The Mount Vernon Ladies Association, the guardians and gatekeepers of George Washington’s Virginia estate, recently refused to allow the conservative promoters of the “Mount Vernon Statement” from holding a public signing of the document at Mount Vernon. Jeff Pasley gives his take over at Publick Occurrences 2.0. Here is my take:
The Mount Vernon Statement calls for a “constitutional conservatism” rooted in limited government, individual liberty, free enterprise and “market solutions,” the opposition to world tyranny, and a defense of the family, neighborhood, community, and faith.
Here’s my question: Can we truly say that the defense of family, neighborhood, community, and faith are compatible with free enterprise and “market solutions?” It reminds me of something Christopher Lasch once wrote in a 1987 article in Tikkun entitled “What’s Wrong with the Right?
Conservatives assume that deregulation and a return to the free market will solve everything, promoting a revival of the work ethic and a resurgence of ‘traditional values.’ Not only do they provide an inadequate explanation of the destruction of those values but they unwittingly side with the social forces that have contributed to their destruction, for example in their advocacy of unlimited growth. The poverty of contemporary conservatism reveals itself most fully in this championship of economic growth the underlying premise of the consumer culture the by products of which conservatives deplore. A vital conservatism would identify itself with the demand for limits not only on economic growth but on the conquest of space, the technological conquest of the environment, and the human ambition to acquire godlike powers over nature. A vital conservatism would see in the environmental movement the quintessential conservative cause, since environmentalism opposes reckless innovation and makes conservation the central order of business. Instead of taking environmentalism away from the left, however, conservatives condemn it as a counsel of doom. “Free enterprisers,” says Pines, “insist that the economy can indeed expand and as it does so, all society’s members can increase their wealth.” One of the cardinal tenets of liberalism, the limitlessness of economic growth, now undergirds the so-called conservatism that presents itself as a corrective and alternative to liberalism.
Not only do conservatives have no understanding of modern capitalism, they have a distorted understanding of the “traditional values” they claim to defend. The virtues they want to revive are the pioneer virtues: rugged individualism, boosterism, rapacity, a sentimental deference to women, and a willingness to resort to force. These values are “traditional” only in the sense that they are celebrated in the traditional myth of the Wild West and embodied in the Western hero, the prototypical American lurking in the background, often in the very foreground, of conservative ideology. In their implications and inner meaning, these individualist values are themselves profoundly anti-traditional. They are the values of the man on the make, in flight from his ancestors, from the family claim, from everything that ties him down and limits his freedom of movement. What is traditional about the rejection of tradition, continuity, and rootedness? A conservatism that sides with the forces of restless mobility is a false conservatism. So is the conservatism false that puts on a smiling face, denounces “doom sayers,” and refuses to worry about the future. Conservatism appeals to a pervasive and legitimate desire in contemporary society for order, continuity, responsibility, and discipline; but it contains nothing with which to satisfy these desires, It pays lip service to “traditional values,” but the policies with which it is associated promise more change more innovation more growth, more technology, more weapons, more addictive drugs. Instead of confronting the forces in modern life that make for disorder, it proposes merely to make Americans feel good about themselves. Ostensibly rigorous and realistic, contemporary conservatism is an ideology of denial. Its slogan is the slogan of Alfred E. Neumann: “What? Me worry?” Its symbol is a smile button: that empty round face devoid of features except for two tiny eyes, eyes too small to see anything clearly, and a big smile: the smile of someone who is determined to keep smiling through thick and thin.