Darwinian Conservatism

Daniel McCarthy at the Tory Anarchist blog posts a comment about someone else’s blog (I was going to try and avoid this kind of referencing other people’s references, since so much of Blogistan seems to be inhabited by people who spend their days contemplating other residents of Blogistan) called Darwinian Conservatism. (Isn’t the establishment conservatism of order and hierarchy already much too Darwinian to begin with?) McCarthy notes:

Actually there’s quite a lot wrong with Arnhart’s specific ideas about Darwinian conservatism, including this, “Darwinian conservatives will agree with President Bush that there is a natural desire for liberty.” What evidence is there for this claim? Most people throughout most of the world for most of history have been quite unfree and don’t seem to have chafed a great deal at their condition. Clearly enough, whatever natural drive there may be for freedom is easly satisfied or else overpowered by other impulses.

If there’s common progressive ground — ground upon which right-wing and left-wing social democrats stand upon — it is this faith in freedom. Or, more importantly, that all freedom will look the same, and will be expressed in the desire for representative democratic institutions. All free people look like Americans. McCarthy is right, however, because there is almost no evidence that everyone everywhere wants to be free in exactly the same way.

The Wilsonian could point to, and often does, that because everyone can become an American, that there is an American inside of everyone just struggling to get out. But that misses that migrants to the United States have decided to give something up to gain something else. Or as I had to remind some people I worked with in Dubai, the Europeans who migrated to the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries were, mostly, people who specifically did not want to be Europeans. (Which is why it is unfair to compare Europe to the US.)

Freedom can only articulate itself within specific cultures. So Saudi freedom — and yes, most Saudis I met consider themselves free within their culture — looks different from American freedom because Saudi culture constructs social relationships differently. Conservatism once upon a time used to understand the power of culture and custom (even if it got itself mired in the belief of the moral superiority of some cultures over others as a justification for the making of war on those “inferior” cultures — the inferior have no rights the superior are bound to respect). But conservatives clearly don’t anymore, instead having lashed their fortunes to a Jacobin-like universalism that insists upon “realizing” or “creating” a future for all human beings. A future few volunteered for, or would choose if they were given that option.