*Last week I wrote that conservatives are focused on the wrong time period. This was an attempt to give them a little credit and benefit of the doubt.
I was trying to allow for the idea that conservatives genuinely have the country’s best interests at heart, but because they think about America as if the year were 1900 their solutions and ideas do not resonate in 2012.
That point of view is certainly valid. But the more cynical perspective is that conservatives know exactly what year it is and what they are doing; that they simply do not believe in the values the country was founded upon. In other words it is possible that conservatives, despite all their proclamations, simply dislike liberty.
This is because conservatives often oppose laws and programs that promote or protect the freedom of others when other use that freedom to choose a non-conservative path.
All societies operate based on a social contract – an implicit agreement where individuals give up some of their inherent freedoms for collective security and other basic agreements about how their society will work. The social contract with Great Britain with the Declaration of Independence was because of philosophical differences (not specific issues); the social contract that was implied in the Constitution was based largely on philosophy (the Constitution contains very few details)
So when conservatives look at the founding of the country and perceive an American society as they believe it should have stayed (with the probable exception of racial inequality – although it should be noted that a majority of conservatives in each generation fought racial equality until very recently) they are missing the point. This affinity for America as it was in reality in 1800 is key because that reality was not the same as America in theory. The United States in 1800 promoted and protected the freedom and interests of heterosexual, native born, white, Protestant men. The United States in theory promotes and protects the freedom and interests of all citizens without reservation. Conservatives repeatedly reject this more general application of freedom that is the mission statement of the united States in theory.
This is the story behind the recent instances of conservative law makers initiating bills that mandate transvaginal ultrasounds prior to abortion; this is the story of resistance to gay marriage; this is the story of struggle against a mosque being built in lower Manhattan.
In my effort to acknowledge that conservatives are not crazy it is necessary to note that they are contributing taxes to society and therefore should have something to say about how society operates. The problem is that it seems conservatives want to dictate the rules of society instead of contributing to a discussion about the rules.
The ever strengthening relationship between evangelical Christians and conservatives is particularly instructive in this regard. Evangelicals understand the world as ordered by God and superimpose the monarchical system of Christianity over the democratic system of American society. But these two modes of operation are incompatible.
And this is why it is plausible that conservatives are not innocently focusing on the wrong time period in American history but rather intentionally subverting the American way of life. 1. Conservative decision makers reflect the desires of the evangelical base; 2. They crouch issues in terms of God’s plan/will and Satan’s plan; 3. They consider choices made that do not reflect God’s will to be illegitimate; 4. They try to eliminate the possibility of such choices.
Because they would never choose to marry someone of the same sex, they seek to stop anyone else from having the option to do so.
But this is not the American way. In fact it is exactly the opposite of the principle of freedom that the country was founded on. We must remember, and apparently remind our conservative acquaintances that the country was established on what it could, would, and should be. Not what it was after the British surrender at Yorktown.
The essence of liberty is allowing, and defending the ability of, others to have a different opinion and journey through life than what you have.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected].