One of the distinct advantages the political left enjoys over the conservative movement is the affective property that Muslims call asabiyeh: unity, togetherness, group feeling. Of course, there are differences of opinion, degrees of dissension as to theory and practice, ideological ruptures here and there regarding tactics and strategy, but on the whole the left is comparatively of a piece.
Conservatives, on the contrary, are far more divided among themselves. As I pointed out a while back, in an article for PJ Media titled Fractures on the Right, the conservative predisposition is fissured with disagreements respecting the definition of the “enemy” and how most effectively to deal with him. These breaches and discontinuities run deep, especially when it comes to the putative relation between Islam and “Islamism,” radical and moderate Muslims, history and the present. Slack-thewed conservatives insist that Islam has been hijacked by the Islamists and that so-called “moderate Muslims” must be “friended” in order not to drive them into the camp of the jihadists. Insightful conservative thinkers understand that Islam, rooted in a vast theological, political, jurisprudential and philosophical literature, and boasting a 1400 year history of rapine and conquest, is consistently represented by these same extremists who are said to have hijacked the faith.
It seems me that the fault in the conservative orientation resides not so much in the intellect per se as in the will, a volitional exhaustion, a weakening of purpose expressed as a gradual turn toward the liberal perspective. Intellect is then mobilized to justify the backsliding tendencies of the will, as if in a rerun of the historical debate between two great Medieval theologians, St. Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus. Aquinas argued that intellect determines truth and the will carries out the appropriate actions. Scotus held otherwise; the will bloweth where it listeth, and the intellect assembles the arguments to support its appetitive pursuits.
As I wrote in an article of December 14, 2010, also for this site, titled Where Do Leftists Come From?, “Leftists and liberals are, on this interpretation, earnest Scotists, wanting something very badly and then abusing their mental powers to defend their error.” Ironically, contemporary conservatives are now split along these lines. The stronger thinkers are Aquinians who reason clearly and stand on principle while the weaker, semi-progressivist cadres have succumbed to the liberal panaceas of the age and may also be characterized as devout Scotists.
But there is another, equally perilous rift that alienates a part of the conservative community from itself, namely class consciousness. Many of those who have benefitted from an elite university education and hail from prosperous families tend to react with suspicion, or even with a certain disdain, toward their lower-and-working class counterparts who speak with regional accents, prefer tankards to carafes and are, on the whole, less erudite and articulate than those whom I call “palatine conservatives.” Thus, for example, many of these patrician and accomplished figures look down their noses at Sarah Palin with her rustic habits, non-prestigious educational background and brash rhetorical delivery. That Palin is a rare, honest politician, a woman of the people, and a bearer of genuine conservative sentiments and ideas does not count in her favor. She is too “common” to inspire enthusiasm among the “quality.”
This same kind of derogation is leveled at the Tea Party, not just by the slander-mongering left, but by conservative intellectuals who shudder at a possible connection or perceived affinity with the plebeian inhabitants of fly-over country. That the Tea Party consists, for the most part, of hard-working citizens and patriots who refuse to allow their nation to be shanghai’d by the “progressivist” and socialist agenda of probably the most corrupt and decadent administration in recent history — if not in the entire pageant of American history — earns them no brownie points with their carriage trade betters.
And now it’s the turn of Tommy Robinson of the EDL, or English Defence League, to reap the pretentious ire of conservative poohbahs, on the grounds that the organization harbors, or may be susceptible to, thuggish or fascist elements. And so we remark on the depressing spectacle of highly credentialed Melanie Phillips “and others” (to use her own phrase in her put-down of the EDL) who labor to distance themselves from their natural allies because they seem brazen, unpolished and volatile. Apart from the fact that there are bad apples in every barrel without exception, including the patrician political vat — and that the leftist cohort, for that matter, is a barrel that contains almost only bad apples — the truth is that, like Sarah Palin and like the Tea Party, Tommy Robinson and the EDL are willing to defy a despotic and pusillanimous constituted authority that has sold out the culture for a mess of leftist and Islamic pottage. The group is willing to take risks and to suffer defamation, false accusations and even imprisonment, in short, to put itself “out there” for their beliefs. Very few among their “superiors” would ever expose their comforts, privileges, and intellectual and social status to the mercy of their antagonists. And this is an unmitigated shame.
These conservative snobs, for all their aquiline intelligence and notable achievements, have regrettably tended to misjudge their proletarian confederates. Tommy Robinson may speak with a local brogue but he is lucid, convincing and eloquent — and indeed, I must say I prefer his brand of impassioned fluency to Melanie Phillips’ clipped, pedigreed, and rather self-regarding oratorical fricatives. (Cf. her recent interview on Michael Coren’s The Arena.) In the same way, I consider Sarah Palin’s expressive abilities far more persuasive than, say, Daniel Pipes’ trademark condescension. And I much prefer the straight talk of the Tea Party to the refined subtleties, calculated not to offend the liberal elect, of sundry conservative newspaper editors.
The conservative “institution” is enfeebled by these two inherently disruptive factors: a depletion of the political will, and the specter of class distinctions — and it is the left that profits from this infusorial derangement. But it is most disheartening to observe the extent to which sociolectical disparities and class assumptions, generally from the top down, can introduce a spirit of discord and superciliousness among those who should be, as it were, above such congenital hauteur.