• John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

“Conservative” Shouldn’t Mean Just “Grumpy and Complacent in Privilege&#8221

This article, touted by a good friend of mine, but written by someone not known to me, is a prime example of why I stopped subscribing to, and then reading at all, First Things…and similar journals in other countries.

I keep being astonished by the easy sense that in Olden Days things were pretty much fine when it came to university life. Yet I’m not inclined to celebrate ethnic and sexual quotas for admission and hiring, old-boy networks, or DWEMs so dominating the Great Conversation that they were simply assumed to be generic human beings with a generic human outlook.

Likewise, the author’s sardonic dismissal of “X Studies” as hopelessly ideological and academically useless entails that (a) we haven’t learned anything valuable thereby about, say, women (or men), native Canadians or Americans, African-Americans, and other groups that apparently were given full and proper attention in the academy before, say, 1960, and (b) academic departments elsewhere in the university, then and now, are not in the grip of ideologies…and especially is this true of the author and those who think as he does—namely, non-ideologically.

This attitude nicely dovetails with a similar outlook on economic life also: hence the absolute faith in “the market”—another place where white middle-class male dominance was taken for granted as merely the “invisible hand” of the Good and True. As a Canadian, I have to look back only to the prairies during the Depression to suggest that trusting “the market,” dominated as it was (and is) by banks, insurance companies, and other dubious tribunes of the common worker, might not be all there is to the most just, let alone most Christian, approach to economic life.

This obtuseness about The Way the World Works is especially hard to take from such people given the overweening self-congratulation for being Right (in every sense) that frequently marks this discourse. To this attitude is now added the piquant moral assumption of martyrdom at the hands of the Establishment (the author’s term, not mine). I don’t doubt that outlooks different from this one dominate much of university life. But if one looks back to the putative halcyon days of yore (say, the Ivy League before 1960), does one seriously want to suggest that the situation of today’s conservatives can be plausibly compared to the marginalized situation of, say, blacks, or Asians, or homosexuals, or socialists, or even women?

Two wrongs don’t make a right, of course. And I, too, have objected to stupid and wicked things on campuses here in Canada and beyond. Moreover, I have suffered professional antagonism myself at the hands of ideologically driven university (and media) powers, and I didn’t like it. It’s just that when people complain from tenured positions at respected institutions that they and their ilk are suffering so very much, one must ask for a little better perspective on what persecution really means.

Even if we hold our noses about all that, though, fundamentally I object to the sheer analytical laziness of lumping together Everything Right-Thinking People Don’t Like on one side and Everything We Do on the other—as if feminist and pro-life concerns cannot coincide (news flash: they can); as if no postmodern epistemology can emerge from Christian conviction (news flash: it has); and as if the traumas and sensibilities of people different from oneself cannot be compassionately acknowledged and accommodated while maintaining a balancing regard for both common sense and the common good (news flash: they are so balanced by lots of us in the university, all the time).

My main beef, in sum, is that dividing the world once more into Two Kinds of People is not the way forward in a complex situation such as the contemporary university, let alone North American society at large.

It’s a good way to feel good about oneself and one’s team, of course.

But it isn’t the most politic way forward: to form alliances to advance justice and learning and opportunity and accuracy on this issue, and then on that one, and then on another one, piece by piece (as one would think true conservatives would acknowledge).

It isn’t the most hospitable and humble way to cultivate regard for the good things others bring to the conversation, since all Good Things have already been ascribed to Us.

It isn’t even true to the facts. And thus it keeps failing even by its own (and my own) treasured standard of realism.

Let’s do better in 2016, shall we?