Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Anti-feminism and the Republican Right

Another reminder that Trump and his crass sexism is not at all a major departure from the Republican trajectory of the last several decades. In a 1994 article, Alan Brinkley discussed the role of Christian fundamentalism in the Republican right (The Problem of American Conservatism American Historical Review 99:2 Apr 1994):

... the most powerful single strain within fundamentalist conservatism through much of the 1970s and 1980s may have been its assault on the efforts of modern feminists to redefine gender roles. Battles over abortion, birth control, the Equal Rights Amendment, and other gender-based issues (and, more recently, battles over homosexuality) have mobilized the fundamentalist Right more successfully and energetically than any other issue. Anti-feminist women were especially active in the revival of the fundamentalist Right. And they were instrumental in tying it to two important and related claims: that a family structure rooted in traditional notions of gender is the basis of a stable, moral society, and that a moral consensus in society is, in turn, essential to the stability of the family. "The family is the core institution that decisively determines the nature of society itself," one pro-family activist wrote in 1980. It is, she insisted, "the primary source of moral authority for the developing individual. The moral authority anchored in the family is by its very nature dependent on a consensus of core values within society." In that light, the social changes of the 1960s and 1970s appeared a menacing threat to what anti-feminists believe were once universally accepted norms. [my emphpasis]
Brinkley also addressed the drastic contradictions and hyprocrisies in movement conservatism and the Republican Party - not that there is much if any difference between the two now:

American conservatism is not easy to characterize, even for those who view it sympathetically. Conservatism encompasses a broad range of ideas, impulses, and constituencies, and many conservatives feel no obligation to choose among the conflicting, even incompatible impulses, that fuel their politics. Individual conservatives find it possible, and at times perhaps even necessary, to embrace several clashing ideas at once. Conservatism is not, in short, an "ideology," with a secure and consistent internal structure. It is a cluster of related (and sometimes unrelated) ideas from which those who consider themselves conservatives draw different elements at different times. This ideological juggling makes the American Right particularly baffling to many of those historians who (as most do) stand outside it and try to make sense of it.
But, he notes, "conservatism is no more inchoate than liberalism, progressivism, socialism, or any other broad political stance that describes a large and diverse group of people." I'm not sure that observation is accurate. The Republican Party's need to rally a mass base behind plutocratic policies produces some remarkable incoherence from a rational point of view.

But Brinkley's argument in that article also echoes to some extent the whiny-white-people's complaint that the Mean Libruls look down on the salt-of-the-earth Real Americans:

It has not been easy or comforting for liberal, secular Americans to assume (as many have done) that the fundamentalist Right is an irrational, rootless "lunatic fringe," plagued by cultural and psychological maladjustments. But it may be even more difficult and less comforting for secular intellectuals (and hence for
most historians) to accept that fundamentalists can be rational, stable, intelligent people with a world view radically different from their own.
Passages like this tend to ignore the difference between substantive reason and technical rationality. Hitler's concentration camps ran on rational organizational principles. Even the Holocaust itself employed operational rationality in its task. That didn't make it any less psychotic.

As Max Horkheimer put it in a much more philosophical mode, the Western tradition of Reason was much more than valuing instrumental rationality (Eclipse of Reason, 1947):

This concept of reason never precluded subjective reason, but regarded the latter as only a partial, limited expression of a universal rationality from which criteria for they too are reasonable in the subjective sense, i.e. that they serve the subject's interest in relation to self-preservation - be it that of the single individual, or of the community on whose maintenance that of the individual depends. The idea that an aim can be reasonable for its own sake-on the basis of virtues that insight reveals it to have in itself without reference to some kind of subjective gain or advantage, is utterly alien to subjective reason, even where it rises above the consideration of immediate utilitarian values and devotes itself to reflections about the social order as a whole.

There is a fundamental difference between this theory, according to which reason is a principle inherent in reality, and the doctrine that reason is a subjective faculty of the mind. According to the latter, the subject alone can genuinely have reason: if we say that an institution or any other reality is reasonable, we usually mean that men have organized it reasonably, that they have applied to it, in a more or less technical way, their logical, calculative capacity. Ultimately subjective reason proves to be the ability to calculate probabilities and thereby to co-ordinate the right means with a given end. [my emphasis]

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