Belaboring the Obvious

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Musings on a Unified Field Theory of Conservatism....

Once again, digby gets it right.

I thought much the same thing upon first seeing the photograph digby mentions in the post linked above.

But, a little historical perspective is helpful. This inclination toward aristocracy has bedeviled the country ever since its inception. The Federalists aligned with Hamilton and Adams always believed that there was a natural aristocracy which was necessary to run the country on behalf of the masses, and, whenever that aristocracy was threatened by populism of any sort, it had the right to use the tools available to suppress dissent--especially in the press--in favor of the aristocracy, hence, the Alien and Sedition Acts during Adams' tenure as President. Almost reflexively, Adams saw attacks on him and his administration as attacks on the country, because he conceived of himself and his cohort as the rightful leaders of the country in government.

Oddly, the very nature of the aristocracy in Great Britain was the principal source of friction between itself and the colonies, and led to the first seminal open rebellion in the colonies against the aristocratic system in place--the Boston Tea Party. While it's not taught in this fashion these days, because it's largely been glossed over, the Stamp Act was a big deal. It was, effectively, a corrupt practice meant to ensure profit to the king and the aristocracy in Parliament.

The British East India Company had maintained its monopoly on trade with the aid of British government, and had made that government complicit in its practices by offering them shares of the profits as a condition of its exclusive trade charter. When the East India Company's profits were threatened, because of its own trade practices regarding tea, resulting in great surpluses it could not sell and which were languishing in its warehouses, there was a definite self-interest on the part of the King and Parliament to find a means to continue those profits, and the Stamp Act was part of that protection.

The British East India Company was the visible face of an aristocratic cartel in the colonies, and it was greatly resented--especially by the local merchants who were in competition with it. The tax stamp on tea and other goods insured that colonial money would accrue to the King and the British East India Company's shareholders in Parliament, one way or another. The aristocracy in Great Britain was, therefore, advocating monopolistic practices in protection of its own power and wealth.

That realization on the part of rebels would cause them to strike any mention of corporations from the Constitution, relegating such chartering to the states, where they presumed, incorrectly, that they would remain without power to create national aristocracies.

We've always lived with the problem of accumulated wealth creating artificial aristocracies in this country (the Vanderbilts, the Morgans, the Mellons, etc.), which evolved from the most successful in the Old Yankee banking and mercantile class, and digby rightly points out that their conservatism is directed largely at preserving the power of that aristocracy--and that the intellectual foundation of such aristocracy, such as it is, depends upon the British model espoused by people such as Edmund Burke--i.e., don't touch a thing as long as we're in power and control the economics of the world--who were in power at the height of the British imperial power in the 19th century.

That tendency in this country is manifested in all sorts of ways that can be roughly classified as faux or manipulative social engineering. Paul Kaufman rightly says that economic growth over the long term roughly follows population growth more closely than any other factor, so those who depend upon clipping coupons for a living need a continually expanding population to skim off of. Voila!, there's a movement, largely shielded from intellectual scrutiny, to increase the population--the Quiverfuls, etc., which also tie into the thinly-veiled eugenics arguments of the anti-immigration crowd--along with alignment with factions in the religious right which are publicly espousing abstinence and are secretly (and often, vehemently) against all forms of birth control. If one can't have feudalism because of the external skin of democracy, a virtual feudalism can be imposed by other means.

I would guess, with enough sources and computer power and people thinking about it, one could probably come up with a Unified Field Theory of Conservatism, a means of explaining most events in the world to the extent they are influenced by American conservatism in all its manifestations, but one would likely come up with a model which generally mirrors the prevailing conspiracy theories on the way power and wealth are apportioned in the world. All else would just be details. It's not accident that the secret societies of Yale, and the legacy system of the Ivy League, in general, have been the springboards to power in American society, nor is it particularly conspiratorial to suggest that the influence of Yale on the CIA is not just direct, but indirect, as well. Recruits from Yale going into the leadership positions of the CIA are likely to be chosen, in part, for their innate and unspoken understanding that they are part of an elite and their service in such institutions in government is to be directed toward protecting that elite--for the same reasons that John Adams believed there was a natural aristocracy which should control government. That understanding would create subtle fixed protocols in assessing and ranking the importance of tasks in that agency and the long-term direction of the institution and how it might advise the centers of power in the Executive branch. (This may, in part, explain the hostility with which the neo-cons have traditionally viewed the CIA. Not only has the CIA been a drag on their plans to create chaos around the world, they may also intuitively sense that the CIA's institutionalized purpose is to protect the interests of the natural aristocracy. Hence, the bomb-throwing by Rumsfeld, Cheney and others.)

The Bush I cohort now pushing the findings of the Iraq Study Group are a classic instance of one elite believing itself to be a "natural aristocracy." The tension comes from this particular elite being seen as in opposition to a new elite, the neo-conservatives. Think of it, in the conservative constellation, as old money against new. Bush I comes out of that patrician Yankee ethos of long standing, while the Cheneys and Rumsfelds and Perles and Kristols are upstarts, and all imagine themselves self-made men (though most have gained their prominence in government through the auspices of the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute and their offshoots, all of which have been funded by old money).

