t require solutions.

North Carolina Conservatives concocted a fantasy to live in that isn’t just unnecessary; it’s directly at odds with the reality, now and tomorrow, of their own state. That fight is underway in every supposedly “Red” state. Their “Conservative” political governments are fiction factories while their private sector, schools, and markets drive tangible progress. They don’t wait for politicians to agree.

Myth 3: Reality is a Political Construct

This one has been a prion disease in the Conservative Mind for generations. It suggests that reality is a matter of “sincerely held belief”, making someone who embraces it capable, even compelled, to nullify facts selectively if evidence contradicts the construct. It had lethal power back when communities were isolated and local authority could decide unto themselves who among them was or wasn’t equal under law. Many Movement Conservatives still act like it’s true: many Conservative legislators still insist that questions such as climate change or evolution are matters of “belief”, not of evidence, and that any argument to the contrary is inherently politicized. The markets and their own constituents are telling them that they’re wrong.

The Confederacy broke off 150 years ago for the explicit purpose of politicizing reality as it saw fit. Today there isn’t a square foot of the United States where such a denial of empirical reality can last for long. It’s useless in practice. When Movement Conservatives try to make it stick, they fail.

Myth 4: “We” Need to Unite for the Good of the Nation.

Since when has there been a “we” in the United States? We compete against each other more effectively, ruthlessly and profitably than any people on earth. We crush each other’s teams. We grind each other’s companies. Mutual animus drives the economy.

But we’re fair. That’s why America works. The intense competitiveness among Americans all rests on our collective defense of fairness. We are one nation indivisible because our reality rests on common bedrock: we all compete and cooperate using the same units of measurement. Our Great Denominators are kilowatts, pounds, calories, grams, hours, yards, miles, gallons, and so on. Our world is engineered with them. Our laws rest on them. We expect them to be used accurately in every transaction (the dollar is one, after all).

There isn’t a voting district, a business, an institution or an individual that has Red or Blue versions of these Great Denominators. We underestimate the social value they give us. It’s been that way since the beginning of the country. More than any other civilization in history America has pursued standardized systems for measurement because they are democracy’s toolbox. They’re why capitalism works, and why, in less than three centuries, we have developed from separate colonies to the united leader of the modern world. Great Denominators give us all the unity we need, and all the ways in which we can exceed each other and ourselves in making progress. (Those conservatives who feel “skepticism about the idea of progress” are spectacular hypocrites in happily using what they don’t make.)

Next Conservatives don’t need unanimity. They need fair competition with specific actions, transparent common accounting, and self-evident best practices. If one faction of Conservatives wants to prove its worth compared with another, they need to sweep out the ambiguities and start keeping score. One day’s actual practice of Conservatism will help them break out of the mindless circularity of “a deep suspicion of the power of the state; a preference for liberty over equality” and the rest of those bumper stickers, and start making Conservatism a science at last.

President Obama reflected in February to the Illinois General Assembly that in this current fragmented media environment, “We can choose our own facts. We don’t have a common basis for what’s true and what’s not.” He was incorrect, but it’s easy to see why: the Republicans seem hell-bent to make it so by attacking the credibility of the idea of fact itself. There’s one addendum to #2 above: political solutions aren’t required, but political defense of the Great Denominators is an absolute need. If government neglects or denies the reality of these measurements — and Movement Conservatives betray Conservatism all the time to do exactly that, by sowing doubt when real science doesn’t fit their respective interests — then the national bedrock is threatened.

There is a fifth myth falling. We’ll get to that shortly.

Next Conservatism 7: Case Study — The 2nd Amendment in the Supermarket is at