I am filled with Freudian Meditations on politics this morning, after a fraught re-acquaintance with that madman, Norman O. Brown and his astonishing psychoanalytic countercultural manifesto Life Against Death. I felt my long submerged conservative side in me rebel when his attempt to provide a psychoanalytic account of Marxian unalienated labor led him inexorably to the oral stage as the model of the perfect human condition. Conservatives always suspected that the cry against alienated labor was, in certain mouths, a hunger for a free lunch. Before one can meaningfully cry against alienated labor, one needs to do some.
Ambivalence about power would be the natural outcome of being a member of a species which involves being, first, a dependent, frustrated child, and later a harried, put-upon and ultimately rebelled against and rejected parent. Ambivalence about power strikes me as healthy, and reasonable, and some of us lean toward recognition of its unavoidability and some of us lean toward a concern with its abuse, depending upon the character of our experiences and sensitivities.
So why is it that I experience politics today the way that I do? Why is that I (like Sullivan) find so little conservatism in today’s conservatives? It isn’t merely that to accomplish its goals, it must uproot so much. The key lies in the tone. Modern conservatives are really angry. What is more, they celebrate their entitlement to be angry. The recent silliness with Limbaugh illustrates the fundamentally transgressive character of today’s conservatism. But isn’t anger ultimately the desire to punish? And isn’t the desire to punish born of identification with authority? I don’t know. Ask yourself. How many parents tell their children that they hope that someday they will grow up to be foul-mouthed and intemperate, like themselves?
No. The transgressive, guilt-refusing character of today’s conservatism (hence the popularity of Ayn Rand among supposed “Christians”) reveals that all the players in our current political world are playing child roles. The grown-ups have left the building. The key difference is one side is frustrated with their parents and the other is frustrated by siblings. (If you’re not frustrated with someone politics is the most boring form of entertainment ever.)
The realization that the more extreme forms of conservatism are tainted with sibling rivalry explains a whole bunch of things, including my intuition that the more extreme form of conservatism isn’t “conservative” at all. It needs radical changes, and big government, the better to punish with (and here is the deepest root of today’s utterly unconservative “neoconservative” foreign policy agenda). It is the cry of unfairness and the demand that dad beat the crap out of your little brother, who has tormented you enough (ever notice how little brother always lies to the IAEA and its nuclear inspectors and always gets away with everything?). The progressive petulant demand for an eternal breast under the guise of “meaningful work” seems utterly benign by comparison.