Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Honesty Not The Best Policy Updated

One of the depressing aspects of the current level of intellectual debate is the mendacity of the conservatives. In the course of a remarkably incoherent, uncharitable, and badly-argued review of Corey Robin's book on conservativism, Mark Lilla, whose real purpose is not to review Robin but rather to insist that not all conservatives are crazy -- to which one points at the current crop of Republicans and their various crazy positions, argues that
[w]hat makes conservatives conservative are the implications they have drawn from Burke’s view of society. Conservatives have always seen society as a kind of inheritance we receive and are responsible for; we have obligations toward those who came before and to those who will come after, and these obligations take priority over our rights. Conservatives have also been inclined to assume, along with Burke, that this inheritance is best passed on implicitly through slow changes in custom and tradition, not through explicit political action. Conservatives loyal to Burke are not hostile to change, only to doctrines and principles that do violence to preexisting opinions and institutions, and open the door to despotism. This was the deepest basis of Burke’s critique of the French Revolution; it was not simply a defense of privilege.
As I've mentioned before, Burke view of society was essentially and fundamentally undemocratic. His argued for society's gradual improvement under the leadership of existing elites and institutions and feared common people's participation in political decision making unmediated by elite tutelage. This is a recipe for elite domination of political decision making and rests on the conviction that, as Lila suggests Robin's incorrectly argues, “some are fit, and thus ought, to rule others.” That "reasonable" Conservatives want to deny that their project rests on this horrid little principle doesn't change that fact.

If Lilla wants to get rid of the dark and dangerous forces he sees the first step is to admit the role and power of the Conservative desire to deny to most of us the right to decide our own fates. Of course, to do that means admitting the unpleasant reality of the Conservative and Neoliberal project.

The more I think about it the more I become convinced that Lilla had no interest in reviewing Robin's book but rather wanted to offer some kind of an anti-Tea Party conservative political ideology with a pinch f false equivalency thrown in.

For a good thrashing of Lilla's review see

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