Sunday, May 1, 2011

Historically Conservatives Have Never Been Right About Anything

Benjamin New

First let us examine what the concepts of conservative and liberal actually mean.
Conservatives are defined as being disposed to preserving existing conditions, institutions. Seeking to maintain established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, and dogmas, opposing change.
While liberal is defined as favoring progress, reform, and tolerance. Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas.
(This definition is from the Princeton Collegiate Dictionary, others are very similar.)

Conservatives rely on everyone ignoring or completely forgetting their past positions because those positions have been consistently amiss, awry and erroneous.
Over time, the fallaciousness of conservative positions becomes incontrovertibly and painfully obvious. We find this happening in every culture, every generation, and in every century. Whatever the issue, a new consensus on it eventually develops around some view that conservatives once opposed, and the old ideas are so discredited that even conservatives themselves no longer attempt to defend them. The ideas of liberal thinkers from a century or two earlier, opposed at the time, are then adapted as the new conservative view.
Conservative error in the past was so outlandish that it has now passed into a legendary status. For instance, conservatives of the day clung to old beliefs that the sun and everything else in the universe revolved around the earth. They even imprisoned or banished people who tried to explain that this was an erroneous notion. Galileo and his colleagues were liberal thinkers, they sought to solve problems in new ways and kept an open mind about possibilities; their goal was not to protect the orthodoxies of the past. The conservatives in this dispute had the power to stage a heresy trial and force Galileo to recant, yet today we know who really won the argument. As Galileo said, "eppure si muove" (And yet it moves). For their efforts, the conservatives of Galileo's time have gone down in history as vicious and idiotic ideologues.

virtually all development that has increased knowledge, improved society, or benefited people’s lives was met in its day with furious conservative resistance.

Flat Earth Believers Leave the Planet Laterally When They Die

The conservatives of the 16th century insisted that disease was caused by Satan’s influence, epidemics by collective sin, and mental illness by demonic possession. They fought hard to limit efforts by liberal thinkers to study the true nature of human physiology. As the new area of "medicine" began to take shape, and scientific facts were becoming known, conservatives kept up the fight against further new developments, like vaccines and anesthetics – which, they said, violated “nature” and usurped God’s right to decide who should suffer and die.

In the 17th century, while Galileo was fighting his battles, other debates were underway regarding the source of government power – whether it lay within families or wealth and was rightly conferred by birth, or whether it rose from the people giving government consent to rule. Conservative opinion came down firmly on the side of aristocratic privilege and the divine right of kings.

In the 18th century, liberal thinkers wanted to reform criminal justice. They argued for speedy and public trials and rejected the “cruel and unusual” in favor of penalties that fit the crimes, and supported modest efforts to see that even prisoners were treated humanely. Why did these arguments need to be made? Because at a time when dozens of minor offenses carried the death sentence, when political and religious dissent was criminalized and when legal penalties included literally cutting people to bits, burning them at stakes, etc. conservatives however thought the laws were too soft and fought reforms.

In the 19th century, women were unable to vote, own property or practice professions. When reformers called for giving them these rights, conservatives invoked both nature and the Bible to prove that women were created subservient to men, belonged in the home, and didn’t need to participate in public decision-making because men knew their interests better than women themselves did. The Sufferegettes did not have an easy road. Once again conservatives were demonstrably and completely wrong.

In the 20th century, another movement argued that people should be treated equally regardless of race. Progressive reformers like Martin Luther King Jr. called on America to live up to its founding promise by guaranteeing civil rights for all. Conservatives – including many still alive today – replied that King was distorting both the Constitution, which left it up to each state to decide how racist to be, and the Bible, which licensed white supremacy based on some tale of an ancient curse. Defiantly standing in the schoolhouse door (literally and figuratively), conservatives darkly warned that “unnatural” mixing of the races would lead to all manner of social evils. Even the venerable and intelligent William F. Buckley who understood classical logic quite well, at the time argued for preserving blatantly racist local and state practices. (To his credit, in later years he apologized and confessed he was quite wrong).

In Todays world, it’s no longer controversial that the earth orbits the sun, and prosecuting scientists for heresy is no longer practiced. Today it's agreed that people should be able to elect and un-elect their leaders, that women should be able to vote, and that a person’s skin color shouldn’t determine where she can sit on a bus. But the reason these matters aren’t controversial is that in each case, the conservative side lost.

Precisely because they lose, however, it’s forgotten that conservatives have repeatedly taken positions that no one but a crank would try to defend today. Conservatism perversely benefits from its own failures: Because its past arguments were beaten back and its fierce resistance overcome, we don’t hear those arguments anymore. They’ve faded into the pages of history, and we have to study history to even find they were once made.

This is crucial to the conservatism of today. If the public recognized the conservative movement as the latest growth of the same overgrown tangled weeds that had tried to choke off science, democracy and civil rights, today’s conservatives would have a much tougher time finding any adherents. Suppose you had a friend you had known for many years, he's very opinionated, he always acts as if he's absolutely certain about everything, but he is always turning out to be wrong. He got you to buy stock in Enron and swore it would just keep on rising. He bet on the Yankees to sweep the Red Sox in ’04. He said mobile phones were just a fad, and before long people would give them up and go back to sending telegrams.

Would you trust this person’s powers of analysis?
Would you put any faith in his predictions?

“Conservatives,” or those who call themselves this nowadays, have an equally good and much longer record of erroneous analysis and wrong prediction. In order to exist as a viable movement, they depend on everyone forgetting that they’re basically always wrong.