Re: definition of conservatism

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From: Matt Jensen (
Date: Wed Dec 06 2000 - 17:58:23 PST

On Wed, 6 Dec 2000, Robert S. Thau wrote:

> [citing Agre,] '[S]ome people who regard themselves as conservatives
> -- perhaps most of them -- are unaware of what conservatism really is'

Hmmm... I sense great irony. Let's recap, shall we?

1. Kragen said that a feeling of natural superiority (and therefore
racism) is part of conservatism today, and cites Agre's Burkean
definition (e.g., "in which tradition and prejudice are good things").

2. Robert Harley, Lisa, et al say that that definition doesn't apply to
modern self-described "conservatives", who are trying to conserve the much
more egalitarian values of Eisenhower's or Reagan's America, rather than
the values of 17th-Century nobility.

3. A discussion of objective truth happens.

4. Robert Thau presents a quote from Agre that says that even if most
modern conservatives don't have Burkean tendencies themselves, the
people secretly guiding the movement do[1].

I'm not persuaded by that conspiracy theory. But regardless of that, the
best definition for "conservativism" is one which describes the
commonly-held beliefs of most people in that movement.

Look, if I believe crop circles are made by spaceships, and I join a
movement of "cropcirclists", the definition of that belief system isn't
changed by the fact, hidden to us believers, that the circles are really
made by two pranksters with a stick.

Now, you can argue against the *effects* that come from our support of
something you believe is a prank, but you cannot argue that we support
pranks, or that we support the vegetarianism of those two pranksters;
that's not in the definition of cropcirclism. Similarly, you cannot acuse
American conservatives of racism just because you believe racist Burkeans
are secretly steering the movement.

Or if you'll forgive another parallel dredged from the origin of this

You cannot call the majority of WTO protesters racist if they have
non-racist intentions, even if their policies would inadvertently harm
people of other races.

And you cannot call the majority of conservatives racist if they don't
exhibit racism, even if you think the people secretly masterminding the
movement are racists. So even if the conspiracy is true, the argument is
still false.

-Matt Jensen


[1] Agre is saying that, yes, the public persona of conservatism is about free markets, minimal government, self-reliance, and family values, but that unbeknownst to the majority of self-styled conservatives, the movement is actually being coordinated by Burkeans who wish to impose hereditary hierarchies on us. By the way, do conservative writers really believe what they write? Or are they part of the conspiracy, but living public lives?

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