So in my post yesterday on John King's interview with Dick Cheney, I mentioned that Human Events magazine named John Maynard Keynes' "General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money" as the 10th-most harmful book of the 19th and 20th centuries.
This compelled me to mosey over and take a look at their list. "The Communist Manifesto" is No. 1, obviously, but some of the other titles they included were seriously thought-provoking regarding the nature of the conservative movement. Here's a few others:
4) "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male," aka "The Kinsey Report," by Alfred Kinsey
7) "The Feminine Mystique," Betty Friedan
The following received honorable mention: "The Origin of Species," Charles Darwin; "Unsafe at Any Speed," Ralph Nader; "Introduction to Psychoanalysis," Sigmund Freud; "Silent Spring," Rachel Carson.
So the 15 judges who voted on the list for Human Events, only one of whom was a woman (Phyllis Schlafly), basically oppose most aspects of human progress.
It's no secret that conservatives try to preserve the way things are, resisting radical change. But looking over this list, it occurred to me that this may be their only function. It's a useful role, checking society's forward momentum and preventing it from careening out of control, but it's useful in the way that a door jamb is useful. It's useful in the manner of a pawn on a chess board: It serves an important purpose, but it's a rather dull role to play.
Returning to the list, the judges don't like the environmental movement ("Silent Spring"), because patriotic corporations shouldn't be forced to pay for their pollution. They don't like consumer advocacy ("Unsafe"), because morally upright corporations would never do anything that's not beneficial to all of mankind (I think it would be hard nowadays for most Americans, except perhaps for Britney Spears, to fathom that cars in the 1950s didn't have seatbelts, much less that automobile companies fought their introduction).
They don't like "The Origin of Species," because it undermines the idea that God dug his hand into Adam's torso while he was sleeping and created a playmate for him. (Quick question: If Adam and Eve were the first humans, and Cain and Abel were their first children, how come when Cain was exiled he went off into a world that was already populated? One of the many puzzlers of the Old Testament.)
They don't like Sigmund Freud, because delving beneath the surface of the human psyche can lead only to madness and the downfall of society. They don't like Kinsey, because they don't want to consider the possibility that human sexuality is highly complex and marked by vast gray areas (not to mention the horrifying suspicion that they themselves are gay; see Haggard, Ted). And they don't like Betty Friedan, because American women were perfectly content living like second-class citizens until she came along and poisoned their minds.
Putting aside those individuals who are conservative because they simply don't want to be taxed, or because they're frightened of foreigners and would like to drop cluster bombs on them, this is what the true conservatism boils down to: opposing the inevitable progress of the human race.
I'm reminded of George Will's remark (one which I haven't been able to track down tonight, unfortunately, though I'll keep looking) that conservatism, in his view, could be adequately described as the desire to return to how America was at the turn of the 20th century. A time, by the way, when there were no child labor laws and women couldn't vote. (I think Will wants to return to the early 20th century because then he'd be able to wear a top hat all the time and dispense with that hideous toupee.)
How do you get out of bed in the morning if your guiding philosophy amounts to the futile opposition of the progress, the human advancement, that is inherent in a democratic, scientifically guided society? The best you can hope to do is slow it down. Hence, the Speed Bump Theory of Conservatism.
Now, history moves in cycles and nothing is guaranteed. A nuclear attack, disease outbreak or some other catastrophe could plunge us into a new dark age. And frankly there aren't many nations in history that have been more ripe for such a descent than this one. But barring Armageddon, conservatives are bound for failure.