I was talking with a friend the other day who is a self-described neocon and member of the Religious Right. He and I get along fine on a personal, “discuss his kids and swap jokes” level, but we share very few political, economic, social, or philosophical views. So, when we got to talking issues the other day, I was struck by some of the differences between him and me.
If I had to characterize my opinions, I would guess my views range from liberal to traditional conservative on most voting issues. I hold some radical views too, but they are mostly on things we folks don’t vote on — such as epistemology. Yet, I very seldom sit down to characterize my beliefs, and I’ve not tested how accurate that description of them is.
In contrast to me, my friend seems to know exactly how to characterize his beliefs. He knows his views are almost all neoconservative or Christian fundamentalist. (And that’s one of the ways we differ. He concerns himself with where his views fit on the ideological spectrum, while I largely do not.) I think it is important to him his views are endorsed by the “right people”, or the “right authorities”, and consequently he is sensitive to their provenance. At least, that’s the sense I make of why he — or anyone — would be very concerned with how ideologically pure his views are.
Another thing that struck me while the two of us were discussing issues the other day — he does a lot of quasi-parroting. That is, he doesn’t exactly parrot the talking points of, say, the Republican Party, but he does pretty much stick to what the “right people” or the “right authorities” are saying. He just puts what they’re saying into his own words. I suspect that’s about as far as he can depart from what his “authorities” are saying without risking his views might no longer be endorsed by them.
Yet, the most fundamental difference between us seemed to be over the meaning of life. To be sure, we didn’t indulge ourselves in directly discussing that subject. But it came up in a rough, oblique way when we were talking about young people. We agreed young people needed to turn their talents into skills, but we disagreed about why they needed to turn their talents into skills. I saw it as a matter of their realizing their full human potential in a socially responsible manner consistent with their being true to themselves. He saw it as a matter of their getting a job, supporting themselves and their family, and being a productive and respected member of society. To give him credit: His view is a lot easier to understand than mine.
So far as I can see, my friend is not in most ways a traditional conservative. I suspect he would pay lip service to the notion humans ought to be free to do whatever they want so long as it doesn’t unduly or unjustly abridge the rights of others. Yet, he’s not at all deeply committed to that notion. Instead, the closest he comes to valuing human freedoms seems to be his sense humans ought to be free to get a job, support themselves and their family, and become productive and respected members of society. Or something like that.
I’ve come to consider my friend an authoritarian conservative, rather than a traditional conservative. I think he values security — especially economic security — above freedom and liberty. I think he values the endorsement of authorities much more than he values reason and evidence. The traditional conservatives I’ve known would find themselves in opposition to him on both those points, and would reject his views for not being “truly” conservative views.
He and I had a nice chat on the issues, which never really got heated, but I wondered while we were chatting if he ever realizes how unlike traditional conservatives he is. In America today, his brand of conservatism has all but driven traditional conservatives out of leadership positions in the Republican Party. It has been responsible for the disastrous Bush presidency. And it has proved itself on nearly all levels to be a false and dangerous guide to action. Yet, about all that he seems to have put on blinders. To him, authoritarian conservatism is neither discredited, nor failed, nor misguided, nor dangerous. And I suspect he will always continue to believe in authoritarian conservatism unless or until his “authorities” tell him to stop believing in it.