The Cordoba Mosque - And Conservatism


This is a defining moment - not just for America but for conservatism as a political philosophy. The campaign to prevent the construction of a Muslim interfaith center two blocks from Ground Zero strikes me as so dangerous in its assumptions, so pernicious in its bigotry, and so dangerous in the war on terror that it needs to be repudiated as swiftly and as powerfully as possible. It is as antithetical to the principles on which this country was founded as the importation of torture into the government of the U.S. Alan Jacobs:

It’s remarkable that people who invoke the Founders so regularly and in such tones of devotion could be utterly deaf to the Founders’ concern to ensure freedom for mistrusted minority religions. They might start by reading George Washington’s once-famous letter to the Newport synagogue, paying special attention to this sentence: “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts.” In Washington’s understanding, it is misbegotten even to ask the question, “Should we tolerate this?” ...

In its origins, with Burke, conservatism was supposed to be about taking the long view, having proper deference to the wisdom of our ancestors and taking proper care for the flourishing of our descendants. This is also what Chesterton meant when he said that tradition is “the democracy of the dead.” Burke thought this long view was most likely to be taken by the aristocracy, but in a society without an aristocracy there needs to be a body of intellectuals who take it as their special mission to meditate on the “first things”, one might say, that link us to those who went before us and those who will come after.

The approach Gingrich and Palin take to the proposed lower Manhattan mosque has nothing to do with conservatism in this sense. It is neither conservative, nor liberal, nor anything else worthy to be called “political thought.” It is an infantile grasping after a fleeting and elusive cultural dominance.

And that, one fears, is what conservatism has become in the new millennium: a paranoid, infantile grasping for cultural dominance - white, evangelical, rural - that is only one part of America, and not the whole, and a minuscule part of the wider world, not its defining hegemon.

A despairing Kevin Drum wonders why some conservatives behave this way. Will Wilkinson has an explanation:

[T]he conservative movement has become obsessed to the point of derangement with a right-wing version of identity politics that sees everything through the lens of the assumption that American identity is under seige. The modus operandi of the populist right is patriotic semiotics gone wild.

It is Reaganism revisited as farce. Conor:

Candidates like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin aren’t going to alienate the corporate interests that bankroll so many GOP campaigns, even if certain anti-corporate stances would be popular among Tea Partiers. In order to compensate, they’re going to earn their populist credentials by setting themselves up in opposition to an unpopular religious minority and railing against the mainstream media. Put another way, they’re going to garner the kind of support that won’t require them to actually act against entrenched interests should they be elected. Anyone on the right upset by “politics as usual” should wise up and understand that the candidate who most adeptly exploits culture war issues is going to continue doing so once elected. Can’t we find someone capable of directing ire at unsustainable entitlements instead of Muslim Americans?

Not yet, Conor, not yet.