What Ails the “New Conservative”

What distinguishes this “new conservatism” (a.k.a “neo-conservatism”) from traditional conservatism (a.ka. “paleo-conservatism”)? Some have described it as “right-wing Bolshevism” or “right-wing Jacobinism”, which can’t be interpreted in any other way than saying there’s a pronounced fascistic tendency in the new conservatism. The days when the virtue of “prudence” (or indeed “conserving”) characterised the conservative mood and attitude seem to be long gone.

After watching the emergence of this “new conservatism” over the years, and its present performance, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two features that distinguish the “neo” from the “paleo”, and this is reflected I think in the differences, in the U.S. in any case, between the very different attitudes of The National Review or The American Conservative Magazine, respectively. The two “principles” of the new “principled conservatism” are 1) “noble lie” conservatism (the Straussians) and 2) “creative destruction” (Schumpeter). But there are deeper roots and connections for “noble lie” and “creative destruction” than are usually taken into consideration.

“Noble lie” theory is usually attributed to Plato and his social philosophy in The Republic. In fact, Plato has been charged by some scholars with being the father of totalitarianism more generally. I suspect that this tendency in Plato was owing to the background influence of the historical and social context of the times in which he philosophised and wrote — decline and fall of Greek civilisation. You certainly do see the influence of that socio-historical context in the social philosophy of Aristotle, as previously addressed.

But the modern resurrection of “noble lie” theory is not owing to Leo Strauss, but to a Frenchman and engineer named Georges Sorel and his influential writings on terror and violence, which became known as “Sorelianism“. His book, as the Wikipedia entry notes, extolled the power of the political “myth” and influenced both Marxists and fascists. Contemporary “noble lie” theory is not Platonic so much as Sorelian. That is where the accent lies.

“Creative destruction” as political principle of neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism likewise does not begin with the economic philosophy of Joseph Schumpeter, but with Leon Trotsky’s doctrine of “permanent revolution“. The influence of Trotsky’s “permanent revolution” in the political thinking of neo-conservatives came by way of the influence of former Trotskyites in the neo-conservative movement (including fellow travelers like Christopher Hitchens).

I’ll have more to say about these two streams of influence later. But I think it suffices to say that I consider the “new conservatism” little more than orcery for those reasons, and to call this even “conservatism” or traditional “Toryism” is a grave mistake, because it’s only a mask and a pose. “New Conservatism” is a social disease more than anything.

But, to a certain extent, this thinking is shared by all the “neos” of the “new normal” — neo-liberalism, neo-conservatism, and neo-socialism. There really isn’t much to distinguish them one from the other. There are all symptoms of post-modern decadence and nihilism.



6 responses to “What Ails the “New Conservative””

  1. donsalmon says :

    Hi Scott – good stuff as always – been very busy and haven’t had a chance to write.

    I was wondering if you know anything about the personality and brain studies of liberals and conservatives and if that might relate to what you’re writing.

    One of the studies that impressed me the most was a brain study, showing that self-identified conservatives (of the more extreme type – United States’ conservatives, that is) tend to have significantly less activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, an area that is believed to be closely connected to empathy (that is, less activity correlates with less empathy).

    All of us here could probably cite all kinds of possible concerns with connecting brain activity with consciousness, as its pitfalls are closely relate to the quantitative disease which is such a core symptom of the deficient mental structure.

    However, I believe it’s possible, if sensitive to that concern, to look at brain activity in a more metaphorical/symbolic manner. Of course that’s not what these neuroscientists are doing (the ones doing these kinds of studies) – I just mention that to avoid ruling out their work altogether.

    To get back to the study, it turns out that just by observing ACC activity, and knowing **nothing** about party affiliation, the scientists were able to identify party affiliation with 84% accuracy.

    Think about it – looking at activity in one part of the brain – and note, this is, if I recall correctly, without meeting the person or knowing single fact about them, not gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, etc – simply more or less ACC activity, and they could tell if the person was a Democrat (liberal) or Republican (conservative).

    I think that’s amazing and in fact, easily explains why hatred of Mexican immigrants comes to easily to the 25% of Republicans who are crazy about Donald Trump

    And isn’t it funny that there has never in the history of the United States been one journalist (well, maybe except Steven Colbert) complaining about those damned immigrants from the North!

    • Scott Preston says :

      It would be depressing to conclude that it was congenital. I’m suspecting that, as the brain ages within a certain environment, it becomes “hard-wired” in that way. Other neurological studies suggest the young brain is far more plastic and flexible –ie, mutable — and that it takes quite a bit of energy (a.k.a. “personal power”) to undo that hard-wiring later in life.

