Is Modern Conservatism a Mental Illness?

May 24, 2012

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Is Modern Conservatism a Mental Illness?

Jonah Goldberg in his new collection of meditations, The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas and Andrew Ferguson in his latest Weekly Standard opinion piece “The New Phrenology” complain how the other side gets nasty when depicting its well-meaning opponents. This bothers our “conservative” apologists, since they yearn for all the same good things as the other side: fairness, women’s rights, and democracy for the entire world.

Why, then, do liberals persist in depicting Republicans as fascists, a tendency that Ferguson insists is rife among Democratic sociologists? It recalls the Frankfurt School’s 1950 attack on the fascist “authoritarian personality.” According to Ferguson, the “political reporter” Thomas Edsall has discovered that “social science has lately become a tool of Democrats who want to reassure themselves that Republicans are heartless and stupid.” People such as Edsall, whom Ferguson refers to as “psychopundits,” treat Republican affiliations as evidence of mental disease.

“Getting paid for throwing back sand at the other toddlers is a nice gig but hardly a scholarly activity.”

I have called this phenomenon the “pathologization of dissent.” Goldberg and Ferguson superficially address these themes. But it seems ridiculous for those who have discarded the entire Old Right—and who, in Goldberg’s case, write for a magazine that purged John Derbyshire and Bob Weissberg—to be lecturing anyone about tolerance. Everything these journalists attribute to their “Democratic” or “liberal” debating partners applies equally to them. These chaps have no more right to be producing defenses of “conservatism” than Nero had to present himself as a defender of Christian teachings. Talk about chutzpah!

Both these whiz kids try to reduce “conservative” to being Republican and “liberal” to being pro-Democratic. How do our two national parties—both of which accept a large welfare state, massive social engineering, some version of feminism, and anti-discrimination laws for gays and transvestites—indicate a gaping existential divide between the two sides?

Yes, I know all the stuff about Red and Blue States that the Fox celebrities trot out in their pep talks. But now we’re trying to be adults, not GOP cheerleaders. What divides the differently hued regions that I hear about on Fox is mostly a difference of degree. They are certainly not the vast differences that separated counterrevolutionaries and social radicals in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We are describing family differences, mere shades of the historic left, some of which are more leftist than others but none of which approximates with any degree of historical accuracy what could be called “conservative.”