A Negative Conservatism Can’t Conserve Anything
Why the Right have become the New Radicals
Welcome to the TaraElla Cons Report, where we talk about things from an intellectual conservative point of view, and how we can apply this philosophy in the 21st century West. I come from a moderate, centrist viewpoint, which means I appreciate conservative philosophy and try to balance it with the need for progress.
In recent years, something weird has been happening among those people who politically identify as conservatives. Traditionally, conservatives have been the optimistic ones. President Reagan was famous for his sunny optimism, while the far-left of that era hated his attitude as much as his policies. The book ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ and the ideas it promoted have been popular with conservatives for three generations, while Herbert Marcuse called for the appreciation of ‘negative thinking’. Even just a few years ago, some people noted that postmodern critical theory activists were deeply negative, and conservatives seemed to be more positive in comparison at least. However, for some reason, the tables have suddenly turned, with political conservatives being some of the angriest and most negative people right now.
Relentless negativity and conservative philosophy don’t go together well at all. Having an appreciation of what we’ve got naturally goes hand in hand with a desire to preserve it. On the other hand, being negative is the natural precursor to being destructive. This is the reason why radicals like Marcuse rejected positive thinking: after all, if everything is so great, there really isn’t a case for radical change. Hence, conservatives being negative are actually making the radicals’ case for them!
The increasing negativity among conservative circles has led some on the Right to believe that some kind of reset, or ‘counter-revolution’, is needed, because the West is in such a bad state right now. Even those who might not go this far might nonetheless be on board with suspending some norms of civility, respect and free speech because we’re supposedly in some kind of ‘state of emergency’. However, the use of the perception of emergency to justify radical measures that destroy long-standing norms has long been a favorite tactic of radicals, and it generally leads to the destruction of important values and institutions that is not going to be reversible. Radicals, of course, don’t have a problem with this, but if you’re coming from a conservative philosophical point of view, I really can’t see how this kind of outcome can be justified. Moreover, a so-called reset or ‘counter-revolution’ is no different from wiping the slate clean and starting all over again, another favorite fantasy of radicals. The traditional conservative opposition to this is justified on the grounds that, even if what we currently have is not perfect, it is still the product of many generations of evolution and lessons learnt. If we were to re-build everything from scratch, there is practically no chance that we will end up with something better than what we have now. I can’t see why this important insight should not apply to where we are currently at.
The other question we need to ask right now is, are things that dire right now? As I previously mentioned, those who want radical change have a habit of creating the perception of emergency to justify their actions. While the social fabric of the West is not in good shape, and the health of families and communities certainly need to be improved, it is still clear that all is not lost. To give it all up would be to throw the baby out with the bathwater indeed!