eliot cohen is annoyed that the republican party embodies conservatism

Eliot Cohen wrote one of today’s popular articles at The Atlantic. He asks if the Republic Party is “still conservative.”

Ignoring the dictum that if one is not of the left as a young person, one has no heart, and not of the right in middle age, one has no head, I have always been a conservative. I voted Republican most of the time, affiliated with the GOP, and served proudly as a political appointee under two Republican presidents. I bitterly opposed Donald Trump’s candidacy and dropped my Republican affiliation once he won in 2016, figuring that the party would soon fall in line. I said as much in public, and my predictions were borne out. But it is only now that I have concluded that the break between conservative beliefs and the party that claimed to uphold them is complete and irreversible.

No, it’s more like conservatives are openly being themselves and he wants a return to the old way, where people pretended good faith conservative principles exist. They do not. From Brzezinski’s The Choice:

International power…still needs social legitimacy. That legitimacy is required both by the dominant and the dominated. The former crave it because it gives them the self-confidence, the sense of mission, and the moral conviction to pursue their goals and to assert their interests. The latter need it to justify their acquiescence, to facilitate their accommodation, and to sustain their submission. Doctrinal legitimacy reduces the costs of the exercise of power by mitigating resentment on the part of those subject to it. To this end, globalization is the natural doctrine of global hegemony.

Cohen explains his self-image as a conservative:

Being a conservative has always meant, to me, taking a certain view of human nature, and embracing a certain set of values and virtues. The conservative is warier than her liberal counterpart about the darker impulses and desires that lurk in men and women, more doubtful of their perfectibility, skeptical of and opposed to the engineering of individual souls, and more inclined to celebrate freedom moderated by law, custom, education, and culture. She knows that power tends to corrupt, and likes to see it checked and divided. Words like responsibility, stoicism, self-control, frugality, fidelity, decorum, honor, character, independence, and integrity appeal to most decent people. They come particularly easily to the admirers of thinkers from Edmund Burke to Irving Kristol.

Conservatives are “warier” about humanity’s darker impulses and desires because conservatism is a celebration of them. The Republic agenda actually has a unifying concept: indulge the worst in human nature. Do that which is base, cruel, and greedy.

Eliot Cohen says he’s skeptical of engineering individual souls, which is absurd. From Wikipedia’s summary of his political views:

Cohen was one of the first neoconservatives to publicly advocate war against Iran and Iraq. In a November 2001 op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Cohen identified what he called World War IV and advocated the overthrow of Iran’s government as a possible next step for the Bush Administration. Cohen claimed “regime change” in Iran could be accomplished with a focus on “pro-Western and anticlerical forces” in the Middle East and suggested that such an action would be “wise, moral and unpopular (among some of our allies)”. He went on to argue that such a policy was as important as the then identified goal of Osama Bin Laden’s capture: “The overthrow of the first theocratic revolutionary Muslim state and its replacement by a moderate or secular government, however, would be no less important a victory in this war than the annihilation of bin Laden.”

He clearly has a strong interest in how Muslims go about seeking salvation.

“Freedom moderated by law, custom, education, and culture” means pervasive restrictions on freedom.

They like to see power divided only when applying divide and conquer strategies to their enemies. They’re real big on executive power.

When he lists responsibility, stoicism, frugality, etc., he doesn’t mean the actual practices of conservatives. He means the type of rhetoric they’ll use to help create and shame poor people.

He’s just bummed that they’ve stopped pretending, but that’s not a recent development. During the George W. Bush administration, I distinctly remember thinking “they don’t even have to try, anymore.” The bullshit was transparently bullshit. People largely wanted to believe in it, though. Things are just deteriorating to the point that normal people’s considerable capacity for denial is being stretched to the limit.

Look what’s on Bloomberg today:

At the end of 2016, before Puerto Rico’s power grid collapsed, wildfires reached the Arctic, and a large swath of North Carolina was submerged under floodwaters, Jonathan Gosling published an academic paper asking what might have seemed like a shrill question: How should we prepare for the consequences of planetary climate catastrophe?

“If some of the more extreme scenarios of ecocrisis turn out to be accurate, we in the West will be forced to confront such transformations,” wrote Gosling, an anthropologist who’d just retired from the University of Exeter in England.

Almost two years later, as the U.S. stumbles through a second consecutive season of record hurricanes and fires, more academics are approaching questions once reserved for doomsday cults. Can modern society prepare for a world in which global warming threatens large-scale social, economic, and political upheaval? What are the policy and social implications of rapid, and mostly unpleasant, climate disruption?

Well, being raised in a doomsday cult made me more capable of accepting the reality of doomsday. 10 years ago, I was pissing people off as a “doomer,” someone who put 2 and 2 together that we’re not going to solve peak oil, global warming, economic collapse, pollution, mass extinction, etc. all at once, in the nick of time. The only question is how unbearably awful the collapse will be. I wasn’t the only person emotionally prepared to confront this fact back then, but we were a fringe minority. At the same time, popular culture went through a period of preoccupation with zombies.

It’s really more general than Cohen thinks. As conservatives retreat into fantasy, everyone else is adjusting to how grim it is.

There has always been a dark side to American conservatism, much of it originating in the antebellum curse of a society, large parts of which favored slavery and the extermination of America’s native population, the exclusion of immigrants from American life, and discrimination against Catholics and Jews. Many of us had hoped that the civil-rights achievements of the mid-20th century (in which Republicans were indispensable partners), changing social norms regarding women, and rising levels of education had eliminated the germs that produced secession, lynching, and Indian massacres. Instead, those microbes simply went into dormancy, and now, in the presence of Trump, erupt again like plague buboes—bitter, potent, and vile.

If you just admit that this is the essence of conservatism, the present day is entirely continuous with the past. Even during slavery, there had to be a bullshit story justifying slavery. That bullshit story is “conservatism,” then as now.

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