Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The New Elitism: Yes, right-wingers think they are better than you.

In a couple of my recent offerings (On Truth and 'Is Conservatism Brain Dead?') I've made mention of 'populism' and 'elitism' in the same phrase. I know that 'populist elitism' sounds like an oxymoron. It is, however, the defining cornerstone of Republican political strategy. It is also the defining cornerstone, specifically, of the motivations of the religious right.

The right has accused the left of 'elitism' for years, generations even. Thomas Jefferson, in many ways the founder of 'neoconservatism', was accusing Alexander Hamilton of seeking to foster an aristocracy before the ink on the constitution was dry. I've drawn attention to the irony of Jefferson's claims on behalf of 'the common man' and his attacks on Hamilton as an 'aristocrat' before and I probably won't ever get tired of it. Jefferson's own deeply ingrained elitism was plain to see in the fact that the straight-forward effect of Jeffersonianism is to protect the entrenched wealth, power, and privelege of the upper classes. The fact that Jefferson himself may have been ignorant of this and genuinely believed himself to be a 'yeoman' is open to debate, much of his writing and policy suggest a naive utopianism that makes this very possible. It does not change the effect of Jeffersonianism on society.

So, as we can see, even the tactic of steeping elitism in populist rhetoric is not new. What is new and interesting is the growing practice, on the religious right, of cultural elitism coloring every aspect of a populist movement. The core facet of this is, of course, an absolute faith in their own moral superiority.

There are those on the right who deny this aspect of the modern conservative movement and who occasionally seek to distance themselves from it. Yet they consistently buy into its key tropes; from the victimization of Sarah Palin to the idea that the words 'Democrat' and 'liberal' are somehow interchangeable because nearly everyone who doesn't accept core conservative dogmas has already been run out of the GOP. There are quite a few Americans who are far from 'liberal' who have gravitated to the Democrats not because of their 'liberalism' but because they don't believe that the ideas espoused by the 'conservative' and 'libertarian' blocs of the GOP are either conservative or libertarian. As a pragmatic democratic socialist and a philosophical anarcho-socialist, I can assure you that the Democratic Party is a very long way from being a 'liberal' party... let alone 'communist.'

The issue is not about 'communism' or even 'liberalism' as much as some right wing crackpots would like you to believe that it is. It is not even about 'secularism', though secularists are naturally going to drift away from religious extremism of any kind. It's about the belief that one American subculture has the right to force its interpretation of religion and morality onto the rest of American society.

With a tiny number of possible exceptions, the majority of the leaders of today's conservative movement (and the Republican Party, either actively or by their association with and defense of the movement) are concerned with one of two objects:

The first is the furthering of this brand of populist elitism and establishing the 'proper' stamp on American moral values. They would establish this by law and thus deprive all those who do not believe as they do of key constitutional rights. One doesn't just have to look at Proposition 8 in California for proof of this. One can look at the activities in school boards and educational associations all over the nation as they seek to 'democratize' the classroom to conform to their moral totalitarianism. As a Christian, I believe their view of religion is incorrect and dangerous. As a believer in American values, I believe their agenda is totally at odds with constitutional government and natural human rights.

The second is the exploitation of the former brand of 'populist' elitism to further genuinely elitist aims. As I mentioned above, aristocrats have been exploiting populism since Jefferson. It is only natural that today's elitists (who are 'managers' rather than 'aristocrats') seek to do the same thing. Many forms of 'individualism' and 'libertarianism', by placing too much faith in the free market and ignoring coercive power other than that of government, naturally further this kind of oligarchy. Indeed, supporting an oligarchic 'managerial' system of government and society through populist rhetoric is an even older tradition than Jefferson. It goes back to the Roman Senate of the Roman Republic. The modern neoconservative movement is more brazen, as they embrace the managerial culture and its bureaucratic elitism in naked and dirty hands.

One of the best examples of this embrace of the cultural, moral, and religious elitism embraced by this populist conservative movement is this: so far, of the various potential, declared, or projected candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 only one has not either expressly committed to a personal belief in literal Biblical creationism or advocated its teaching in schools. The lone holdout, Mitt Romney, has presumably not done so because the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (along with the Roman Catholic Church and those other Catholic churches in communion with it and Orthodox Judaism) acknowledges scientific evolution as one of its doctrinal tenets.