What distinguishes the two is that the old money elite want stability in the pursuit of profit, while the new money elite want power (wealth, while not secondary to neo-conservatives, is seen as an inevitable outcome of the exercise of unlimited military power--apply military might and all else follows), and while each elite has aligned itself with the other when they are not at cross-purposes, the fault lines are drawn upon matters of class, and that difference shows up in the way each group approaches problems. The old guard want stability, but they also want to leave as few fingerprints as possible. The young turks of the conservative movement, many being defectors from Marxist-Leninist doctrine, prefer military confrontation, up front and pugnacious.

I don't think it's purely accident that the two impeachments of contemporary times were of Presidents who were seen by the Washington establishment as interlopers to the seat of power. Nixon was seen as an overly-ambitious political climber with marginal ethics (remember that the "Checkers" speech--over twenty years before Watergate--was a response to those claims by the establishment press) who used his anti-Communism credentials to insinuate himself into elected office. But, he was also not of the eastern moneyed elite. In the same fashion, Clinton was the backwoods rube who had the temerity to run against a symbol of the entrenched elite. The so-called "Arkansas Project" was funded largely by old eastern banking money (Richard Mellon Scaife) and was initiated when Clinton refused to abandon his run for the presidency against *gasp* a Bush. His impeachment was a direct outgrowth of that failure to defer to what, to the Bushes, was a simple matter of class and entitlement.

So, in a not entirely curious way, now that Bush II has shown himself to be thoroughly incompetent, any talk of impeachment is "off the table." Junior is of that former elite (and, therefore, unimpeachable by virtue of membership in the aristocracy), but, as a weak and weak-minded scion, he's been tugged in a different direction by the more vocal neo-conservatives, who speak to him in urgent terms. Viewed in that fashion, the report from the Iraq Study Group is a salvage effort--to give just enough to the far-right neo-conservatives, but not so much that the old guard will be unable to obtain the stability they desire. It may be for this reason that the neo-conservative horde have been ranting about Baker's "anti-Semitism." They recognize the principles in tension and greatly fear the loss of Junior's ear. The far right in Israel and the far right in this country have adopted similar principles--military force as a means of ensuring ongoing chaos, which keeps them in power--because, as long as they can create new enemies from without, they can perpetuate a siege mentality in the minds of the voters which keep them in power. Thus, the young turks of the conservative movement aren't interested in the stability the old guard craves. They are, in fact, antithetical to it. Were Iraq to suddenly calm itself and achieve the stability conducive to the profits the establishment elite desires, the neo-cons would immediately focus on starting a war with yet another country.

How this tension will play out, I have no idea. My guess is that Junior will use his old money creds to raise money for the establishment elite's candidates in 2008, while continuing to act on the advice of the neo-cons, because their appeal is to raw power, which suits Dubya's psychology. But, Dems ought to realize that there is a war going on between the two main factions on the right, and that siding with either side in that fight empowers that side, not the Democrats. Sylvestre Reyes' pronouncement that more troops are advisable does just that, and certainly does not follow the general wishes of the voters at this time. Equally, taking impeachment out of the political equation serves only the conservative aristocracies, entrenched old and budding new alike. (Does all this explain the conundrum of Bush behaving in far worse fashion than even Nixon with regard to breach of law, and yet he seems untouchable? What better means of reaffirming democracy and repudiating the lawlessness of the aristocracy than, finally, once and for all, throwing out one of its misbehavers?)

What Democrats must see, once and for all, is that these conservative aristocracies, old and new, are fundamentally undemocratic in nature and philosophy. Both believe that there is a natural leadership of the country (of their definition), and that anything which interferes with their assumption of power is to be pushed down or, if necessary--as we've seen by the DeLay/K Street/Gingrich/Bush II/Cheney cabal--to be crushed. Playing into their hands is to court disaster, and I don't just mean for the party. Give them a break on their lawbreaking and it reinforces their power, and inclines them to seize yet more power. Give them a break on taxes, and it increases the volume of their public relations megaphone and gives them more cash to run their candidates. Most of all, it gives them more opportunity to fiddle with the levers of government to obtain the ends they most desire--further profit and power.


  • Hey Montag,

    We are witnessing the last throes of so-called representative democracy

    Just how wise is it for billions of souls to to be at the mercy of a proven idiot just because those with the most money put him in power? GW Bush and the greedy scoundrels that surround him are stunning evidence of the utter folly and failures of government driven by money, religion, and poltics.

    It was clear to me that GHW (papa) Bush was crying recently because he's suffering from the stress of realizing that the debacles caused by his son are ultimately traced to the Bush family's aristocratic ambitions. In other words, the old man is as much to blame for Irag and other evils as the clueless son he foisted upon the world stage. That is why family consiglieri James Baker and smoking man Eagleburger were called in to set the stage for little W's demise.

    Royalty, aristocracy, and plutocracy always were and always will be bad ideas and we have been forced to suffer through yet more proof of this. Do you think GW's feelings are more important than the wealth and power of the empire? We're now witnessing the praetorian guard fulfilling their most sacred duty; saving the empire from an insane emperor. Unfortunately for them, it's too little too late .

    Here is Wisdom...

    By Blogger Seven Star Hand, at 7:28 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home