Auguste Rodin "Fallen Caryatid" B. Gerald Cantor Rodin Sculpture Garden Stanford University
Built on Shifting Sands
By Richard Girard
" All conservatives are such from personal defects. They have been effeminated by position or nature, born halt and blind, through luxury of their parents, and can only, like invalids, act on the defensive."
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803--82), U.S. essayist, poet, philosopher. The Conduct of Life, "Fate" (1860).
Conservatism in general, and modern conservatism in particular, is an edifice built atop shifting sands: without demonstrable moral certainty, or the requisite framework to hold it against a tide of change and the ever increasing requirements of a human race that is growing exponentially in its physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs. To say that something worked in the past always begs the question: From whose perspective? It may have worked quite well for the privileged and powerful, but how well did it work for the destitute and defenseless?
This is not to say that true conservatism is totally without redeeming values. It sometimes acts as an important brake for some of our more impulsive actions: from wanting the government to slow down before we undertake a program that might bankrupt the treasury trying to solve the nation's or the world's problems; to forcing us to take a second look before we change the essential ideas underlying our Constitution, especially our rights as citizens. Republican Presidential Candidate Ron Paul is disastrously wrong for the country on so many things, but his positions on Afghanistan and the repeal of the Patriot Act are absolutely correct, and on these particular subjects, he has taken a principled, traditional, conservative position.
When I say we, it is because I sincerely believe, like our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt, that, "The government is us; we are the government, you and I;" (speech, September 9, 1902, Asheville, N.C.). Or if you prefer the wisdom of our Third President, Thomas Jefferson, " The hand of the people... has proved that government to be the strongest of which every man feels himself a part;" (Letter to Edward Tiffin , 1807; The Complete Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Memorial Edition; volume 11: page 147; 1904).
What is practiced by the modern conservative movement is in fact not truly deserving of the name "conservative." Modern conservatism is not about slowing the tide of change, but rather reversing history to--for the modern conservative--a more comfortable past, where their power was uncontested in any serious fashion.
The modern conservative seeks a return to the laws and customs of a time when the rights and needs of the lower classes were a matter of convenience , of noblesse oblige, and not the demand of inconvenient law. Edmund Burke wrote of such a time in his 1756 monograph, A Vindication of Natural Society, "The whole business of the poor is to administer to the idleness of the rich." People with such a belief system today should more properly be called reactionary, not conservative.
A little less than two years ago I wrote an article for OpEdNews (April 19, 2010) called " The Children of Cain ." It was intended as a rebuke for those on the right, and a warning to those of us on the left, against using violence to achieve change in this country. It was also a repeat of my argument against the Rick Perry's of the world, and their mistaken belief that secession is a part of the rights retained by the individual states under the Tenth Amendment. I have postulated--and I have yet to be seriously challenged in my theory--that the only Constitutional manner by which a state may leave the Union is by the process of a Constitutional Amendment. If they continue in their mad delusion concerning the Tenth Amendment, I will, if asked, play the same role that Andrew Jackson stated he would assume with South Carolina and its 1831 Ordinance of Nullification: lead the American military against that state. I oppose the death penalty under almost every circumstance, but in the event of an armed insurrection, I will feel constrained to hang secessionist leaders from every tree and light pole between that state's capitol and it's largest port. Unless of course, I am ordered by the President to do otherwise.
One of modern conservatism's greatest weaknesses is their belief that if they say something long enough, and loudly enough, that sooner or later it will become the truth simply because enough people begin to believe that it is. It is modern conservatism's intellectual laziness, as expressed by this propagandistic foolishness--first articulated by Josef Goebbels--that is its most salient intellectual feature.
One of the most flagrant examples of this exists in the realm of logic. Today's conservatives do not recognize that there is a difference between logic in philosophy and logic in mathematics. Philosophy uses logic to test consistency in arguments, e.g. Aristotelean syllogisms; mathematics uses logic to find truth in specific statements, e.g. Boolean algebra. These two forms of logic are completely different from and completely incompatible with one another.
This insouciant error is at the heart of the self-delusion that makes Ayn Rand's Objectivism philosophically dishonest. To quote from my May 4, 2011 OpEdNews article " Contra Rand ," "[Rand's] concept of logical identity, pilfered without comprehension from Aristotle, that "A=A," is the worst sort of solipsism, and proves no truth except that she would have been flunked out of any real college philosophy class. Logic, when used in philosophy, tests only consistency, not truth." Yet most conservatives, like Madame Rand, do not or cannot understand this fact. (For more on this subject, read the chapter on "Logic" in The Great Ideas: A Lexicon of Western Thought, by Mortimer J. Adler, particularly p. 451; as well as the introduction to Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason.)
In my most recent article for OpEdNews, " Responsibility and Respect ," the ancient Athenians established their democracy on the pillars of " aidos" and "dike"--Responsibility and Respect. These ideas are still the pillars upon which modern democracy, whether direct or representative, still stand today. Giving a human being responsibility without respect is little better than making them a slave; giving them respect without responsibility makes them little better than a child.
The negative consequences of the modern conservative's need for hierarchical systems of control unfortunately dovetails so well with this concept, especially in the business world, that together with privatizing profit and socializing loss, we should expect nothing else from these sociopaths. The One Percent have brought to a form of high art their ability to make their subordinates responsible for the problems that arise, and liable for any punishment. At the same time, they have learned to retain every possible bit of respect--together with its concomitant rewards--that they can for themselves, even when they have acted in a manner that is contraindicative of any respect or reward. It is this lack of responsibility and respect for the 99 Percenters that undermines democratic governments around the World.