The Deconstruction of American Conservatism

Prior to the presidency of Donald Trump, why is there always something defining American Conservatism instead of nothing? Why believe that American Conservatism is somehow immune to a Heideggerian “Lichtung” (Clearing) that wipes the slate clean of its preconceived perceptions of Hamiltonianism as ‘Federal Socialism’? Why claim that the flawed understandings of Socialism cannot be affected by American Conservatism’s very own “Destruktion” (Destruction)?     

Trump has already demonstrated that American Conservatism has consistently been a hollow void devoid of any substance for a long time. Given this current epoch of American history, a few relevant excerpts from Being and Time are relevant here: 

When tradition thus becomes master, it does so in such a way that what it ‘transmits’ is made so inaccessible, proximally and for the most part, that it rather becomes concealed. Tradition takes what has come down to us and delivers it over to self-evidence; it blocks our access to those primordial ‘sources’ from which the categories and concepts handed down to us have been in part quite genuinely drawn. Indeed it makes us forget that they have had such an origin, and makes us suppose that the necessity of going back to these sources is something which we need not even understand.

If the question of Being is to have its own history made transparent, then this hardened tradition must be loosened up, and the concealments which it has brought about dissolved. We understand this task as one in which by taking the question of Being as our clue we are to destroy the traditional content of ancient ontology until we arrive at those primordial experiences in which we achieved our first ways of determining the nature of Being—the ways which have guided us ever since.

[I]t has nothing to do with a vicious relativizing of ontological standpoints. But this destruction is just as far from having the negative sense of shaking off the ontological tradition. We must, on the contrary, stake out the positive possibilities of that tradition, and this means keeping it within its limits; and these in turn are given factically in the way the question is formulated at the time, and in the way the possible field for investigation is thus bounded off. On its negative side, this destruction does not relate itself toward the past; its criticism is aimed at ‘today’ and at the prevalent way of treating the history of ontology. .. But to bury the past in nullity (Nichtigkeit) is not the purpose of this destruction; its aim is positive; its negative function remains unexpressed and indirect.

Anti-Capitalism has historically been a recurring sentiment within American Conservatism. Contrary to the popular belief among Americans and non-Americans alike, there have been periods in American history where American Conservatism decried Liberal Capitalism as undermining the traditional values and uprooting whole communities of families. The possibility has always been there for American Conservatism to be aligned with American Socialism, provided that the Socialism in question is Federalism (as in “Federal Socialism” or “Hamiltonianism”). I have argued in one post on The Fourth Estate that it was Alexander Hamilton, not Thomas Jefferson, who created the political tradition behind American Conservatism and American Socialism. The real challenge is whether such claims have any historical basis. The real demarcation within the Federalist Party began in the “Great Divergence” between Hamilton and Jefferson’s protege, James Madison, over whether public opinion (in the Parliamentarian sense) should be influential in the exercise of presidential power. 

As any serious observation of American politics will probably conclude, there has been a consistent tendency within American Conservatism to be vehemently against Socialism and uphold aspects of Liberal Capitalism. The belief that Socialism is irreconcilable with the American Way of Life and that all of American history has always been defined by Liberal Capitalism. Although the origins of this opposition has occurred during the early decades of the Cold War (1950s-1970s) and the Interwar period between the two World Wars (1920s-1940s), a more historically accurate one has been during the height of the Federalist Party’s existence (1789-1824) and the American Civil War (1861-1865). Some of it has to do with the understandable concerns over the sustainability of the “New Deal” programs that Franklin Delano Roosevelt had implemented and the attempts by later US Presidents to continue aspects of it, the most notorious being the proposed expansions of Medicare and Social Security. American Conservatism rejects economic life as being driven by Keynesian-style conspicuous consumption and investing just to “stimulate growth” for its own sake.     

Even so, there have been subversive elements with vested interests in preventing American Conservatism from realizing it has a lot in common with American Socialism. The origins can be traced back to the Cold War, during the height of the Bretton Woods System between the 1950s and 1970s. To forge a consensus against the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, an ideology called “Fusionism” was invented. It united aspects of Traditional Conservatism (particularly the Madisonian branch); Classical Liberalism (identified within American politics as “Libertarianism”); the Austrian and Chicago Schools of Economics (through the Mount Pelerin Society); Anticommunists and former Marxists (some of whom would later become the “Neoconservatives” of US foreign policy infamy); some Catholics and Protestants of various denominations (the “Religious Right”) and those against what they referred to as “Scientism” (particularly the belief that the objectivity of Science itself can also be its own philosophical worldview). The various ideological tendencies are many, but there was a coherent consensus behind “Fusionism.” Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan gave them a platform to turn their Fusionist worldview into US policy towards the end of the 20th century.      