      For that reason I tend to think of “apocalypse” as biological truth — “the shock of the real” that is powerful enough to rewire the brain. “Apocalypse” is evolutionary in that sense. Catastrophe or “calamity” is often just that — the shock of the real.

      I have a good deal of interest in correlating “spiritual truths” with the biological facts, ie’ “the truth that sets free” with “the facts of the matter”. That’s in keeping with Blake’s insistence that the body is an image of the soul, and that both are from ‘energy’ and that ‘energy is the only life’. The physical body in that sense is an image of how the soul conceives of itself within space-time conditions — physical reality — and in accordance with its predilections towards thinking, feeling, willing, or sensing.

      In other words, I’m saying that the physical and biological aspects of the human (particularly in terms of the senses) are secondary evolutionary accretions, and that the “inner senses” are primary — the “mind’s eye”, the “gut feeling”, and that “intentionality” precedes “willing”.

      • donsalmon says :

        Actually, findings in neuroplasticity suggest our brain can change at later ages far more than scientists used to think.

        Interesting about correlation vs causation in these “political brain” studies. The scientists I mentioned never meant to imply the correlation between ACC activity and political views was a causative one going from the brain to “the mind.”

        in fact, some mainstream scientists suggest the opposite. Someone may move to a particular region where cultural views are quite different from what they’re used to. If this individual’s views change, it may be reflected in changes in the ACC.

        It’s quite in line with contemporary understandings of neuroplasticity to suggest that training in empathy could not only increase ACC activity but shift political views.

        There is actually a study (sorry, don’t have the link) showing that the practice of meditation may make people less conservative! Seriously. If you meditate (properly), it will make you more empathic, and the more empathic you are, the less likely you are going to be a neo or paleo conservative.

        So, if everyone goes to our store when it goes online, and buys our audios and videos and sends them to all their conservative friends, it could be the start of a political revolution! (I’m only 99% kidding)

        For more on neuroplasticity: http://www.remember-to-breathe.org/Neuroplasticity.html

        • Scott Preston says :

          You can interpret this neuroplasticity as “will to power”, assuming that this “will to power” is the will to maximise well-being or “peak performance” and not necessarily powerlust (which would be, I think, the deficient aspect of will to power). I’ve always taken Nietzsche’s “will to power” as meaning “health”, ergo vigor, vitality, energy.

          The role of shock or trauma in suddenly rewiring the brain was highlighted in J. Bolte-Taylor’s My Stroke of Insight, but breathing exercises (circulation of Qi) or meditation and yoga (right concentration) are still bioenergetic practices. And, of course, the proper (ie, “impeccable”) storing and using of “personal power” to bring about the unfolding of “the wings of perception” was a central theme in Castaneda’s works — the “magical passes” (tensegrity), proper breathing techniques in order to “still the mind” (Not-Doing or No Mind) required energy in the form of cultivating and storing ‘personal power’ — “right concentration” as the Buddhists put it.

          Even in Freud or Jung, resolving the “complexes” was a matter of freeing the libido (biopsychic or biophysical energy) that was complexed or coagulated in the complex, and the complex also had physiological markers and symptoms. Some therapeutic techniques even work directly on the somatic symptoms of the complex (like Rolfing, I guess. Reiki too?) The spice must flow. Kundalini by another name, I suppose.

          It all comes down to energy and the disciplined storage and distribution of energy that don Juan called “impeccability” — bioenergetics. Even death is the “great release” that has even been compared to orgasm. And speaking of which, don Juan once remarked to Castaneda that people who were low in energy or “personal power” were often the result of a “bored fuck” by their parents — sex without passion. That’s kind of interesting, because the Athenian legal reformer (I think it was Solon?) introduced laws against loveless or passionless marriages seemingly for similar reasons.

          • donsalmon says :

            interesting comments about energy. Cognitive behavioral therapy has also been shown to bring about rather radical physiological changes in the brain and the whole body in general. In this case disciplined thinking (which of course works on the body mediated by subtle energy/prana) is the means of modifying the brain. And there are other forms of more intuitive meditation that are closer to Gebser’s integral consciousness that can more radically change the brain and work even a the cellular level in different parts of the body. I suppose the ultimate brain changer would be the gnostic/supramental consciousness which is said to change the body to such an extent that death becomes entirely voluntary.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Also should mention that with this post I’m wanting to set up a discussion of politics as it appears in Gebser, Rosenstock, and William Blake by way of comparing them and contrasting them with the present political situation. Elections are always a good time to discuss politics — or metapolitics, as I prefer to think of it. Metapolitics is a good word to describe Gebser, Rosenstock, and Blake, too.

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