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My father used to say conservatism wasn’t a political belief, it was a religion. I’m beginning to think it’s more a personality disorder. Reading Richard Hofstadter’s classic The Paranoid Style in American Politics in light of the recent election has given me much to ponder. Now let me start off by saying I have nothing against paranoia. In fact, I find it an advantageous evolutionary development in a species so given to conspire against family or best friend for even the smallest perceived advantage. Rather, what Hofstadter was focusing on in this collection of essays was more the extreme, knee-jerk conservatism that so often manifests itself in witch hunts. Hofstadter ended up defining it as “pseudoconservatism” in that it involves “[a]n enormous hostility to authority, which cannot be admitted to consciousness, [calling] for a massive overcompensation which is manifest in the form of extravagant submissiveness to strong power.”

Writing over a period of formative political eras, he puzzled over the sense of grievance that persisted in good times as well as bad, concluding “such persons believe that their prestige in the community, even indeed their self-esteem, depends upon having [their] values honored in public” and that their political platform “is more likely to be negative: they call on us mainly to prohibit, to prevent, to censor and censure, to discredit, and to punish.” His most insightful and audacious conclusion is that pseudoconservatives tend to come from families with authoritarian parents who demand achievement, conformity and respectability from their children yet who provide little unconditional affection, hence the conflicted feelings toward authority. Failing to develop emotional maturity, pseudoconservatives are more rage-driven, intolerant of ambiguities and moderation, bullying to the weak and submissive to the powerful.

Bottom line is that the political outcome doesn’t matter: the pseudoconservative is always aggrieved, always dissatisfied. In victory, crowing is always shortlived because the next outrage is just around the corner. In defeat, taking their toys and going home is the only option. People having a good time, issues that involve shades of gray (as most things in life do), freedom of the Other, whomever that might be, all end up being Manichean struggles. This is why the Republican party can never stray too far from Teh Crazy. Pseudoconservatives are easy to manipulate because of this emotional immaturity and desire to please and worship a remote daddy figure (i.e. the 1%). That makes them a reliable base wherein former deadly enemies can forge new alliances, hence the Republican belief that they can appeal to minorities without any change of policy. Which could also explain my formerly “go figure” group: Log Cabin Republicans.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Nov. 27th, 2012 06:27 am (UTC)
John Dean's Conservatives Without Conscience is illuminating as well. The authoritarian leader/follower model fits in to the pseudoconservative you describe. Reactionary tribal identity politics rooted in fear.

: frederik :
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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