16 May 2012

On Neoconservatism and the South

From Richard Gray's 2000 book Southern Aberrations: Writers of the American South and the Problems of Regionalism:
In the words of one observer, commenting on the 1996 results, there has been "an almost complete reversal of regional party strength." Regional distinctiveness can still be seen in American politics. But now "the backbone of the Republican Part has become the South, as well as the states of the mountain West and much of the Plains."

One explanation for this reversal lies with those strange bedfellows, a free market and family values. A free market is motored by the engines of supply and demand; it is also fueled by an ideology of self-interest, and the commodification of people as paid labor and paying consumers. Family values, on the other hand, imply the subordination of self-interest to more social, consensual imperatives; for good or ill, men and women - and, in the past, women in particular - are obliged to choose tradition over vocation, to subject themselves not so much to the demands of the marketplace as to the prescriptions of inherited communal law.

One historian has complained that, "in the name of traditional virtue," Ronald Reagan's political agenda was in fact giving a "free hand to business practices that destroy neighborhoods, separate families, promote hedonism, encourage mobility, and plan obsolescence." That, perhaps, is to privilege the traditionalist side of the equation. A more neutral way of putting it might be to say that there is a latent tension in any program that aims both to deregulate the economy and to draw a protective circle, to build an insulated wall around the family.

Any tensions that there might be in the Republican program have not, however, discouraged Southerners, and white Southerners especially, from voting for the Grand Old Party: quite the opposite, because the party's promise of a bright new future wedded to a golden past has hit a responsive chord with them, echoing their own vacillation between hope and memory.

While the majority of black Southern voters remain loyal to the party of civil rights, the majority of white voters have shifted their allegiance to a party that embraces both productivity and primitive virtue, the pleasures of the marketplace and the pieties of blood and kin.
Now, I've made this argument before. More than once.

I'll keep making it as long as people I care about (and, aren't I supposed to care about everybody?) keep buying into this contradiction.

This isn't saying that I've got the right way of running the world. I'm not so arrogant as to think that I have the answers. It's just saying that if you claim to be a Christian, you can't logically believe in laissez-faire capitalism. That combination of beliefs doesn't work. At all. In any way.

No comments: