Conservatism’s Collapse into Nationalism

Patriotism is defending your country’s highest ideals. Conservatism is defending your country’s best traditions, and involves a weary skepticism of government institutions or departure from past practices.

This… this is not conservatism. This has nothing to do with anything Burke ever wrote or believed:

We were younger back then (but then, weren’t we all), and we were overly optimistic, perhaps to the point of naiveté, in assuming that the left’s newfound patriotism would last.

We grossly underestimated the extent to which the leftward cohort of the baby-boom generation–which holds a dominant position in most of America’s elite institutions–had internalized “the lesson of Vietnam,” a war in which they saw America’s defeat as a victory for their side–a victory for what Todd Gitlin (quoted by Podhoretz) has called the “negative faith in America the ugly.”

In the GOP base’s cartoonish desecration of conservatism, the government’s claims and actions must not be questioned. Questions about whether Gen. Petraeus’s refusal to make public data and methodology with which the GAO disagrees must be ignored for ephemera such as a childish ad in a newspaper. Debates within the Pentagon itself over the wisdom of continuing our occupation of Iraq must be dismissed as defeatism. Reality must never be assessed by careful consideration of data, only through a dense haze of metaphor and insults.

It’s easy to see, intellectually, how conservatism can collapse into nationalism. Carefully considered defense of traditions can bleed over into chauvinistic support for whatever your country happens to be doing at the time. It is still shockingly ugly and dangerous to see it happen.

UPDATE: This LA Times op-ed (via) is the sort of thing that no conservative writer or presidential candidate can say, because it examines the cost of maintaining the occupation, and prizes the lives of troops more than the “honor” of politicians and pundits.

UPDATE II: Stupid Glenn Greenwald makes this point more eloquently and thoroughly that I did, albeit with a slightly different spin.  I hate that guy.

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