Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Manifest Arizona

 With the recent controversy over Arizona's harsh new immigration law which gives the police authority to demand citizenship papers from anyone deemed "suspicious", one might be forgiven for asking why more conservatives, always such reliable defenders of "liberty" and "freedom", aren't up in arms.  (And yes, I suppose that could be taken literally).  The obvious answer is that it is directed at people who have clearly broken the law. 

But the main problem with the bill is not that it is focused on criminal behavior, but that it is so ripe for abuse.  It is granting authority to police officers that would simply not be tolerated if the either the intended target, or innocent citizens whose rights are now in jeopardy, were not Hispanic.  This is of course, one of those "what if" situations endemic to racial politics that relies too much on supposition and not enough on evidence.  But because we are not yet (yet!) in possession of mind-reading devices that would enable us to sniff out the bigots, I'll have to rely on some good old-fashioned theorizing

The glue that holds the conservative together is a profound sense of ethnic superiority - that who he is and what he does is right, no matter what.  So the constitution, liberty and patriotism are wonderful to the extent that they are for him.  Yet they are forever imperiled by those who are not like him.  Not because those individuals are at all in conflict with the constitution, liberty, or patriotism, but because they represent an extension of those themes and rights that threaten his exclusive access to them.  Women, immigrants, gays, blacks, atheists, Muslims, etc. - the great unassimilated masses  - seek shelter behind rights he feels are somehow exclusively his.

It has been suggested that the Moses story has always been powerful in the American psyche.  Apparently early colonists read it as they crossed the Atlantic.  Westward expansion was a continuation of this search for the promised land - "promised" being the key word.  Conservatism seems a logical extension of this historical narrative.  While liberalism can be considered part and parcel of the same dynamic, a significant difference is the the emphasis of progressives and conservative traditionalists. 

Progressives see the promised land not so much as an actual state of nature, but more a process of self-realization.  The idea is less that there exists some state in which one perfect order is established, but that there be underlying critical structures that allow for a diversity of opinion and expression, and perfection will reveal itself along the way.  Where conservatism is absolute and authoritative, progressivism is relative and democratic.

When the two political sensibilities are employed with mild dogmatism, they provide important checks upon one another.  But when hewed to too vigorously, they become incoherent.  To the progressive, there is no right and nihilism reins.  To the conservative, there is only one right and all others must be beaten into submission.

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