The 'elitism' feared by the religious right and many conservatives who have whole-heartedly embraced their tropes is best summed up by someone whose views on religion were at least as wrong as theirs:

“From the naturalistic point of view, all men are equal. There are only two exceptions to this rule of naturalistic equality: geniuses and idiots.” -- Mikhail Bakunin

After all, let's face it. Those on the right who are terrified by science, education, individual freedom of conscience and believe their moral standard should be applied to all Americans of all faiths regardless of their beliefs?

They aren't geniuses.


Unadultered Truth said...

This is true to a sense... Alot of right wing Christian nut-jobs believe that they can do no wrong simply for one fact; they have mucho dollars. Unfortunately the world including politics equate money with power and the sad fact is that nine tImes out of ten that is correct. Is this right? Not neccessairly but morally most rich don't care because they believe that daddys money or mommys trust fund willake them invincible.
There is supposed to be no political influence in the classrooms nor any thing in relation to religion (except specific private schools) yet every year it seems like each steps it's feet one inch closer in getting their idealisms attached to some type of educational plan or method of teaching.
Now... Obama has shot an idea into the atmosphere regarding all public schools to make basic education (K-12) last until the night and end at 5 pm instead of the widely used 3 o'clock approach stating that he believes that the nations youth are missing out on education due to budget cuts and the tank that each states budget is being flushed down. This leaves the children (the supposed future of tomorrow) and taking what time the do have and reducing family time and after school programs to an almost nil effect.
Is this fair to the children? Does it make it easier to allow adults and parents keep better track of where their children may be during the daytime when the stereotypical 9-5job ends?
Once again this all relates back to money and power if you have the money to change school times wouldn't it make more sence to just place that money into the federal education spending budget and pay for more teachers or to keep open some of the schools that seem to close on a daily basis?
No because the right wing agenda believes that if you are rich enough your child deserves the education and social life that your respective bank accounts dictate. If you happen to make less your children spend more time now getting less. Of you got the money to spend then you donate it to the private school of your choice and your child learns what you want them to... Or you fund your own school to stay alive.
The imperialim (eliti$m) of the republican party thinks that their constituants don't know what's best for them and that they were hired to play GOD, as it was. It is believed that if an elected official says it is right then by gee golly whiz it has to be right. Baulderdash I say.
Do your job and represent the people and quit trying to get personal agendas passed and go represent.
Sorry that I went off topic but that was on my mind once I read your blog.
No one has the right to play god with my life... That's not something I signed up for when the stork picked my ass up. if a god exists wouldn't a multiple smiting of the next RNC to be held in the 2012 general election?
Would be nice bit since when has a demo gotten what he wanted w/out some type of consequence?
FYI I've always associated republicanism with the same two words; ignorance and hypocracy.


Chris Richards said...

I love long comments like this, thank you. :)

I'm going to start at the bottom and work up in a long response, because I feel I have to say something about 'republicanism' versus 'Republicanism.'

Among my many political 'isms' I am a republican, but I'm certainly not a Republican. I am skeptical of too much direct democracy because of things like Prop 8 in California. I have more faith in qualified judges and elected officials who can be called on the carpet more easily than nameless PACs and the great mass of the public. I think we're too easy on the voting public as it is. I've been pretty critical of the public as a whole on occasion, and especially of Democratic primary voters who consistently back conservative candidates over liberals and then claim outrage over conservative officials whose nominations they endorsed.

The Republican Party, in their elitism, does not see either US or their grass roots base in MOST cases. Unless they are simply out-and-out Dominionists serving a direct religious agenda they are usually neoconservatives whose constituents (in their mind) are the major corporations and their managing class. Just as Jeffersonians believed that what was good for landed gentry was good for everyone, so neoconservatives belief that what is good for corporations is good for everyone. It is a utopian vision of society divorced greatly from reality.

I've posted on education in several places and I agree with you on President Obama's educational proposals. /If/ we had a system that was properly serving our children, /then/ extending the school day or the school year /might/ be of value. That's a big if.

Frankly, our school system is run on much the same principles as our prison system. It is about warehousing kids until they grow up and bullying them into acceptable submission to authority. Until that changes and actual education becomes the priority it is useless to discuss prolonging the school day or the school year and I am disappointed the president for not understanding that.