Sunday, February 13, 2005

Frame Shop: The Inventor of Modern Conservatism

The inventor of modern conservatism was arguably Benjamin Disraeli, the great Prime Minister who reinvented 19th century Tory Conservatism for a mass audience. David Gelernter argues in the Weekly Standard (yeah, I know... I wouldn't have read it either if Art & Letters Daily hadn't linked it) that the Conservative movement of the 20th, and now Neo-Conservatives of the 21st century, are the inheritors of that tradition.

The key insight Disraeli had, Gelernter argues, is that a populist conservative party must, above all else, define itself as the national party. To succeed beyond the privileged and ruling classes, conservatives must be the party of nationalism, national pride, and national identity; they must make the cause and will of the elite of the nation appear to be the cause and will of the whole nation on a deeply passionate and spiritual (even pre-rational) level. In short, it must utilize the ideology underlying modern fascism.

There is a feeling, carefully cultivated by the Republicans, that the GOP is the national party. Despite class and race and sex divisions which they exaserbate and exploit, they feign to respect the traditions and embody the will of the 'authentic' nation. This is why they are so quick, and successful, at questioning the patriotism of others, and so masterful at wedging 'traditional' values issues. This is why their hawkish adventurism so often passes as the vigorous advancement of natioanl security interests. This is, in my opinion, the ultimate frame that progressives must break and rebuild to our own specifications: that the GOP is the party that puts America first, and that Democrats are the party that just wants everyone to like us.

The hardest challenge here is that we are apt to admit a grain of truth to this assertion, and then argue why our way is better. That's deadly. We have to frame the notion that the only true security is collective security in a viscerally compelling way. We must destroy and discredit the old habits of chest thumping militarism and dissolve the bonds of the 'organic' idea of nationhood. We have to build a stirring mythological subtext for rational internationalism that is more compelling than the trappings of the idealized American nation that can be summoned and exploited with as much facility as nationalist memes. Not easy. No, that's an understatement: it's damn near impossible, and will require generations of work. Nationalism has deep phychological roots, millenia of development, and two centuries of lore and history on which to draw. Rational internationalism has ony maybe 60 years in the modern world. a handful of historical precedents, and a solid but complex scientific pedigree. Anyone care to have a stab at how to start, or what such a project would look like?


At 6:15 PM, Anonymous Tiny Montgomery said...

Look to FDR, LBJ and MLK, Jr. for ideas. These guys were all over Lakoff before Lakoff was cool.

Howard Dean has it going on. Be strong and honest. Then let the chips fall where they may. Nuance is over-rated.


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