Conservative theorists love to point to the deep intellectual roots of conservatism (citing Edmund Burke, for example) and emphasizing its supposedly magisterial and profound nature. Well, I guess they're entitled to their views. Here are mine, derived in part from having grown up with conservatives and having spent many years as a Republican. These are the REAL roots of western, and particularly American, conservative thinking:
Fear and hatred. Of anyone who's different. Of any idea that's different. Of any way of doing things that's different. Of any way of living not their own. The raging, brutal nature of conservative intolerance is legendary: hatred of blacks, hatred of Jews, hatred of "uppity" women, hatred of homosexuals, hatred of foreigners of all kinds, and hatred of any non-Christian religious faith (and a special hatred for outright non-believers). Conservatives may not actively or overtly express all these hatreds now, but the historical record is clear: in American history, at one time or another, they have embraced every single one fervently. It was conservatives who defended slavery and fought to destroy the United States in the Civil War. It was conservatives that formed the backbone of the "Nativist" and Know-Nothing movements. It was conservatives that set up the barriers to immigration from the "wrong" countries in the 1920s and who marched by the millions in the ranks of the Ku Klux Klan. It was conservatives who fought to keep women subordinate to men and who, in the name of "traditional" values, have tormented and persecuted gays. The hatred within the minds of hard core conservatives is frightening: one need only look to the filth being poured out by its most characteristic spokesperson today, Ann Coulter. FEAR AND HATRED ARE THE ROCK SOLID FOUNDATIONS OF AMERICAN CONSERVATISM. These emotions lead naturally to the next basis of American conservatism,
The Desire to Force Their Way of Life on Everyone Else. Conservatives committed to personal freedom? Is that supposed to be a joke? Conservatives and ultra-religious "reformers" propped up the Jim Crow system in the South, putting into law all the viciousness and savagery of their racism. Conservatives forced laws on the books regulating the most intimate areas of human sexual behavior, including that of married heterosexuals. Premarital sex? Outlawed. Oral sex and other "non-standard" sexual practices? Outlawed. Homosexual sex? Outlawed and subject to brutal punishment. No area of human behavior has been outside of their interference. From the idiocies of Prohibition (which, alas, were partly the fault of the Progressive movement) to the hysteria surrounding the outlawing of the "killer weed" marijuana, conservatives have sought to impose their beliefs by power of law on everyone else, and have told a staggering number of outright lies to persuade others to conform. Conservatives want to tell you whether or not you may use birth control, whether or not your children can learn science in science classrooms, whether you may possess pornography (or what they define as pornography) whether you may terminate a pregnancy (never) and the manner in which you may die. They are the bitter enemies of all genuine human free choice. A startling number would gladly live in a theocracy. Even their proudest claim to fame, their unwavering opposition to Communism (which I share) is as much a result of Communism's hostility to religion as anything else. They stand for human freedom, all right--entirely on their terms.
Greed and All Consuming Selfishness. The American conservative motto should be, "I've got mine--screw you." I happen to believe in regulated capitalism. But many conservatives want to go back to a mythical time when laissez faire capitalism supposedly ruled. You know, the good old days--a working day of 12 to 14 hours, wages of less than a dollar a day, child labor, and a workforce totally at the mercy of employers who treated them like serfs and indentured servants instead of employees. The union movement and the New Deal revolutionized workers' conditions. Conservatives screamed that both were going to destroy the economy. But it was in the period of liberal political ascendancy that America's economy grew to unheard of size and tens of millions of Americans were brought into the middle class. Under the "ruinous" policies of the Democrats, America rose to its greatest heights--and conservatives fought bitterly against every reform that brought America to those heights.
Today, the conservative goal is clear: the strangling of government by incessant tax cuts that benefit the "overburdened" rich, the elimination of regulation, the destruction of labor unions, and the weakening of environmental protections, all in the name of the God that conservatives actually worship: money. Money is their Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Money is their Christ. Those who have acquired it, however brutally, are its disciples. Those who don't have it, however hard they've worked, are to be despised.
Conservatism's damage to our country has been immense. It has stunted and crippled the lives of millions throughout America's history. It has imposed unnecessary guilt, hardship, shame, and suffering. It's time for conservatism to be confronted with its past--not books by Russell Kirk or Milton Friedman, but the actual, non-theoretical, living, breathing, bleeding, sweating reality of life in America's days gone by. Conservatism today is a warped, sick, demented philosophy, calling for the removal of Darwin from the schools while advocating the most ugly and ruthless Social Darwinism in society at large. Its political leadership is composed of corrupt, lying hacks supported by powerful moneyed interests and religious fanatics. It is, in short, the gravest threat to America's survival, with the possible exception of Fundamentalist Islam (with which it shares a disquieting number of similarities). It's time to get into the face of conservative intellectuals and let them know loudly and clearly that America thrives whenever those intellectuals are totally and utterly ignored.