Monday, September 17, 2012

The Conservative Bubble

What is wrong with conservative “leaders”?

  • David Barton rewrites history to make Jefferson more orthodox and his today’s scholars more liberal than either actually were or are.

These men are all leaders in their circles and are (rightfully or wrongly) looked up to by many. They also all profess to be conservative Christians on the front lines of the culture war. How did these statements happen?

Dennis Prager has a theory:

I have spent a good part of my life showing what an intellectual bubble the Left lives in. That is why so many could believe that boys don’t really prefer trains to tea sets or girls dolls to army soldiers. Those who believe such nonsense usually live in an intellectual bubble. They are raised by liberal parents, taught by left-wing teachers from high school through graduate school, watch left-wing MTV and news, listen to liberal NPR, go to movies produced by leftists, etc. Their whole world is left-wing. They don’t watch, listen to, study under, or socialize with conservatives.
Bubbles tend to produce nonsense. When the only people you talk to, read, and socialize with agree with you, it is easy to abandon critical thinking.
And when you are morally right — and those who argue for a right to life of unborn human beings (or human fetuses, if you prefer) are morally and even scientifically right — a bubble can make critical thought even more difficult.

The bubble theory is part of the problem, but not the entire issue. Also in play are gigantic egos. But I think there is something even deeper at play. The problem is the subjugation of everything to a political ideology.

Kenneth Minogue explains ideology as follows:

Ideology refers, as it were, to the negative and positive poles of a dogmatic conviction. Marxists had a true understanding of the world, and therefore whatever contradicted them must be false - that is, ideological, which meant both false and false because reflecting the wrong social location. … Ideology thus exhausts the entire field of truth and error, so long as one judges that one knows, as Marx and his followers thought they did, what the truth is.

* * *

Ideologies, by contrast with political doctrines, claim exclusive truth. They explain not only the world, but the false beliefs of opponents as well. Ideologists possess the long-sought knowledge of how to abolish politics and create the perfect society. … What they  have inevitably done is to institute a reign of truth, in which discussion disappears and nothing else but the ideology is taught in schools, universities, the media, the law courts, and everywhere else.

Rousseau demonstrates a more succinct description of this approach: “So let us begin by dispensing with the facts, for they are not relevant to the question.”

Classical politics is grounded in rational discussion of our common problems and search for the common good. Not that everything is debatable--there certainly are moral truths--but they don’t come from politics. They come, instead, from the natural order and religion; “nature and nature’s God” to quote the Declaration of Independence. Or, there is CS Lewis’ admonishment: “By the natural light he has shown us what means are lawful: to find out which one is efficacious He has given us brains. The rest He has left to us.”

So often the conservative alternative to a “liberal ideology” is to establish a “conservative ideology” (which results in what Prager calls the conservative bubble). We have liberal politics and conservative politics, liberal histories and conservative histories, liberal media and conservative media, liberal schools and conservative schools, liberal facts and conservative facts. They all combine to create the liberal or conservative ideology, which holds the secret answer to every question and the solution to every problem.

But as Minogue argues, such an approach leaves no room for rational discussion--which is at the heart of true politics. Therefore, he concludes, ideology has the tendency to destroy politics. All that is left are disagreeing opinions. History, politics, truth, and, ultimately, people, are the casualties. (Bart Gingrich’s critique of Barton comes to mind here: “Those of Christian-cultural influence must realize that we their children are not just bullets in the culture war.”) Anyone who disagrees has, by virtue of their disagreement, secretly bought into the agenda of the “other side.” For examples, look no further than the defenses by Wilson and Barton surrogates. There is no common ground where a shared humanity can meet and discuss, and thus, there can be no common good. There is just left “good” or right “good.”

In addition to an element of shared humanity, what is also missing in ideologies--both left and right--is people. I don’t mean that it lacks people to promote, or mimic, or campaign. I mean that ideologies by their very natures reduce people to means to an ideological end, be it communal ownership of property, an efficient market, or a social panacea. Such things are advocated as good for “the people” as a homogenous whole, regardless of how many human beings get in the way. Ideology is dehumanizing.

But politics is about the common good, and by that I mean the common good of people. It is a method by which we can fulfill the second great commandment: the love of neighbor. But there was no love of neighbor in the statements I opened with. There was no love shown to the legacy of Thomas Jefferson, the rape victim, the disabled, or the adopted child. They were simply used as means to a political end.

Ideology elevates politics to the status of religion, and by doing so displaces foundational religious tenets such as imago dei and love of neighbor. So I challenge my readers, conservative, liberal, or otherwise--re-examine your “ideologies.” Do they espouse a shared humanity and show a love of neighbor? Or do they reduce people to dehumanized camps? If the latter, I am afraid that your politics has become a false religion and embarrassing statements are the least of your worries.
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