The Violence of Conservatism

Ads like this one make me shudder, mainly because I once thought of myself as a conservative (for both good and bad reasons). The ad runs: “3 Conservative Books for $1 each” and examples of such conservative books flash by, all of them screaming for blood, exalting the imperial state, decrying the very basis of civilization (peace), and demanding the jailing of dissidents, and one more: something denouncing Democrats.

Sean Hannity’s Deliver Us From Evil combines chauvinism and sacrilege, PJ O’Rourke’s Peace Kills finds humor in slaughter, Ann Coulter’s Treason imagines internment as a permanent solution to the problem of political dissent, and there are a hundred other books striking similar things available from the same service.

All of this can be yours for next-to-nothing down, and only a promise to buy more later should your will to kill fail you as the months pass by.

So there we have it. The magic of the marketplace, delivering via your computer screen straight to your doorstep, for only a buck, hundreds of pages of the most violent rhetoric put between covers since Progress Publishers collected Stalin’s speeches.

This is conservatism. There’s no use in denying it. The war party and American conservatism are interchangeable and inseparable. They are synonyms. The same thing. They co-exist. How many ways can we put it? Militarism and violence is at the core of conservatism.

Some protest that conservatism once meant resistance to the welfare-warfare state. That is a fascinating piece of historiography, as interesting as the fact that liberalism once meant freedom from the state. Glasses were once called spectacles too, but in our times, language has it own meaning.

In our times, the meaning of conservatism is violence. It means violence against foreigners and violence against political dissidents. It means celebrating violence as the right and proper method of government policy. It means soundly rejecting the views of those who doubt the merit of violence as the omnipotent tool of domestic and international order.

Just look at the books, if you can stand it. They are everywhere at the bookstores. Read them and get on the side of the state and its killing machine before the state sides against you. In these tracts we discover that to be conservative is to sit up and face the bloodshed with the courage to celebrate it.

Indeed, the very meaning of conservatism is to reject all that smarmy liberal stuff about human rights and peace and face the productive power of war and conflict. True morality is embedded in the cold hard steel of tanks, bombers, and prison bars. Government by Democrats should be limited but government by Republicans should be expensive, global, militarized, unchallenged, omnipresent, and if you don’t like it, what have you got to hide?

Organized conservatism dishes out this message to you in a package you prefer. For the illiterate there is talk radio. For geeks, there are innumerable e-zines. For the religiously minded, there is the version with scriptural proof texting and its associated rhetorical apparatus. For those with intellectual pretensions, there are professors of ancient history to tell us that Sparta had the right way about it, and that the Roman Empire at its height might have lasted forever had it not been for weak-kneed Christians that hindered the triumph of the will.

Oh, and for those who don’t go for the rah-rah stuff, and find base nationalism a tad unseemly, there is the contemplative brand of conservatism that requires quiet reflection on higher things, with noses in the air even as the blood rises to the ankles, knees, and hips.

Or maybe policy wonkery is just not your bag. You care about the “moral issues.” In that case, the GOP has a package for you that will whip you into a frenzy about abortion, gay marriage, and stem cells — it really doesn’t matter so long as you continue to cheer the commander in chief and do your part to keep the dangerous Democrats out of power.

Yes, I’ve heard all the arguments that this is “phony conservatism,” or “neoconservatism,” or “conservatism that has sold out to the Republican Party,” but all of these qualifications and apologies are increasingly strained.

What we find in these disgraceful tracts is plain and simple orthodox conservatism: violent, blood-thirsty, and anti-intellectual. All the years that the party of freedom warned about the dangers of the left and what do we find? We find that the real hammer blows to American liberty are being delivered by an unexpected source: the right you might once have thought represented a freedom-minded alternative to Clinton and Carter.

You were lied to.

Examples to demonstrate the point appear every day but I’ll just take the most recent news. Ted Kennedy tried to get a plane ticket but the airline agent refused to sell it because he was on a government list that prevented him from flying. He tried but couldn’t get the confusion straightened out. He was grounded by the government. He finally had to call Tom Ridge personally to make an appeal but even then, it took a very long time to straighten out the mess.

It sounds like a scene from a dystopian film like Brazil.

Now, how might you expect the conservative movement to respond to this news? Well, if it had any decency, writers might point out that “no fly” lists have no place at all in a free society. It is up to the plane companies themselves to police their passengers. Government lists violate the rights of privacy of all, and are bound to generate dangerous bureaucratic foul-ups. They are also liable to terrible abuse, as political enemies such as Ted Kennedy are put on the list in an attempt by the reigning regime to consolidate power and harass its opponents.

In any case, this is how a friend of liberty would respond. A moment’s reflection on what we know about American conservatism shows what the real response would be from the right. In fact, it is so obvious that when National Review blogged the item, the blogger didn’t even bother to spell it all out. He only said: “Supply your own punchline.”

Ha ha, but you could be next. This is the latest in a long pattern of harassment that is clearly political, and how intriguing that it has been the left (more examples 1 2 3 ) that has protested the most. It is the ACLU that is working to get rid of no-fly lists. In fact, thanks to FOIA, we have a huge amount of documentation about the outrages that have gone on. Take time to read some of these pathetic letters from members of the public who are deluded enough to still believe their government might hear their voices and respond.

Don’t these fools know there is a war on? The main job of conservatives today is to point this out again and again, not only to ignore the rise of the total state but to cheer it on as the fulfillment of everything that embodies the vision of conservatism from World War II to the present. Yes, there were conservatives who would have opposed this. There was Richard Weaver of happy memory. There was Robert Nisbet. There were others.

But today? If you favor liberty, if you oppose the rise of the total state in our times, call yourself something else. If you understand the central point about social organization and civilization — namely that society can organize itself on its own in the absence of a central state — there is a tradition of thought for you, and it doesn’t call itself conservatism.

Jeffrey Tucker [send him mail] is editorial vice president of

Jeffrey Tucker Archives