stimulated by the convergent energies of the current "oil crisis"
and the imminent election, the New York Post’s editorial page has
recently developed a new method by which to abuse Al Gore. To abuse Gore is
necessary–his disappearance from political life would represent an act
of public hygiene–but the Post’s methodology indicates what’s
objectionable about mainstream American conservatism. Post readers will
have noticed this new feature, in which the newspaper reprints passages from
Gore’s book Earth in the Balance, presenting them out of context
in the expectation that readers will consider them as funny as Post editors
The day before, the Post
had poked fun at a passage from Gore’s book that contained the following
two sentences: "Today, a different dysfunction takes the form of ravenous,
insatiable consumption, its dogma, and the mechanisms by which ever more resources
are obtained. The struggle to save the global environment is in one way much
more difficult than the struggle to vanquish Hitler."
Of all the things to attack
Gore for. One cringes at the all-American piety that must of necessity accompany
reflexive contempt for Gore’s statements; at the suburban faith that fetishizes
the internal combustion engine to start with. Is it really so outrageous to
conceive that the gasoline engine could eventually be replaced by a viable electric
one? Really such a heresy to concern oneself with pollution? With smog? With
sustainability? As far as the second passage goes, to some of us it resembles
an expression of fact.
What’s telling is that
it’s so-called "conservatives" who harbor such contempt for those
ideas. This indicates that conservatism–because it’s more powerful–is
now a more disquieting philosophy even than urban liberalism, the previous benchmark
for grotesque mainstream crystallizations of American political thought. In
fact, it’s interesting to hear conservatism referred to as "conservatism"
in the first place. Conservative of what? Of, as an older conservatism used
to be, a cherished way of life, grounded in history and tradition and faith,
that he of a "conservative" disposition desired to pass down to his
children? Of natural or financial resources?
Hardly. Actually, a more
honest name for the conservatism dominant today would be "profligism,"
because in actuality conservatism seeks to conserve only in select areas, while
glorying in wastage, destruction and decadence in most others. The talk-show
savant who demands curtailments of bureaucratic disbursements to the poor will
defend the razing of forests, the energy industry’s right to forever corrupt
pristine Alaskan lands or the urbanite’s divine right to the inexpensive
gasoline that powers his off-road vehicle.
"conservative" in any real sense–not in the sense that such self-described
conservatives as Theodore Roosevelt or Barry Goldwater or even Edward Abbey
would have defined the word. Rather, it now reflects a kneejerk embrace of the
most revolutionary aspects of what Marx identified as the most transformative
ideology under which humans have ever toiled–that is to say capitalism,
a system that a person of truly conservative temperament will view with skepticism.
Conservatism is the philosophy that sanctions the greedy retreat of the consumer
from the public realm, sanctions his abandoning of any notion of community beyond
that which aggrandizes himself.
conservatives aren’t conservatives at all. They’re American decadents–and
revolutionaries in their own traumatic way.