Inherent contradictions between democracy and conservatism

I’ve been trying to get around to reading a couple of books in particular on conservatism and I have a whole shelf of books on it, books by the classic American conservative authors like Clinton Rossiter and current writers like David Frum. I realize there is a conservative viewpoint worth considering that has a deep foundation. However, we are so swamped by the day-to-day fulminations of the Ralph Reeds and Ollie Norths that we wind up raging against them, and now we have the attacks on the Obamas to deal with, launched by people who have moved out to the edge of the forest and so say they won’t vote for a Muslim instead of what they really mean.

Despite my attempts to have respect for conservative thought, I’m always drawn up short by the way conservatives want to have their cake and eat it, too. My father-in-law used to shout “Puny science and Great God!” and I would suggest he try praying over the fuel tank to make whatever he was pumping into it compatible with the engine of his vehicle (actually I would never do that to him nor to any sincere person – I’d just argue with them).

Because I haven’t delved deeply into conservative philosophy, I cannot delineate clearly and authoritatively the various brands of conservatism. We have the Christian Right, the Paleo Conservatives, the Neo-Conservatives, the Reagan Democrats, the Southern Conservatives or States Rights ones, the Libertarians, the anti-tax people, the strict constructionists, the back-to-the-farm folks, the back-to-the-cave folks [I like their diet], and Populists.

It gets confusing; for example, the Progressives of the early part of the 20th century promoted eugenics and racism and that would make them the opposite of today’s Progressives. Since this blog is aimed primarily at foreign language teachers, we want to look at two issues: education and foreign cultures. How do we square conservative values with democracy as we deal with other cultures? How do we, for that matter, square liberal values with other cultures?

Revised 3/9/10 from this point on:
In a nutshell, I find it difficult to figure out how we can be a democracy and operate a free enterprise system within a conservative framework. After all, the whole idea of free enterprise rests on the notion that everyone has a crack at getting into the economic system. Some time ago we decided that the public education system would provide the level playing field, then the conservatives immediately stepped in to say that schools in poor neighborhoods deserved less because the students couldn’t perform at as high a level as students in wealthier areas. That was borne out by the fact that the students’ test scores were lower. People labeling themselves Conservatives have at every point stood in the school house door. They opposed the Department of Education. They opposed school integration. They opposed Progressive Education. They opposed legislation for Special Education.

Their opposition was usually framed as a concern for the expense but never spared expense for something that would bomb people. And here is why: conservatives believe that God has set a certain order to the world, especially to the U.S. Certain people are on top and the bulk of people follow. Under them lies the mass of people who are, by nature or by God’s plan, supposed to just endure. The best they can hope for is grace from God and a reward in heaven. They not only do not believe that people on the bottom can achieve, they do not want them to achieve. It would upset this world view they have.

I realize this is insulting, offensive, unfair, etc., but it is a distillation of hundreds of conversations and interactions I have had with people and a good deal of reading. Academically, I cannot write a considered history of conservative thought and action. I can only go back to my experiences from the 1940s on listening and observing and reading. Recently a conservative tried to convince me it was really the Republicans who had been the real supporters of civil rights for minorities. I nodded in disbelief. While younger people could never imagine anyone saying now, “A businessman has a right to refuse to do business with anyone he doesn’t want to do business with.” They know it is code for denying service to Blacks and so believe such sentiments have disappeared, and with them the feelings behind it. But such words still ring in my ears. It was considered irrefutable logic in my youth. It seemed oh so reasonable. There are still many Americans who just cannot grasp that requiring my wife, when she was a little girl, to travel by road over a thousand miles with only the food they packed to eat and no bathroom facilities available along the way was damaging to her. They cannot figure out why it was a problem and how it is any sort of advantage to Whites now that their parents or grandparents could travel in safety and comfort, stopping for rest, food, and relief when they needed to. (I traveled by car from Ohio to Arizona twice – 3 days. We stayed in motels closed to Blacks)

These were the conditions conservatives did not want to change. They will deny it now but they are liars.

Just in case anyone demures at this statement, recall The Bell Curve, a book published in 1994 to great acclaim among conservatives, that argued that Blacks cannot benefit from services like education, legal protection, basic services, medical care, etc. because they do not, as a group, have the intelligence to take advantage of them. Get rid of Head Start, is their cry, because Black kids just don’t have the mental capacity to learn at the rate and to the level we are trying to prepare them for and are therefore wasting (White) taxpayers’ money.

Since I want this to be a blog, an exchange, I’ll stop here and invite comments before I go on….. and on, and on, and..

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