That whole conservatives-and-tradition thing

One of the standard claims many conservatives make is that they’re traditionalists. They believe the systems that have built up over the years/decades/centuries are sound, the accumulation of years of experience, and shouldn’t be changed lightly. When they object to radical changes to marriage/gender roles/child-rearing, they’re just being careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
In many cases, this is a lie. As some conservatives sort of admit. Hullabaloo, for example, references this quote from Dinesh D’Souza about being a conservative in a culture that’s unacceptably flawed: “It is foolish for a conservative to attempt to conserve that culture. Rather, he must seek to undermine it, to thwart it, to destroy it at the root level.”
This sums up a large chunk of modern conservatism: They’re fighting to conserve things that faded away 30, 40 or even a hundred years in our past. The rest of the world may move on, but they won’t.
Case in point, Texas Catholic priest Michael Rodriguez, who told a Catholic newspaper that he’s outraged secular government refuses to accept Catholic teaching on gay marriage (which he also believes is so self-evidently true that even pagans know gay sex is wrong). And in between patting himself on the back for upholding the tradition of his faith, he mentions in passing that there’s no salvation for anyone outside the Catholic Church.
Except that even in the Catholic Church, that’s not true: The Church acknowledged that Protestants can be saved back in Vatican II in the sixties. Far from championing traditional Catholicism, Rodriguez is actually a heretic; his idea of Catholic tradition apparently doesn’t include accepting the Pope’s decrees if the Pope gets it wrong.
So instead, as D’Souza describes it, Father Rodriguez decides that “Catholic tradition” stopped dead at Vatican II. Or maybe earlier, since he clearly misses the days when if the Catholic Church told governments “jump,” the response was “how high?”
Rodriguez isn’t unique. When traditional-values conservatives talk about the traditional family, they usually invoke (sometimes by implication, often stating it openly) that they mean the 1950s model: Wife at home, father working, no sex until the ring’s on the finger, no divorce. (regardless of the fact that wasn’t baseline normal for everyone even in the 1950s) Nothing since then——single parents, gay marriage, no-fault divorce——is legitimate. A fair number go back even further, invoking the Victorian age as the perfect model for the modern world.
Economic conservatives meanwhile look back at least 80 years, to the days before the New Deal when we didn’t have labor laws, the right to unionize, bans on child labor——according to a recent George Will column (don’t have the link, sorry), all those awful rules just take away the freedom and flexibility we need to succeed. A fair number of conservatives seem to look back to the Gilded Age when the rich were rich and the poor fought for the scraps (as witness the repeated charges the poor are lazy slackers who don’t even pay taxes [as I’ve noted before, quite untrue]).
For some religious conservatives, the whole Enlightenment——the ideal of reason as a valid path to truth, the idea that secular authority shouldn’t be answerable to the church——needs to go. A few of the creepier right-wing Christians openly advocate bringing back Old Testament law (though like Rodriguez they’re selective——stoning for gays is fine, but none of Israel’s rules for debt relief count).
My wife wasn’t born until more than a decade after the 1950s era conservatives pine for. I was born almost 60 years after the end of the Victorian age.
I think the right-wing’s idea of tradition needs a little updating.

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One response to “That whole conservatives-and-tradition thing

  1. Pingback: It’s only natural « Fraser Sherman's Blog

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