Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Christian Right III 73

Synopsis of John W. Dean's Conservatives Without Conscience Chapter 1 (conclusion): How Conservatives Think

How can all the various factions listed at the end of the previous post work together? Dean's answer is that they find common enemies. Earlier conservatives buried their differences because they agreed that communism was the enemy. “Today's conservatives...define themselves by what they oppose, which is anything and everything they perceive to be liberal.” Another enemy is “activist judges,” who are those reaching a decision that is opposed to one of conservatism's factions. Dean lists the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute and National Review as well as Human Events as “seeing a bipolar world: conservative versus liberal.” And then there is right-wing talk radio.

Harriet Myers, a born-again Christian nominated for the Supreme Court, is used as an example. She wasn't flamboyant enough, wasn't opinionated enough, wasn't obviously enough a spear-carrier. So conservative activists lobbied strongly for the removal of her nomination, an effort that was successful.

Professor John T. Jost and collaborators published in 2003 a report entitled “Political Conservatism as Motivated Cognition.” The heart of the findings, Dean tells us, is “that people become or remain political conservatives because they have a 'heightened psychological need to manage uncertainty and threat.' More specifically, the study established that he various psychological factors associated with political conservatives included (and here Dean is paraphrasing) fear, intolerance of ambiguity, need for certainty or structure in life, overreaction to threats, and a disposition to dominate others...These characteristics, Dr. Jost said, typically cannot be ascribed to liberals.”

Conservative talk show hosts and magazines were furious.

Another confirming study was done in 2005 by Jack Block and Jeanne H. Block, “Nursery School Personality and Political Orientation Two Decades Later,” published in the Journal of Research in Personality. Dean's summary: “In brief, this research suggests that little girls who are indecisive, inhibited, shy, neat, compliant, distressed by life's ambiguity, and fearful will likely become conservative women. Likewise, little boys who are unadventurous, uncomfortable with uncertainty, conformist, moralistic, and regularly telling others how to run their lives will then become conservatives as adults.”

Austin Bramwell wrote in The American Conservative that “conservatism has reached an unacknowledged consensus about the outcome of the theoretical debates of the '50s and '60s. The consensus holds, first that someone has discovered the Holy Grail that will vindicate conservatism once and for all, otherwise why be a conservative in the first place? Second, it holds that, whatever the Grail actually is, it does not do any good to describe it with too much specificity. These beliefs contradict each other, yet the conservative consensus has proved remarkable stable.”

So What Exactly is Conservatism?

David Horowitz gave a lecture series at the Heritage Foundation in 1992 in which he termed conservatism as
“an attitude about the lessons of the actual past. By contrast, the attention of progressives [is] directed toward an imagined future. Conservatism [is] an attitude of caution based on a sense of human limits and what politics [can] accomplish” (emphasis added by Dean). Horowitz also answered a question as to whether this was genuine conservatism. His answer was “No,” since today's conservatives are “rebels against the dominant liberal culture.” In updating his lecture in writing later, Horowitz noted that conservatism “begins as an attitude, and only later becomes a stance” and “that conservative attitudes derive from pragmatic consideration.”

Professors Kenneth Janda of Northwestern University, Jeffrey M. Berry of Tufts University, and Jerry Goldman of Northwestern University wrote a textbook, The Challenge of Democracy: Government in America which includes a graphic depiction of political orientation.

The upper left quadrant represents liberals (preferring equality over freedom but freedom over order)

The upper right quadrant represents communitarians (preferring equality over freedom and order over freedom)

The lower left quadrant represents libertarians (preferring freedom over equality and freedom over order)

The lower right quadrant represents conservatives (preferring order over freedom and freedom over equality)

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