By Sebastian Orlander, Guest Columnist
As an alumnus, I do not read the Miami Student as often as I used to, but every now and again I am led back to the paper through my Facebook feed to see what is happening in Oxford. I remember complaining to friends about how bad the writing of the Student could be, but overall I felt some kind of obligation to keep reading so that I would be at least somewhat informed about campus goings-on.
Today, I read a piece by Andrea Slater on why ‘Conservatism’ is right, and I found myself experiencing bewilderment and annoyance at both the triteness of the generalizations and the obvious lack of self-reflection in explaining what conservatism is actually supposed to amount to. Before I continue, I should note that I certainly do not self-identify as conservative, and my experience at Miami was that most students held beliefs far to the right of my own, even though, I certainly am not one of the ‘liberals’ Slater identifies as having more fun than conservatives (King Library was my regular hideout). That universities get labelled as ‘bastions of Liberalism’ is unfortunate, but that is one generalization that I won’t address here.
Slater claims that conservatives are distinguished from liberals by being risk-averse, thrifty, valuing tradition and rule of law and worrying about clear and present dangers — the main reason for this being that conservatives aim at long-term happiness. I think any of these claims are easily shown to be false by looking at how conservatives present an immense opportunism in when they choose to invoke these values and attitudes and when they actually act on them.
It is easy to claim aversion to risk and spend-thrift when we look to our distinguished alumnus Paul Ryan, current Speaker of the House (of whom it could also be said that he turns these virtues into vices), but when we look at the current Republican frontrunners, this seems to be plainly false. Both Trump and Cruz are not what I would call risk-averse (it should be remembered that Cruz almost single-handedly (if memory serves right) shut down the government almost three years ago, the cost of which I can only measure anecdotally from a friend losing his private sector job during that time.
As for valuing tradition and rule of law, the debacle in Oregon earlier this year, as well as the current Senate majority’s unwillingness to carry out their duty to appoint a new Supreme Court Justice, flies in the face of what most people with common sense might call ‘respecting the impersonal authority of the law,’ even though these two examples stand out in encompassing the range of people that can be ascribed as holding ‘conservative beliefs.’
I do not want to belabor the details here, and my cultural memory only goes so far in pointing out when conservatives acted with a political opportunism worthy only of the name ‘hypocrisy.’
Of course this does not absolve liberals from criticism or their own guilt of the same charge. I simply wanted to point out that trite generalizations and cultural ignorance does not have any purchase in discussing what sorts of values one has or what sorts of politics one promotes. And of course there are many good things that one can say about conservatism, as Marxist philosopher G.A. Cohen did once in a public lecture, the gist of which was that ‘conservatism, with a small “c,” insofar as it wants to preserve those things that have value, is a good thing. But when Conservatism acts in such a way as to cause injustice, it cannot be right.’
When I am in the twilight of my years, I hope that there will be things that I had a part in creating, which will also survive me. Of course, I can only hope that what I wish to be preserved should also be the right thing to be preserved, rather than those attitudes and values which conservatives invoke today without standing on the moral ground that could support it.