15 February 2005


On a quest for a definition of 'conservativism' John Holbo says a couple of clever things. The first is how the function of the culture war in contemporary conservatism explains a little something about conservatives' relationship with lefty academics.
I tend to the view that poor Republicans aren't dumb; they're masochists. That is, they are hedonists. There is a whole palette of pleasures associated with being on the losing side of a culture war. In fact, it's pretty much the only sort of war it can be much more fun to lose because of all the ressentimental goodness. Despise the winners secretly! Be part of a scrappy rear-guard action! The recruitment posters write themselves. Very English in its way, really, what with the English tradition of getting sentimental and poetic about losing battles. But the romanticism of unbowed but eternally defeated cultural opposition and refusal fits here, too. Holding to the high ground in grimly joyful defeat is nothing that distinguishes the right. Lefty academics (the boring ones, anyway) eat their own brand of this filboid studge, reheat it and eat it again. I think this is part of the reason righty's like to pick on them. Like likes like. David Horowitz is not like Ward Churchill in a lot of ways, but part of him likes battles that have the same contours as the battles that Churchill likes.
("Who's Ward Churchill?" I hear you ask. I wondered myself. Kevin Drum and Digby have the goods.)

This sounds right to me. The example of David Horowitz rings true. The core of his story is "I was a rationalizing lefty zealot, realized that lefty zealots had some of their priorities screwed up, and therefore realized the answer was to become a zealot on the right." He's one of the few commentators on the right with a subtle understanding of the stupid stuff we sometimes say and do on the left, though his sense of proportion about this things is completely bonkers. You can see it in his comments on Churchill.

Holbo goes on to sum up the tenor of a lot of rhetoric on the right, and why it's effective.

Two words: sore winner. That's the soul of a successful conservative. At least these days. ... being sore makes you mean and hungry. Being a winner makes you fat and strong. Being a sore winner makes you fat and mean and hungry and strong: a powerful combination. (Also, if you are happy with just being sore or just being a winner, you can also tag along into the big tent of conservatism. The free market-types are just winners. The pure cultural conservatives are just losers. You won't be refused at the door.)
The expression "sore winner" is sure to turn up in my speech from now on.

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