The idea that we live in a world where the information we receive is both real and accurate has become the joke of the year. The fake news and fake information we read every day are as fake as the female figures of Hollywood.
Fake news is often portrayed as sensationalist material that, given a little consideration by the reader, would be rejected out of hand. Fake news is itself a caricature and is categorized as those things apocalyptic, that unobjectively presents one’s opponent in the worst possible light, or that present one’s favored person or position either flawless or more important than his or her flaws. Persons and positions become either demigods or demons and are never reduced to being fully human.
But is everything in between the extremes actually accurate, real, and trustworthy? It’s not likely. What accounts for fake information can also include the intentional tainting of history and current events with one’s worldview. One might, for instance, treat either Thomas Edison or Thomas Jefferson as men of the Christian faith. Some conservative voices have made that error. Likewise one might treat the whole of America’s founders as Rationalist skeptics and confessed deists. Again the truth that many liberals proclaim is far from precise.
One liberal think-tank voice, Chip Berlet, poetically presents his views on history of liberalism versus conservatism this way:
Emancipation, Reconstruction, Redemption, the Ku Klux Klan,
The struggles of the Civil Rights Movement took us two steps forward
Now the “Second Redemption” yanks us back
Racism, White nationalism, misogyny, heteropatriarchy, xenophobia, militarism, authoritarianism, neofascism, Alt-Right
Right-wing populism masks the neoliberal “Free Market” villains that wrecked the economy for so many
“Mobilizing Resentment” wrote Jean Hardisty
Mass media smoke and mirrors hide the invisible hands of the 1%
Race, Gender, Class have overlapping intersections
Blaming one or another is a fool’s game
Unity across diversity
Multiple strategies and tactics
Principles of unity developed locally and collectively
Build our base from the bottom up
Joe Hill: “Don’t mourn, organize”
Mother Jones: “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living!”
Vincent Harding: “Do not grow weary or lose heart”
Our revolution will be televised, online, and shared
The caricature is clear: Oppression, racism, and condescension between classes are the property of the conservative and free-market capitalist while the socialist is the one fight for individual rights, honesty and truth, economic stability, all of which result in peaceful society.
The liberal mind will accept his expression as gospel truth. He’s right, of course, to fight for the little guy, the oppressed ones, the ones who have been disenfranchised by an evil system. That’s what is taught and it appears to be working.
Bruce Frohnen pursued this issue in his piece, “The Left’s Caricature of Conservatism,” published in “The Imaginative Conservative.” In it he examined some of the errors of Corey Robin’s book “The Reactionary Mind, Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin.” He notes that Robin’s purpose is clearly stated:
The very starting point of Mr. Robin’s book on conservatism, in his own mind, was “how elite power rules and defends itself in an age of popular democracy.” That is, the topic is so carefully defined that the practical answer always is the same—privileged “conservatives” are keeping down the lower orders by hook and by crook.
Mr. Robin’s course rests parallel to the path of Mr. Berlet. Both employ history to their own ends rather than for what it is. (It has become a novel if not fanciful notion that history should be treated as precisely as possible even when one’s worldview is challenged.) For instance the so-called “alt-right” rejects conservative principles, proposes blatantly leftist principles, yet is called “all right” by some . Perhaps the so-called “alt-left” partners in this movement will get the attention it deserves.
This is the echo chamber we must resist, but of which we must first become aware. We can paint with high praise the motivations of the founders and forget that many of them owned slaves. We can praise Edmund Burke’s opposition to slavery (yes, he was against it) but must note that his opposition took less of the form of the abolitionist and more the form of containment as was practiced in the U.S. (until it was ended by war).
Yet there are things that conservatism owns and liberals do not own, yet attempt to hijack. It was the historic anti-slavery conservative that shut down the KKK. Conservatives of the 1990s fought, though it was unsuccessful, to stop the financial policies that led to the housing crisis of 2008 and which contributed greatly to the “great recession.” Conservatives don’t want people to have their houses repossessed because some governing body told them that they could and should buy a house that they couldn’t afford.
Conservatives, generally speaking, want to limit the intrusiveness of government. That means shrinking its size so that it does not have the resources to intrude. Liberals have not, at least not generally, sought to change intrusive policies. Common Core and NSA spying come from the same parent. (Yet we do fault those inconsistent conservatives who do not oppose these matters and likewise recognize that many of a liberal mindset see the problems. We also challenge those like-minded liberals to help get the job done.)
We want to state out of the church. We do not, generally, want a theocracy. Even so, a rationalist system cannot maintain anything but its own power, so we charge government with the need to listen to the moral voice, the social prophet. Evangelicals, Roman Catholics, and conservatives in general have the foundation for the ethic that liberalism proposes. Power must be restrained. See 1776 and 1788.
There are many more, of course.
The radical conservative of the old north wanted to punish the old south. That principle was rejected in favor of reconciliation. Clearly that world well. But it left the old southern Democrats with the capacity to build the KKK. President Grant would later dismantle that problem. Jim Crow laws would take effect as well, a problem which would have been either eliminated or reduced by the radical Republican proposal for full rights and liberties immediately. That’s historic conservatism and it has not changed.
There are things which belong to the individual and are not granted by government but are rather recognized by government. Whether one holds to a Thomistic natural law, some form of natural right, or a more Calvinistic understanding of free moral agency, in any case the source for rights and liberties is not government. For what government may grant government may take away.