July 28, 2023


The Death of Conservatism Is Greatly Exaggerated (CHRISTINE ROSEN, JULY 24, 2023, Religion & Liberty)

Citing Marx, Askonas claims that "a technological society can have no traditions."

Elaborating on this claim, Askonas argues that "modernity liquidates traditions for the same reason that a firm might liquidate an underperforming factory: to improve the allocation and return of capital." This is an intentionally limited definition of tradition, one that purports to measure the usefulness of tradition as akin to a commodity that should be replaced when it becomes inefficient. Askonas also blames conservatism for too readily acquiescing to technological change. Using the example of the introduction of cheap agricultural fertilizers and the many unintended consequences its use had for the practice and culture of farming, Askonas claims this demonstrates "how extensive the social impact of a single technology can be, and how little the conservative defense of tradition offers in response to this sort of change." For good measure, he throws in the charge that conservatives also lost the culture war, not because their ideas were wrong, but because of "the Pill and the two-income trap."

None of this is new. In the 1950s in The Conservative Mind, Russell Kirk acknowledged, "For a century and a half, conservatives have yielded ground in a manner which, except for occasionally successful rear-guard actions, must be described as a rout." Like Askonas, Kirk identified how, throughout the modern world, "things are in the saddle," including "industrialism, centralization, secularism, and the leveling impulse," and he indicted conservative thinkers for lacking "perspicacity sufficient to meet the conundrums of modern times." A similar lament emerged in the work of mid-20th-century sociologists such as Robert Nisbet, who noted in The Quest for Community, "Surely the outstanding characteristic of contemporary thought on man and society is the preoccupation with personal alienation and cultural disintegration."

And while Askonas enjoys citing Karl Marx, his argument is far more indebted to French sociologist Jacques Ellul, whose 1954 book The Technological Society examined in detail the erosion of moral and social values wrought by technological change. Another significant influence is Neil Postman, whose Technopoly was subtitled "the surrender of culture to technology." There are many, many more--including, it must be said, Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, whose manifesto included a special shoutout attacking conservatives that sounds quite similar to Askonas': "The conservatives are fools," Kaczynski wrote. "Apparently it never occurs to them that you can't make rapid, drastic changes in the technology and the economy of a society without causing rapid changes in all other aspects of the society as well, and that such rapid changes inevitably break down traditional values."

In other words, there is a rich (dare I call it) tradition of critical assessments of technology's impact and unintended consequences, both from within and outside the conservative intellectual world, which Askonas surely knows but does not make mention of in his essay, perhaps because in those works tradition is treated as the complicated and nuanced thing it is, rather than the one-dimensional straw man Askonas needs us to accept so that his obituary for conservatism will make sense.

MAGA, appropriatety,  approaches this from the Marxist lens, but it's a story as old as Cain and Abel, where God rejects the technologist

Posted by at July 28, 2023 6:56 AM