One of the recurring patterns is the notion that the objectivity of Science undermines the subjectivity of the Individual. This objectivity, it is claimed, causes life to become mechanistic, soulless and nihilistic to the point where some have literally rejected the Scientific Method. The result has led to aspects of American Conservatism to take on English (that is to say, Jeffersonian) characteristics, including the use of Parliamentarian approaches to political-economic governance. Another aspect is the tendency to be unpersuaded toward facts and evidence, preferring to conflate them with opinions and speculation due to a distrust of Science.    

These behaviors are reflections of a recurring problem within Western Philosophy since the Enlightenment, and that has been the “Mind-Body Problem” of Rene Descartes. It stems from the idea that the Individual as a “Subject” spectating an “Object,” which can be the surrounding Reality. The real point of contention with the Mind-Body Problem, as Martin Heidegger addressed in Being and Time (and also Ernst Jünger in “Total Mobilization” and Der Arbeiter), is two-fold. Are human thought and consciousness a product of the Mind, a product of the environment around the Body, a combination of both or a predominant variation of one over the other, or neither?

The true dialectic regarding the Mind-Body Problem, assuming one is unwilling to adopt Heidegger’s concept of Dasein, is defined by Materialism and Idealism. “Materialism” argues that consciousness and thought are derived from the physiological and environmental conditions surrounding the Body. Conversely, “Idealism” insists that consciousness and thought are products of the mind. The most common answer has been “Dualism,” which views the Mind as non-physical from the physical human brain (and by extension, the Body itself). Prior to Psychology in the 20th century, it was generally believed that mental causation, including emotions, desires, passions and beliefs, was a product of the Mind, justifying the separation of both Mind and Body. 

This problem is evident in Marxist Philosophy, where economic conditions alone determine what can be defined as “Socialism.” It is evident in its insistence that the Proletariat cannot have “political rights” if there are no “economic rights,” suggesting that economic concerns are separate from political ones. This is different from what is advocated by the Work-Standard, which deems the political and economic as being closely related within social contexts. It also explains why the “political-economic” does not exist for Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in Das Kapital. Since a few influential American Conservatives in the 1950s and 1960s had previous affiliations with Marxist Philosophy, Fusionism perverted American Conservatism with a similar imitation. The belief that “political freedom” (in the Parliamentarian sense)  cannot exist without “economic freedom” (specifically the belief that ‘Private Property’ as “Private Wealth” and the very notion of Freedom itself are inseparable). An historical example of this has been the infamous “Sharon Statement” of the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) on 11 September 1960. 

American Conservatism has been deceived into falsely equating the limited historical functions of Socialism with “Materialism”  because of Fusionism. Its perceptions of Materialism stem from the Individualist Materialism of Liberal Capitalism and the Collectivist Materialism of Scientific Socialism, which is Socialism according to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The latter is discernible philosophically in its peculiar interpretation of Hegelian Dialectics (“Dialectical Materialism”) and its understanding of history as a linear progression from Feudalism and Liberal Capitalism to Socialism and Communism (“Historical Materialism”). Yet unbeknownst to American Conservatives, Vladimir Lenin understood those limitations of Marxist Philosophy in his Philosophical Notebooks and expressed the need for a revisiting of Hegelian Philosophy in order to truly grasp Socialism.

When the Cold War ended and America realized the Jeffersonian Empire of Liberty, this so-called “rules-based international order,” the influence of Fusionism slowly waned. The decline was gradual and American Conservatism had finally become an ideological void by the time Trump reentered politics in the 2010s. Even so, what American Conservatism perceived as Socialism was becoming mistaken for Progressivism (which is to say “Social Liberalism”), an imaginary concept called “Cultural Marxism,” and Science itself. The latter finally became evident during the Coronavirus Pandemic, where the sensible actions of wearing facemasks and vaccinations against the Coronavirus is perceived as issues of Freedom and Unfreedom, Security and Insecurity. A further investigation of the personalities and factions that subverted American Conservatism with Fusionism is becoming imperative.

Categories: Blog Post, Compendium, Economic History, Philosophy, Politics

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