Culture Magazine

Are Conservatrives Losers?

By Bbenzon @bbenzon
Julius Krein, Conservatism is a Collection of Losers. It Doesn’t Have To Be. The American Conservative, August 7, 2020.
I am not the first person to point out that conservative political coalitions are mostly just collections of losers, but the point nevertheless bears repeating. Today’s conservatism is merely the name used to categorize the rejects of the post–Cold War order: this includes a few oddball financiers who can’t play nicely with others, extractive industries and other declining sectors, the small businesses most reliant on low-wage, low-skill labor, and a group often referred to as social conservatives who have been almost totally marginalized from mainstream culture. At bottom, nothing holds this gang of misfits together except exclusion from the dominant group of big tech oligarchs, more respectable financial rent seekers, and the leading cultural tastemakers in media and academia.
The conservative favorite Lord Acton famously quipped that power corrupts, but as the self-described Marxist Slavoj Žižek is fond of pointing out, powerlessness corrupts, too. One effect of conservatives’ waning economic and social power has been a retreat into their own self-referential identity groups and subcultures—bizarre little cults ranging from Straussians to Burkeans to the various branches of “Austrian economics.” Conservatives applaud themselves for this apparent devotion to “ideas,” but it’s actually just an effect—and a cause—of their irrelevance with respect to matters of practical importance and almost total intellectual incoherence. Despite this obsession with theoretical inquiry, however, conservatives have been nearly banished from the academy, prestige media, and cultural institutions. The leading “conservative thinkers” of the last 20 years have influenced hardly anyone beyond the next generation of downwardly mobile graduate students.
Will real conservatives stand up:
And by conservatism, I do not mean any specific agenda such as Reagan’s rickety three-legged stool or other Baby-Boomer-generation enthusiasms. Those are already dead. Instead, what must be overcome is the false pretension of defending (or restoring) established authority, which is inherent to any notion of conservatism. Conservatives must honestly confront the fact that every benevolent order they have claimed to be conserving for at least a quarter century—whether it is the perfect, pre–New Deal free market of their imagination or the “original Constitution” or a “(Judeo-)Christian nation”—is long gone.
For most of my lifetime, conservatives have rationalized their political impotence by dressing up in bowties and pretending to speak for what they imagine to be the real establishment. But the plutocratic-technocratic establishment that actually exists today has no interest in or need for conservatism, except perhaps as a controlled opposition to provide a patina of democratic legitimacy. Moreover, the conservative electoral constituency has been well outside this establishment for a long time. For any effective political action to be possible, this confusion, intentional or not, will have to be overcome. If in the last decade or two of national decline we have learned that the opiate of the masses is opiates, we should also have learned that the opiate of the political losers is conservatism.
H/t Tyler Cowen.

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