second in what i predict will become a seriesMichael posted a question, a few days ago, asking what the word "capitalism" meant. He's right: it's used to mean pretty much anything -- presence of markets, presence of profit, presence of an accumulative "mentality," presence of wage labor, presence of three croissants and a bucket of Coronas with lime. It means so many things that it means nothing.
So I'd like to ask the same question about the word "conservative." What does it mean? I propose that, this will sound familiar, the word now means so many things that it means nothing.
Batshit lunatic Paul Craig Roberts is "conservative." So is the unfailingly responsible and levelheaded Eugene Volokh. Michelle Malkin is "conservative." So is Robert Conquest. Pat Robertson and Pat Buchanan are "conservative." So are Condaleeza Rice and George Will. The Chamber of Commerce is "conservative." So is American Renaissance.
Can a word that lumps together so many people, with such different beliefs, mean anything at all?
You can guess how I'd answer that question. We ought to abandon altogether the reductionist categories of "left" and "right," "conservative" and "liberal." They're Manichean relics of the Cold War, and do more harm than good.
I was once working on a story for the libertarian magazine Reason, and got the sociologist Herbert Gans on the phone to do an interview. The folks at Reason are as far from the Rick Santorum right as you can get: they oppose the drug war, see no reason why government should be in the business of favoring heterosexual relationships over homosexual relationships, and tend to be skeptical of the use of military power. I once stood in the Reason offices and listened as an editor discussed the reason he was back from jury duty so quickly: he had explained to a judge that there was just no way he could convict someone for possessing drugs or guns, since there was no way that he could regard mere possession of either to be a crime.
So I get Herbert Gans on the phone, and tell him who I am and why I'm calling. And he hems and haws, and finally says that he's willing to talk to me...
Even though I write for a right-wing publication.