John Dean takes a sobering look at how radical elements are destroying the Republican Party along with the very foundations of American democracy. John Dean's last New York Times bestseller, Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush, offered the former White House insider's unique and telling perspective on George W. Bush's presidency. Once again, Dean employs his distinctive knowledge and understanding of Washington politics and process to examine the conservative movement's..
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July 10, 2006
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Excerpt from Conservatives Without Conscience by John W. Dean
HOW CONSERVATIVES THINK
TO UNDERSTAND contemporary conservative thinking it is essential to understand authoritarian thinking and behavior in the context of traditional political conservatism, for authoritarianism has become the dominant reality of conservative thought. During its Paleolithic period, as those early days of the modern movement are now known, conservatism was easy to grasp. I recall those days well, because I signed on back then, before every schism became a new -ism, and long before authoritarians had taken control of conservatism. In the past four decades, with varying degrees of proximity, I have watched with dismay as conservatism has fallen into its present state of cluttered ideas and beliefs. It has become a potpourri of political philosophies that embrace any number of often incompatible thoughts on the right side of the political spectrum. Today's conservatism is both complex and confusing.
National Review writer Ramesh Ponnuru, who is well versed in all matters conservative, said that many people believe that there are just "two, or at most three, kinds of conservatives." Needless to say, there are many more. Accordingly, Ponnuru advises that before talking about conservatives one should know whom one is discussing. It is good advice that can best be followed by addressing the key realities of modern conservatism. By examining them it becomes apparent how easily authoritarians have so effectively reshaped conservatism to their own liking.
Conservatism Cannot Be Meaningfully Defined
National polls today reveal that more people identify themselves as "conservative" than they do any other political outlook. Pollsters do not ask respondents to spell out what they mean, only whether they think of themselves as "conservative" or "liberal" or some other political position. Overwhelmingly, Republicans identify themselves as conservatives, although most cannot come up with a meaningful definition of the term. For almost a decade I have asked countless people to explain their understanding of conservatism, but my admittedly unscientific survey utterly failed to produce a good definition, which is not surprising, because there is none. Even leading conservative intellectuals acknowledge that trying to define conservatism is a futile and not particularly useful exercise.