As police move in to destroy the Capitol Hill Occupation Protest, it’s worth reflecting on what conservatism is.
British conservative philosopher Michael Oakeshott likened his creed to a voyage at sea, in which the ship of state has “neither starting-place nor appointed destination…the enterprise is to keep afloat on an even keel,” he wrote in Rationalism in Politics. It’s an idea not without merit or appeal: The point of politics, it holds, is to keep things functional and well-governed, not to leap desperately towards a utopian society.
Unfortunately, Oakeshott’s metaphor is not what conservatism is.
In 2017’s inaugural address, President Trump said that “Washington flourished – but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered – but the jobs left, and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country.” Trump promised to reverse these trends, and bring the jobs back. The Republican Party, he promised, was now the party of the American worker.
That’s not what conservatism is, either. So, it’s no surprise that Trump’s administration acts like the Bush II clique on methamphetamine.
On May 25th, 2020, Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis policeman, killed African-American local George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for close to nine minutes. Floyd’s crime had been to potentially use a counterfeit $20 bill. There are accusations that Floyd might have been drunk or high. None of this matters, of course; he’s dead.
That’s what conservatism is. The defense of the social order at all costs.
Interestingly, unlike past police killings, the president ostensibly disapproved of Floyd’s murder. He’s a “New Republican”, remember. But in practice, this meant nothing. When protests started, he immediately blamed the protestors for things getting out of hand, despite the violence being largely perpetrated by police. He even threatened to send in the US Army, a move that would blatantly violate posse comitatus.
In the early 2000s, conservatism–excuse me, neoconservatism–was mainly focused on implementing austerity and fostering the War on Terror abroad. After the election of Barack Obama, we saw right-wing discourse shift in a libertarian direction. Sales of Ayn Rand’s novels skyrocketed. One would think this would change policy; it did not. When Trump came to power, all pretense of small government was dropped by the man who said he would “bomb the s— out of ISIS.”
One can be forgiven for thinking that things haven’t changed much.
In the 1920s and 30s, when the ruling classes of Europe–the bourgeoisie, the militaries, the clergy–realized they couldn’t beat the Left at the ballot box, they installed fascists, the “New Right”, rather than lose a fraction of their power. In Italy, the king chose to give Mussolini the job after his March on Rome; in Germany, conservative president Paul Von Hindenburg decided to make Hitler chancellor after the Nazis won a plurality of the votes. In Spain, the military, disgusted at the reforms of the left-leaning Second Republic, decided to overthrow the government rather than participate in democratic politics. “LAW & ORDER”, as the president puts it, was more important to conservatives, and some right-wing liberals, than democracy.
This social order in America is of course tied to race. Black people must periodically be reminded of their lack of worth via state violence. These killings make a lot more sense if one views it that way.
This suppression must of course be accompanied by whitewashing in the press if the suppression is to be effective. American freedom of the press’s dark side is the egregious lies the capitalists have told via that same press: William Randolph Hearst’s lie about the USS Maine led directly to the Spanish-American War. During the Russian Revolution, American papers claimed that Bolsheviks were “nationalizing women” to be collectively raped by Red soldiers; it was a fabrication. When socialist novelist Upton Sinclair ran for governor of California in the 1930s, Hollywood studios, afraid of losing an iota of profit, hired actors to play Russian caricatures and filmed them saying they’d vote for Sinclair. They filmed hobos and claimed thousands of miscreants were swarming across the California border to get Sinclair’s nonexistent handouts.
The Right’s media infrastructure hasn’t changed, and in 2020 it can still be found lying about the threats to the system. Take the CHOP in Seattle, formerly known as CHAZ (Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone). Fox News reported a Monty Python reference joke as fact, claiming that a local leader of the protest had become a “Warlord”. In another instance, they posted edited images to portray CHOP as a chaotic hellscape. Actual first-hand reports describe CHOP as a refuge with water, masks, produce, and other necessities freely available for all. The streets and walls are decorated with gigantic, collective works of art, not the entrails of shopkeepers.
In the case of black America, our press is just as likely to fail in what it doesn’t report. Activists have pointed out during this latest round of anti-brutality protests that we only know of the police brutality we see, that we capture on phones. Consider Rahm Emmanuel’s cover-up of a police shooting. Consider the existence of secret police torture chambers in that same mayor’s city. Consider that a black man was found hanging from a tree in Los Angeles and the police declared it a suicide. There have been half a dozen of these hangings over the last few weeks.
Some viewers who saw HBO’s excellent Watchmen show thought that its depiction of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riots was part of the comic book franchise’s alternate history. That’s because the horrific event–in which hundreds of black Tulsans were killed by white irregulars, some even flying planes–was suppressed in textbooks for decades. The event was a suppression of a threat to the status quo — the so-called “Black Wall Street” — and the knowledge of such a brutal suppression had to be hidden.
These brutalities — war, racism, beatings, killings, secret police, and the subsequent cover-ups, lying, and suppression of history — are what it takes to keep Michael Oakeshott’s ship of state at an “even keel”. Therefore, draw no distinction between Trump, racist cops, and “honorable” conservatives like George W. Bush, recently rehabilitated by the liberal media. For their mission is to keep the empire and its institutions from changing, and that mission is the true nature of conservatism.