08 February 2010

The Fear of Nothing is the Beginning of Wisdom

Over at his Poli-Tea blog, d. eris recently replied to one of my comments by calling my attention to a very interesting post at a Constitution Party website. This party, readers may recall, is an anti-war, religious-right oriented organization, but what it stands for in particular is of less interest to me than the attitude adopted by Robert W. Peck. He has recognized the dilemma that the American Bipolarchy imposes on any principled voter. By insisting on a great bipolar ideological division that defines all political debate, it pressures conservatives to support the Republican party, for example, no matter how tepid that party's conservatism may seem, because the GOP portrays itself as the one reliable bulwark against the dreaded liberalism (or worse) represented by the Democratic party. Practically speaking, the Republican party practices conservative conservatism. That is, it obliges conservatives to settle for something less than what they'd consider genuinely principled government because the only alternative, according to the Bipolarchy, is the Liberal Moloch. Before this leads some readers to decide that the GOP is a good thing after all, it should occur to people on the "left" that the same rule applies to their relations with the Democratic party. Liberals, progressives, etc. are pressured to settle for only as much progress as Democrats deem expedient, because the only alternative, according to the Bipolarchy, is the Republican Moloch.

Peck has had enough of Republican trimming and refuses to be scared into submitting to GOP leadership. But if you replace "liberal" with "conservative" in the following paragraph, then his advice is just as good for the "left" as it is for the "right."

[I]t is not acceptable to support a candidate simply because they are considerably better than the liberal. If we continue to compromise and settle for less than what we know to be right and believe to be necessary, then the political powers that be will rightly assess that they can continue to force on us whatever candidate they choose and we will continue to accept that candidate so long as there is a liberal to fear who we are told “Must Be Beat.”

Peck describes the "fear factor" as "a trap used to ensnare us." He writes: "Once we yield to fear, we instantly become vulnerable and can be easily manipulated, even to the point of becoming willing to compromise our standards when told it is necessary in order to overcome the source of our fear - - - the dreaded liberal." While I certainly can't agree with Peck's account of fear as a tool of Satan, I have to say in this case that if his superstition gets him to an objectively desirable result, I can't knock it. Again, replace "liberals" with "conservatives" and Peck's advice below is just as good for the other side.

I ask you to consider, in any given election, which candidate would you advocate, acknowledge as the righteous choice, support and give the precious empowering virtue of your vote to if you had no fear, or if there were no liberals to fear. If we are voting in any other manner, then we have already succumbed to fear, allowed it to influence us to adjust our values according to its dictates and have yielded our virtue to it.

If anything, Peck could be more forceful on two points. Learning not to fear the liberal, in his case, should mean admitting (if not necessarily embracing) the likelihood of liberal victory during the time it takes to build a genuinely principled conservative movement. In other words, conservatives have to be willing to let the liberals win if that's the price of breaking the Republican party's stranglehold on conservative loyalty. Vice versa, of course, is equally true for liberals, progressives or others on the "left." In order to break the Democrats' paralyzing stranglehold on liberal loyalty, they have to be willing to let the conservatives win as the temporary price of their principled uprising. Neither conservatives nor progressives should assume that they can win in their first great effort, and they should realize that, conditions being what they are, their efforts will most likely mean the triumph of an apparently opposite ideology unless two great uprisings occur simultaneously. That's a prospect that might require conservatives and progressives (or libertarians or socialists) to really swallow their fears, because they really ought to collaborate and encourage each other to fight against their respective pillars of the Bipolarchy. That sort of collaboration may require a further step in the abandonment of fear than Peck has taken. He urges conservatives not to vote on the basis of fear, but he never explicitly denies that liberalism in general is something to fear. The same concession regarding conservatism (however defined) will be equally difficult for liberals or progressives to make. But it's a necessary concession across the board. How many people can truly vote according to their consciences as long as they believe that one party's victory means the end of the world or the fall of the republic, and can be stopped only by voting for one other party? This sort of advice may seem paradoxical for independents or third-party activists whose complaint against the Bipolarchy is usually that "their" party is insufficiently opposed to the ideological enemy. But the truth in the paradox should be self-evident. Principled conservatives will never get more than the Republicans' half-assed conservatism until they learn not to fear liberals. Principled progressives will never get more than the Democrats' half-assed progress (at best) until they learn not to fear conservatives. And who knows what principled compromise or principled collaboration might be possible once all sides abandon the politics of fear?


Anonymous said...

Neither side should think they can ever win permanently. Far too many people in this country straddle the fence and are neither "liberal" nor "conservative". To assume that whichever idiotology you subscribe to is the best and only real solution is just evidence that you are a stupid person. If your idiotology were so self-evident, then everyone would subscribe to it.

Someone like me is forced into a precarious position, because I am an atheist and I WILL NOT be forced to live under a rule of law dictated by the whims of superstitious primitives who think some moldy old tome written by sociopaths and schizoid personalities hold all the answers. And as long as the "right" abjectly refuses to denounce the racists and other assorted bigots who swell their rank and file, I can only assume that the "right" is, in fact, the enemy of the human race. And as long as they insist on gun ownership being of paramount importance, I can only assume that their idea of civilized society is rooted in violence, again making them the enemy of peace and of the human race.

d.eris said...

"conservatives have to be willing to let the liberals win if that's the price of breaking the Republican party's stranglehold on conservative loyalty. Vice versa, of course, is equally true for liberals."

I don't think the situation is such that indy and/or third party conservative activism would necessarily lead to liberal victories and vice versa. What if the Conservative or Libertarian Party ran its strongest campaigns in locales where the Democratic Party is basically non-existant, or the Greens and Socialists challenged entrenched Democrats where the Republicans had no chance of doing so themselves? The fear of the spoiler effect really only comes into play where there is a close/competitive race between the Republicans and Democrats. And there are fewer and fewer of those, it seems.

Samuel Wilson said...

Crhymethinc: Precarious is a good call on your position because your fear of the religious right forcing stuff on you threatens to force you to settle indefinitely for whatever slop the "Democraps" throw your way so long as they keep the Inquisition off your back.

d.eris: I'd rather not sugarcoat the potential early cost of an independent stand for anyone. Independents in competitive districts have just as much right to take a stand against the Bipolarchy as those in safe Democratic or Republican districts. They have to be willing to pay the price of the "worst case scenario," at least for a time, and it can only help for people to figure out for themselves whether that scenario would really be as awful as the Bipolarchy propaganda always claims. As for your proposal, I wonder whether the least competitive districts or locales are those in which the dominant party is the most ideologically intense, and thus least likely to be challenged by independents to its left or right. Maybe your scenario should work the opposite way: send libertarians into the bluest locales and socialists (ironically) into the reddest.