Saturday, March 18, 2006

Burke Was Wrong

Birkenstocks – on the left foot or the right foot – can't save America

There are many mansions in the American conservative house, and some of them are old and funky and smell like a pot of organic mustard greens cooking down on the stove.

So says Rod Dreher, author of Crunchy Cons, a book about counter-cultural conservatives. Dreher's book has been promoted in the New York Times Book Review – which must not be such an exclusively liberal forum as many have come to believe. The reviewer, David D. Kilpatrick, is a Washington correspondent for The Times. At first glance, I thought he was listed as a correspondent for The Washington Times, which would be conservatism cubed. (Does Sun Myung Moon still own that paper, or did his "church" merely finance the start-up and spin off the "alternative" paper on its merry way?

It is always good to see stereotypes topple like overturned idols. It is too bad when another collection of disconnected beliefs is raised on the same pedestal, for all to admire as a contender to be the New Dominant Paradigm.

I can find some points of agreement with Dreher. There are other points where we are poles apart. This gives Dreher something in common with almost every other person I have ever met or heard of. Are there any two Americans who can be grouped under one label, and agree on everything?

I have no problem with the concept of "right-wing hippies." I always thought a lot of the hippies were self-centered exhibitionists who would grow up to be ruthless tycoons. The individual self-preoccupation of the early Reagan era was driven by the spending power of hippies over 30. Outbreaks of whooping cough have appeared wherever a pocker of hippie mamas were too anti-social to get their babies vaccinated. (And where was the right-to-life movement, when these born children were facing painful deaths by parental neglect?)

But I digress. I go along with Dreher on preserving the environment, resisting television, refusing to buy some gadget that big business and the dominant culture says I must have. I'm all for sustainable development. I even like being able to rely on some traditional mores. I really don't admire bed-hopping, pornography, or seeing near-pornography on billboards.

Abortion rights? That doesn't get me excited. I'm an old-fashioned conservative who believes that one of the most important rights in our Constitution is the right to be left alone. (See the eloquent dissents of Louis Brandeis and Oliver Wendell Holmes in Olmstead v. U.S., 277 U.S. 438. I'm happy to see nosy state authorities ordered to leave women alone in their first trimester of pregnancy, and to some extent even in the second. I'm happy to see committed right-to-life organizations reach out to pregnant women, offering moral perspective and material support.

Same-sex mariage... that's an oxymoron. The Massachusetts Supreme Court made an obvious error, then adhered to it with very consistent logic. "Equal protection of the laws" has not been infringed by any state's definition of marriage. Every man has an equal right to a license to marry a woman, and vice versa. The possibility that either the man, or the woman, entering into a marriage, may be a homosexual, has never been raised as an impediment. But constitutional amendments are not necessary to substantiate the obvious. Do we need constitutional amendments to affirm that the sky is blue?

I'm firmly committed to public schools. I'm not on Dreher's page at all there. One of the great strengths of our nation has been that sooner or later, most of our children have to meet and mix with each other. They don't have to abandon their own morals, they just have to learn that people with different beliefs exist, and are not aliens. Men used to experience that in the armed forces, when we had a draft, and definitely during World War II. It was one of our nation's hidden strengths in the post-war years.

Nobody has ever been able to tell me what a "secular liberal" is, so I won't take a position on them. It would be like criticizing the yeti, or the bogeyman. Most liberals I know go to church. Most really secular people I know are navel-contemplating egotists, who probably vote Republican a good part of the time.

I guess I'm a little too libertarian for Rod Dreher. But if he doesn't like Wal-Mart, or McMansions, or agribusiness, here is a neolibertarian position he might want to consider:

There is no more appropriate use of government authority than breaking up private concentrations of power that infringe on the liberties of individual citizens. By citizens, I mean live flesh and blood people, not soul-less corporations. I am all for massive regulation of big business, restrained oversight of medium size business... and leave the small proprietors alone, as long as they don't dump their garbage on their neighbors, sell meat contaminated with salmonella, or cheat their employees, if any.

What really keeps the United States of America strong is that there is no single majority which defines how we as a people feel about all issues of concern. Pick any political controversy: how a majority and minority line up on that question will be different than who is in what majority or minority on ANY other subject. Most majorities can't even agree among themselves about WHY they favor whatever it is they believe in. That is why we have avoided civil wars for over 150 years.