Back to the not-future

This is a politically-related thought that has been bugging me for a while, so I thought I would share it: all other disagreements aside, I oppose the Republican agenda because I find it difficult to imagine a country run according to modern right wing orthodoxy ever becoming the great country we have today. Their flat rejection of shared endeavor or worthwhile communal investment would rob us of nearly all our beloved institutions, from the Post Office to the National Parks to the Interstate Highway System to the public schools to the Internet. It is equally difficult — should they get their way — to imagine it remaining a great country in the future. They seem eager to wither many of these institutions through lack of funds, and also dead set on preventing any similar investments going forward.

Conservatives sometimes present themselves as wanting to prevent change now — to stand athwart history and yell “stop!” But in practice they seem more dedicated to taking us back to some imagined time in the past — to dial things back twenty, thirty, forty or, a hundred years and then yell “stop!” But even that sounds more benign than it really is. The US never existed in a vacuum, and our extreme stick-in-the-mud conservatism (had we practiced it) would not have prevented the rest of the world from moving forward with technology and infrastructure through the 19th and 20th centuries. People seem to forget, because of present US dominance in everything from the military to the movie industry, that other countries were working on these things too. We ended up as a leader in many areas because of our size, our wealth, and our willingness to invest in forward-thinking projects like public education. Without those qualities — all of which would be severely diminished or nonexistent in a country run according to the modern conservative vision — we wouldn’t be USA! USA! world’s only remaining superpower and defacto empire. We would be…

Well, it’s hard to imagine what we’d be. It’s hard to imagine what the world would be. Because it’s hard to imagine the right’s minimalist Federal government having managed anything as ambitious as the storming of the beach at Normandy, or the Moon landing. It’s hard to imagine their insular, anti-immigrant stance having welcomed Jewish scientists fleeing the Nazis. And so it becomes nearly impossible to imagine a United States, run according to the teaparty template, having beat the Nazis, or Russia, in the development of atomic weapons.

Without the US we know and love — the US with a commitment to education, science, and public investment — would the Allies even have triumphed in WWII?

And if they had, without the US as a political leader, would the modern European democracies be, you know, democracies?

Now, you might notice — many of the big accomplishments I mentioned came under the military umbrella. And the right wing is generally opposed to public investment in anything except the military, so you might counter that, well, of course we’d still have been first to the bomb. But there are two problems with that. One, is that, in spite of their oft-stated regard for the military, the right wing of this country is no more willing to fund it through taxes than they are to fund anything else. They don’t trash-talk it conceptually the way they diss the welfare state, but they still don’t really want to pay for it.

Two, infrastructure matters — you can’t have a technologically powerful and advanced military without the science and the manufacturing to support it, you can’t have the science and the manufacturing without an educated and healthy populace, etc. So, I think it’s naive to imagine that, under a strict conservative regime, the US military would still be the US military as we know it. We would have a military, no doubt — most countries do. But it would be much smaller, much weaker, less involved in foreign affairs, and probably would never have been a leader in the development of military technology. (I should point out that this aspect of the right-libertarian vision, as articulated by Ron Paul, strikes many as a feature, not a bug.)

So, point one: if we had been following their vision all along, we wouldn’t be here now. We’d be somewhere else. Possibly somewhere ruled by Nazis, or the USSR.

Point two: we are here now. It is impractical at best to imagine that you can suddenly turn a modern 21st century democracy into a minimalist 1804 republic. It’s the kind of thing that might happen anyway, after a sufficiently comprehensive disaster (chilling thought: are there rightists out there so committed to their vision of a retrograde America that they would deliberately bring about such a catastrophe?). But, as much as right-leaning voters might enjoy the rhetoric of 1804, most people, in their real everyday lives, prefer the comforts of 2012. They are loathe to give them up.

Why, then, does the right seem so dead set on eliminating them?


  1. I think there is a potential alternative history novel in the idea of a USA that turned it’s back on progress and attempted to remain unchanged by outsiders. Makes me think of the tv show ‘Sliders’ with the parallel San Franciscos, one ruled by the Russians, one populated by dinosaurs, one ruled by magic, one with a nearly all female population…

    Surely no-one can pretend that history hasn’t happened, that progress hasn’t been achieved? As you say, the comforts of the 21st Century exist because of the way history occurred and no amount of wishful thinking will change that.

    It is truly scary to think that there are people who would deliberately try to remake the world according to their imagined history. Would make for a good villain to take on James Bond though…

    1. Author

      Would make for a good villain

      Hmm… you’re right about that…

      (tries to come up with exciting plot)

      1. I’m trying to think up a name for said villain…

        Doctor Payne, owner of Retrograde Industries. Secret agenda of the company is to create “A utopia, a United States where old fashioned values are kept, a world with no liberals!” Cue manic laughter…

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