Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Quote of the Day – 1

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Modern American conservatism nearly always specifies the defense and preservation of capitalism as one of its central goals—logically enough, on one level, since capitalism is the economic status quo in the US today. Yet such conservatism is thus structured on an immense self-contradiction. For capitalism is itself the most thoroughly disruptive, the most emphatically anti-conservative, social force in the history of the world: a truth integral to the thought of Burke, for whom conservatism was by definition the defense of a pre-capitalism old order against the revolutionary innovations of the new middle-class regime. Capitalism, after all, is the force that razes historic buildings in order to construct shopping malls, that prizes “growth” over stability, that destroys traditional ways of life wherever there is money to be made by doing so. It melts into air all that was apparently solid, as Marx and Engels observed. In some instances, accordingly, it may well be a left-wing, anti-capitalist position that is in one sense most genuinely “conservative.” In his noel Saints and Scholars, the Marxist author Terry Eagleton gives this line to the Irish revolutionary-socialist leader James Connolly: “Revolution isn’t a runaway train; it’s the application of the emergency brake.”

—Carl Freedman, The Age of Nixon

Written by gerrycanavan

May 6, 2012 at 4:15 pm

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  1. the essay “Conservatism and Counterrevolution” by Corey Robin does a really good job of making sense out of these contradictions (which he traces back to Burke):

    “While conservatism is an ideology of reaction—originally against the French Revolution, more recently against the liberation movements of the sixties and seventies—the nature and dynamics of that reaction have not been well understood. Far from yielding a knee-jerk and unreflexive defense of an unchanging old regime or a staid but thoughtful traditionalism, the reactionary imperative presses conservatism in two rather different directions: first, to a critique and reconfiguration of the old regime; second, to an absorption of the ideas and tactics of the very revolution or reform it opposes. What conservatism seeks to accomplish through that reconfiguration of the old and absorption of the new is to make privilege popular, to transform a tottering old regime into a dynamic, ideologically coherent movement of the masses. A new old regime, one could say, that brings the energy and dynamism of the street to the antique inequalities of a dilapidated estate.”

    domenico losurdo and zeev sternhell are other scholars that read the burkean tradition in this way, as a kind of radical alternative modernity that sought to counter the enlightenment.


    May 6, 2012 at 5:53 pm

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