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What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Piling On

Clark Stooksbury went on a political dumpster-diving expedition, and returned with a fulsome Limbaugh rant, in which the world-historical shill truth-detector comedian delivered himself of the opinion that economic growth being of such paramount importance, and growth depending upon the use of energy, the government should undertake everything in its power to reduce the costs of using more and more of it, perhaps even to the point of subsidizing gasoline:


Folks, I don't know what the price of gasoline is in China and I don't know to what extent, if any, it is subsidized -- okay, it is subsidized. See, the ChiComs need their economy growing. They need people driving around, moving around. They need people to be able to afford fuel, so they're subsidizing fuel. They're not bailing people out of stupid home mortgage messes. They're buying their gasoline for them, because they need an economy. Know what energy means to this, the whole subject of economic growth. So meanwhile, the ChiComs, a country certainly growing, certainly on the rise, but it ain't the United States of America. How does it make you feel that Zhang Linsen has a big Hummer with nine speakers blaring as he pulls out into a four-lane road with so much smog he basically can't see the car in front of him, and you are trading in all of your cars and trying to go out and find basically a lawn mower.

Daniel Larison and Rod Dreher have contributed to the most condign rhetorical flagellation of Limbaugh. Conservatism, on such an implicit conception, no longer - if ever it did, which increasingly seems arguable - entails, well, the relationship between the right ordering of the soul and the right ordering of the polity, but entails the liberation of appetites from the bridles that a just man will place upon them, and the reconstitution of the polity as the mirror of limitless desire. In fact, reality itself is to be reduced under servitude to this fathomless abyss of passions, as government has an apparently solemn obligation to facilitate such consumption - and consumption is the appropriate metaphor for the sociology of the passions, which, being intrinsically ephemeral, disappear - are consumed - as they attain their transitory objects. This, Limbaugh considers the most desirable societal state, because it facilitates growth, which, in turn, facilitates more crapulence, ad nauseum: a closed circle of negational nothingness, a social imaging of hell, everyone turned in upon his own inner void.

Am I piling on? Possibly. But there is a lesson here, beyond the precis of the liberal ontology of the passions, and that is that, well, contemporary pop-conservatism is manifestly nothing more than a modulation of liberalism itself. Classical liberalism valorized a certain set of freedoms because they enabled men to fulfill a certain set of desires. As the democratic revolution proceeded apace, and the franchise was expanded, political economy was modified to enable a greater percentage of the population to fulfill these same desires - desires for material abundance. This is the transition from classical to modern liberalism, and Limbaugh is fully within this tradition; the only distinction to be drawn is between the sets of desires Limbaugh wishes to liberate, and the sets his ostensible adversaries wish to liberate. But if one accepts the ontology, the debate is utterly pointless: desire is, and is protean.

Popular conservatism just announced its bankruptcy.

Comments (18)

"Popular conservatism just announced its bankruptcy."

A consumerist society runs on the "organized creation of dissatisfaction" and pop-cons like Rush view the stoking of insatiable desires and juvenile resentments as their patriotic chore. This form of "conservatism" traded permanance and life in the Spirit, for mobility and Mammon a long time ago. It is now merely a political vehicle for restless, disenchanted consumers seeking to protect and expand their place at the table of every day low prices.

A consumerist society runs on the "organized creation of dissatisfaction"

We have here it seems a laisser-faire economy of the soul as well.

I agree with you guys; our society is consumerist and morally bankrupt. Conservatism has become just another brand of liberalism. There's only one thing left for a true conservative to do: join the Socialist Party.

Maximos, send me an application.

Honestly, that quote from Limbaugh makes me long to deal with a true, old-fashioned, von Mises-style, libertarian. I mean, seriously: Where are the people who are not going to go on and on about the evils of the market, on the one hand, but who would never be caught dead arguing that the government should subsidize gasoline, on the other hand? In fact, to them, it isn't even "one hand" and "the other hand." Both aspects of that are part of one consistent approach to economics. Something to be said for it.

The Conservative Mind from Eliot to Limbaugh is a study in intellectual and moral decline.

Exhibit A
"There's only one thing left for a true conservative to do: join the Socialist Party."

I'm with Lydia on this one, for the most part. I'm scarcely a fan of von Mises, except in the apophatic sense - socialism will not work - but this pop-conservative incoherence, which combines encomiums to The Market when things are going well, and appeals to government to prop up some contingent lifestyle choice, wrongly conflated with the American Way, when things are going poorly, has got to go.

In fact, the problem with the entire pop-conservative discourse on energy policy is as follows: when oil prices were low, and sensible persons cautioned that the resource was finite, and that long-range investments in alternatives would have to be undertaken, we were dismissed with the admonition that The Market would signal the time for such investment - with price increases. And then, when The Market signaled precisely that necessity, those same pop-conservatives bleated and moaned about the necessity of... lowering the price so that no one need ever alter his lifestyle, which was apparently a right bestowed upon us by the Creator. Please. It's not even an unprincipled exception. It's just plain unprincipled. Take these pseuds, please.

There's only one thing left for a true conservative to do: join the Socialist Party.

That's just weak

. Unless one embraces the lifestyles of conspicuous consumerism, one must be a socialist? Where has that excluded middle gotten off to...

What is most repugnant about the Limbaugh screed is it's swinish vision of the good life; "...a big Hummer with nine speakers blaring as he pulls out into a four-lane road..." Yahoo, does it can it get any better? You bet it can. Your favorite shirt manufacturer just moved his plant from El Salvador where his "labor costs" were 67cents an hour to China where it's only 33 cents an hour! Party-on.

A major flaw in conservative thought is it's faulty definition of freedom as simply being free of external interference or control. That and it's believe that it is impossible to judge desires as rightly or wrongly ordered in the realm of economics, and you have the reason why many on the Right are blinkered defenders of the wasteland.

All Rush was saying is that if the government is going to subsidize something, which he is opposed to because it involves taking money from one person and giving it to another, it might as well subsidize something that will help the economy, not hurt it.

The socialist, on the other hand, is not only in favor of taking money from one person and giving it to another, but of doing it in such a way that will result in widespread misery, resentment, and demoralization.

"Unless one embraces the lifestyles of conspicuous consumerism, one must be a socialist?

Yes, at least according to the Fox/Limbaugh/Hannity version of conservatism. As someone said on Rod Dreher's site the other day, "Kirk? You mean the captain of the Enterprise?"

The ascetic aspect of traditional conservatism has been expunged by the neo-cons, who, in the words of one of my friends, are simply liberals who want to keep their money.

All Rush was saying is that if the government is going to subsidize something, which he is opposed to because it involves taking money from one person and giving it to another, it might as well subsidize something that will help the economy, not hurt it.

Yes, if the government is going to subsidize something or other, it should subsidize "the economy" at the expense of everything: from the natural environment to the built environment of our cities to the veritable texture of or moral and spiritual lives. Onward and upward! Greed, er, Growth is Good!

The ascetic aspect of traditional conservatism has been expunged by the neo-cons...

Yes, discussion of asceticism is verboten, save as an eccentric personal preference or affectation; never should it be conceived as integral with the moral life itself, and discussion of the virtues probably approaches transgression of the taboo. But don't you dare suggest that mainstream conservatism has become the political expression of a vulgar consumerism - that would be a scurrilous misrepresentation.

I didn't hear the show. Don't listen to Rush anymore. _Is_ that all he was saying? I took him seriously to be advocating subsidizing gasoline.

Lydia,

I would expect the jokes to get past these other guys; they're gripping the wheel way too tight. But not you.

Yes, George R., I am ever so amused by your constant display of sarcasm on these threads.

Why, I can hardly contain my excitement of hearing yet another installment of "Sarcastic Dismissals with George R."?!

Perhaps you can send a "Best of..." album to the ever eloquent Maximos for his pleasure.

I'm sure he'd enjoy it.

"The socialist, on the other hand, is not only in favor of taking money from one person and giving it to another, but of doing it in such a way that will result in widespread misery, resentment, and demoralization."

I laughed. I knew you didn't think outsourcing, the real estate bubble, or the "comparative advantage" offered by slave labor in China, were socialist practices. I get the joke.

I was talking about Limbaugh's joking.

George, I'll grant you a certain amount here in the name of joking: The business about the hummer, the nine speakers, and the smog is clearly Limbaugh humor. It's that deliberate over-the-top self-parody that can really be funny. In the years when I listened to him, I enjoyed (I hope no one will be too offended) the times when he made aerosol-spray noises into the microphone to twit the environmentalists, and I thought it was very funny when Dixie Lee Ray went to Rio and sent reports back from (she said) the limo she was driving around with the air conditioning blasting and all the windows down. So, yes, I get that there is humor in this monologue, and so I don't seriously believe that this is Rush's whole "vision of the good life." (Who likes smog, anyway?)

And I certainly agree with him that the mortgage bailout is a disgrace.

But you can grant all of that and still not get past the fact that he sounds like he's confused about economics. I mean, he really seems to believe that the Chinese government can make its economy go by pumping money into it in the form of direct gasoline subsidies from the government, and he does seem to be implying that our government could do likewise. However you slice it, this is far more Keynesian than good supply-side Austrian.

"I don't seriously believe that this is Rush's whole "vision of the good life." (Who likes smog, anyway?)"

Honestly, does Limbaugh strike you as someone imbued with a healthy reverence for creation? He might not like smog anymore than he now likes unchecked prosecutors, but what legislation has he ever supported towards achieving cleaner air? According to his shtick, curtailing the use of our oceans as cost-efficient corporate sink-holes is proof of environmental extremism, not an obligation of Christian stewardship. Having abandoned their natural role as conservators of God's bounty, these new kind of rightists raised up by Limbaugh, find the vacuum filled by secular leftists with an odd anthropology of their own. Cue up the gag-reel and laugh tracks; we're gonna goof on those enemies of developmemt.

And on an on it goes, until conservatism is but a shallow doctrinal justification for avarice and appetite raised against those who impinge upon their pursuit of pleasure. Lacking any solid religious or philosophical foundation, new age conservatives find their mocking of liberalism turns back on them. After all, superficial appearances aside, the "ditto heads" share the same gullible faith in Progress and strive mightily in the same endless quest for Self-fulfillment that is the natural end of Liberalism.

It should not come as a surprise then, that the avatar for popular conservativism is a clown whose stock in trade is "over-the-top self-parody". How could it be otherwise?

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