A Note on Conservatism

Phil Agre has produced a helpful field guide to conservativism and how to resist it:

Q: What is conservatism?
A: Conservatism is the domination of society by an aristocracy.

Q: What is wrong with conservatism?
A: Conservatism is incompatible with democracy, prosperity, and civilization in general. It is a destructive system of inequality and prejudice that is founded on deception and has no place in the modern world.

It helps enormously to keep Agre’s definition in mind when reading the propaganda conservatives produce for public consumption (and often talk themselves into believing). Among other things, it makes David Brooks comprehensible, rather than just risible. Thus, Brooks writes:

But he’s located one of the paradoxes of the age. Highly educated young people are tutored, taught and monitored in all aspects of their lives, except the most important, which is character building. When it comes to this, most universities leave them alone. And they find themselves in a world of unprecedented ambiguity, where it’s not clear if you’re going out with the person you’re having sex with [sic], where it’s not clear if anything can be said to be absolutely true.

Note well this passage: it is a sugarcoated version of the noxious idea that people are naturally incapable of telling right from wrong without the firm guidance of their betters. David Brooks is an intellectual money-launderer; he repackages the elitist misanthropy that is conservatism into vaguely humorous but reassuringly bland “observations.”

Don’t be fooled. College life, like the rest of life, has always been complex. The “character building” view of higher education, for which Brooks doesn’t bother to conceal his longing, is about enforcing deference to authority. Its main use is to so thoroughly indoctrinate those who will one day wield authority themselves that they will demand deference in turn. Like so much else in conservative ideology, it is a dangerously simple idea.

Ask yourself this: would you prefer to live in a world in which colleges told students whether they were going out with the people with whom they’re having sex? I wouldn’t.