Is Conservatism a Legitimate Political Ideology? Was it Ever?

“Conservatism* is a sham!” That was the original title of this thread. While it’s actually both sexier and more succinct, I opted against it because it doesn’t accurately reflect my position, although it’s not that far off. The Trump presidency has shed a lot of of light, or maybe brought to the surface, the real impetus behind the people who claim to be conservatives, and thus revealed the true nature of conservatism. Well, partly.

I need to make two important distinctions before I proceed–separating two different types of conservatives–namely, ones that don’t really have any real convictions in a legitimate (more on this later) political ideology, and ones that do. The reason that my initial title is both (mostly) true, but too misleading for me is that 99% of conservatives fall into the former category, while the rest fall into the latter. In other words, I believe there is such a thing as a legitimate conservative ideology, but so few people actually believe this that it’s fair to say conservatism is largely a sham.

Now it’s time to explain what I mean by a legitimate political ideology. First, I want specify that I’m talking about legitimacy within a liberal democracy. The rule of law; a constitutional government, separating powers in a way that creates checks and balances; free and fair elections; a free press; freedom of religion; due process–a legitimate political ideology would take these as a given. What also legitimizes a political ideology are the presence of legitimate goals–goals that relate to making the lives of both individuals and the overall society better. By “better” I’m thinking of things like protecting civil liberties, while also ensuring the security of the overall society; I’m thinking of a healthy economy, where one can earn a living, afford quality housing, education, health care. I could probably name other things, but hopefully you get the idea.

In the rest of this thread, I want to address two questions: 1) How is conservatism illegitimate? 2) And what does a legitimate conservatism look like?

(*In this thread, “conservatism” and “conservatives” refers to the American forms of both.)

No, Music Isn’t Worse Than It Was in the Past

I can’t remember if I’ve written about this before, but I saw some interviews of musicians I respect, which reminded me of this topic. Both bemoaned the current state of music, one of them gloomily predicting the the end boundary-pushing. (This interview was from the 80s.) My sense is that the basis for their assessment stemmed from a comparison with the past. That is, the compared their perception and understanding of the music of the present relative to the music from the past. If this is accurate, I don’t think this is a good way to judge the present. Indeed, I think doing so leads to an erroneous judgments and pessissms.

Now, let me make a few things clear. One, I’m not taking this position because I necessarily think the present moment is filled with great musicians and great music. Instead, I’m basing my position primarily on the way we perceive and understand both the present and the past. The difference, I think, primarily explains why the present seems bleak, relative to the past; and I’m going to explain that in this thread.

(Note: This applies to movies, and I would suspect most other art forms as well.)

On the Functions and Value of Art

In a conversation between Tyler Cowen, a George Mason economics professor, and David Salle, an artist and writer, Salle discusses several functions of art (mostly visual art) that I found interesting. Here’s what he said:

I think people might underestimate the decorative function of painting. Painting has various functions. A good painting satisfies most of them or all of them, pretty much at a high level. One of the functions, historically, is to make the room look better, to make people’s emotional temperature quicken slightly when the painting is in the room as opposed to when it’s not in the room. That’s a decorative function. It’s an important one.

I remember the first time I met Jasper Johns. He actually said to a friend of mine, who was standing with us, “The first obligation of a painting is to make the wall look better that it’s hanging on.” It is one of those statements that is so simple-minded it brooks mystification, but it’s just a simple fact.

What else does painting do? Obviously, we want it to do more than just be decorative. I think any good painting — really good painting — expresses something true about the time in which it was made and about the maker. But that’s another level and doesn’t have to be apparent in the same way that its decorative value is apparent.

What else does it do? It locates the maker in a certain history, a certain dialogue, a certain discourse. It sometimes takes sides. It sometimes provokes arguments. These are other things that paintings can do.

I’ll say more about this later.

The Podcast Thread

A thread about podcasts. Yes, I’d be interested in hearing recommendations, and comments about your favorites, but I also thought we could speak more broadly about podcasts. For example, I started this because I wanted to discuss different interviewers and their styles. This notion came up when because I recently heard Marc Maron’s podcast, WTF for the first time, and the differences between his approach and someone like Rick Beato (who does youtube interviews) really struck me. The former interrupted his guest a lot–I want to say more than any other interviewer that I can think of. On the other hand, the latter, at least in the Pat Metheny interview, allows the guest to talk a lot, with very little interruption. If I interviewed people, I’d likely be more guilty of interrupting the guest, but I actually prefer Beato’s approach in the Metheny interview. (Metheny was loquacious, so Beato’s approach worked well. Such an approach may not work as well with a less talkative guest.) There are also some hosts who talk a lot, especially when formulating a question. Ezra Klein does this, as did Charlie Rose. Again, I could see myself being guilty of this, but I prefer an interviewer who says as few words as possible, especially when formulating questions.

To shift gears, I would appreciate recommendations, as I’m looking for more podcasts–especially since I don’t listen to any sports podcasts now.

The Tyranny of Narratives in Journalism

I ran across Cowen’s talk recently, and I thought of this thread. I don’t have a lot of time now, but here’s a brief description of the thread. My sense is that journalists, and maybe more specifically publishers and editors, require news to occur within a narrative. Indeed, “stories” in the context of journalism is essentially synonymous with a newsworthy event or information. This is the reason I use the word tyranny. Must a narrative framework dominate the approach of journalists? What’s the downside and upside of that? Cowen touches on the downside–and he’s touching on many of the points I want to bring up. (I do want to push back on some of his points, too, though.)

Some Recent Thoughts on Liberals and Conservatives

Two books I’ve recently encountered (The Captive Mind and To the Finland Station) have got me thinking about the roots of liberalism. I don’t really have thoughts on the roots of conservatism (I wish I did), but I want to write some conclusions I’m arriving at with regard to American conservatism. In this thread, I want to jot these thoughts down, and use this space as a way of working out these ideas.

Musings on Bad Faith in Politics

“Hypocrisy” and “cynicism” are two adjectives used to describe actions of Republicans, particularly when they supported Trump. I tend to think those two words are inadequate. I like bad faith better, but the meaning seems a little vague to me. In this thread, I want to flesh out the meaning and think about term, versus alternatives, when discussing the modern day GOP and their leader.