Location: Granite Falls, North Carolina, United States

I'm an ordained United Methodist minister no longer pastoring churches, a former media producer with skills ten years out of date, a writer trying to sell my first novel, and a sales associate keeping body and soul together working for the People's Republic of Corporate America. I'm married to the most wonderful woman in the world, who was my best friend for 17 years before we married.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Conservatives' track record

A fellow commenter at Glenn Greenwald's blog in Salon, Jeff Smith has a page posted titled "Why Conservatives are Always Wrong." (

He makes some really good arguments. In fact, I can't find any fallacies in his arguments. I look on it as an evangelical Christian, of course, but I tend to agree with much of what he says. I want to share a sample of the history of Conservatism from his post:

Æ In the 16th century, medical pioneers set out to chart the workings of the human body. Where the old doctrines relied on sacred symbols and mystical “spirits” and “humours,” the new science mapped internal organs, watched blood circulate and began to uncover the physical causes of disease. These first steps toward modern medicine filled conservatives with horror, and they tried hard to bring the whole enterprise to a stop. They opposed the use of autopsies to learn how the body worked. They insisted that disease was caused by Satan’s influence, epidemics by collective sin, and mental illness by demonic possession. And even as the scientific facts were becoming known, later conservatives kept up the fight against further new developments, like vaccines and anesthetics – which, they said, violated “nature” and usurped God’s right to decide who should suffer and die.

Æ In the 17th century, while Galileo was fighting his battles, other debates were getting underway over the sources of government power – whether it lay within families and was rightly conferred by birth, or whether it rose from the people and should rest on the consent of the governed. Against proposals for electing rulers and other novel “democratical” ideas, conservative opinion came down firmly on the side of aristocratic privilege and the so-called divine right of kings.

Æ In the 18th century, movements developed with the aim of reforming the system of criminal justice. Liberal thinkers argued for speedy and public trials, rejected the “cruel and unusual” in favor of penalties that fit the crimes, and supported modest efforts to see that even prisoners were treated humanely. Why did these arguments need to be made? Because at a time when dozens of minor offenses carried the death sentence, when political and religious dissent was criminalized and when legal penalties included literally cutting people to bits, conservatives thought the laws were, if anything, too soft.

Æ In the 19th century, women were still unable to vote, own property or practice professions. When reformers called for giving them these rights, conservatives invoked both nature and the Bible to prove that women were created subservient to men, belonged in the home, and didn’t need to participate in public decision-making because men knew their interests better than women themselves did.

Æ In the 20th century, another movement declared that people should be treated equally regardless of race. Progressive reformers like Martin Luther King Jr. called on America to live up to its founding promise, and to honor Scripture’s true meaning, by guaranteeing civil rights for all. Conservatives – including some still alive today – replied that King was distorting both the Constitution, which left it up to each state to decide how racist to be, and the Bible, which licensed white supremacy based on some tale of an ancient curse. Defiantly standing in the schoolhouse door (literally and figuratively), conservatives darkly warned that “unnatural” mixing of the races would lead to all manner of social evils.

He does point out, however, that twice in history conservatives have provided a needed balance to liberal excesses: during the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution and in opposing Communism. Both went over the line and led many liberal and progressive minds astray.

But on the whole, history sides with the liberals.

Good work, Jeff.


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