Prime Directive

by Patrick J. Deneen on February 9, 2011 · 7 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Short

Over at “No Left Turns,” we see further evidence of the complete incoherence of the contemporary American Right. Here’s an interesting response to a story about the discovery of a number of indigenous tribes that have been completely untouched by the advances of modernity. Justin Paulette gives the following “conservative” response:

One cannot avoid the paternalistic role demanded of states within whose borders these people live. Well-intended activists wish to create a legal mandate that nations recognize and enforce these people’s isolation. But this seems, in itself, a somewhat egregious form of evolutionary control. It is a peculiar accident that these people have been excluded from the progress of the entire human species. Surely it is an authoritarian act to decide that they must remain in such a state until they sua sponte develop a social instinct to the contrary. One may suggest with equal validity that they should be contacted immediately with a reader’s digest update on what they’ve missed over the last several millenia or so. Who knows, they might like football, pizza and the Beatles.

Here we have a self-declared “conservative” asserting that an evolutionary imperative requires the State to actively correct the “peculiar accident” that has prevented such groups from enjoying the “progress of the entire human species,” particularly football, pizza and the Beatles. In effect, Paulette here echoes the imperialistic imperative that has always accompanied liberalism’s efforts to “improve” unprogressed people, expressed with particular force and clarity by that arch-liberal John Stuart Mill in his wildly mistitled book On Liberty, where he writes “Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement.”

Progressivism – a key tenet of liberalism, as Paulette here evinces (in spite of the now-standard “conservative” trope that it’s the Progressives who ruined America) – is inescapably and inherently paternalistic. As soon as one part of the population (domestically) or the globe (internationally) understands itself to be more advanced as a result of inevitable evolutionary developments, it becomes a moral imperative to promote the improvement of backwards people or races (e.g., those who may “cling to guns and religion”).

At the very least, a conservative should be circumspect about asserting “progress” as the grounds for seeking the transformation of a “backward” society so that it might join the modern consumptive binge. Evaluations like the one cited here reveal the fundamental liberal assumptions of most of today’s so-called “conservatives.”

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Jon Schaff February 10, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Patrick,

I think you miss part of the point, perhaps distracted by the suggestion that of all civilizational accomplishments that we might want to share football, pizza and the Beatles deserve particular mention (although, in all honesty, I enjoy all three). Just as one doesn’t want to use the discovery of a previously isolated tribe as an excuse to sell them our crap, nor does one want to turn them into a museum piece where we go to great effort to make sure they never change as they do encounter the modern world. Perhaps they don’t need pizza, but perhaps some fluoride toothpaste might come in handy. Or how about penicillin? To put it another way, millions of Americans each year go to Yellowstone to experience “nature.” I am all for this experience. But Yellowstone is a very manipulated environment meant to cater to tourist traffic and those who would like a “safe” experience of the “wild.” This is why the park has to go to such lengths to remind patrons that bison are dangerous or that you shouldn’t feed the bears. I have personally seen tourists chasing elk in order to get a good picture. Part of that is because our modern life as so alienated us from nature that we cannot even conceive the danger in chasing after a mother elk and her calf (note to readers: this is very dangerous). But also Yellowstone seems like a safe place, precisely because it is almost as much a “nature museum” as it is real nature. There is no easy answer, but I think along with resisting the temptation to “modernize” these indigenous folks, we should resist as much the temptation, perhaps rightly termed authoritarian, to turn this or any other indigenous people into museum pieces that we appreciate from afar without having to deal with their hardships.

avatar Albert February 10, 2011 at 7:47 pm

There definitely is a messianic/missiological impulse to liberalism, a remnant of Christian origins, without the moral and theological grounding.

Jon, I’m not sure how minding one’s business and respecting decisions to not to embrace modernity (as Paulette notes, many of these “isolated” people have been contacted but have rejected cultural impositions) turns other people into museum pieces in an authoritarian manner. I think it’s respectful, just as you would probably want me to respect your decision not to abide by my ways of raising your children if you disagreed with them. Talk is fine (up to a point), but Paulette is talking about imposing cultural norms directly against their wishes, which is a form of violence. Or am I being “authoritarian” by refraining from imposing my parenting techniques on your family against your wishes? The mind boggles at the nonsensical inversions of meaning and abuse of language here.

And seeing as we’ve only discovered these people, chances are we know next to nothing about their hardships. Perhaps once one moves and become a part of these people to learn their ways and, you know, deal with their hardships, one might be qualified to speak of how necessary it is for them to change. Till then, we’re just being condescending.

avatar Anonymous February 11, 2011 at 6:24 pm

How is he suggesting that the state must intercede? It seems to me like he’s specifically rejecting that idea. He said:

“One may suggest with equal validity that they should be contacted immediately…”

A validty equal to what? I presume he is comparing this to the validity of the authoritarian ban on any contact with the tribe. A move which he obviously considers INVALID.

Moreover, note that in addition to not really endorsing forced contact, the passive construction of the quoted section does not indicate that this contact would be done by the state.

avatar John Gorentz February 12, 2011 at 1:40 pm

“Here we have a self-declared “conservative” asserting that an evolutionary imperative requires the State to actively correct the “peculiar accident” that has prevented such groups from enjoying the “progress of the entire human species…”

I’m not sure this is a correct statement. I’ve read and re-read that snippet, and don’t see how you get that.

And even if it is a true summary (and I’ve heard people on my side (aka “the right”) say some pretty stupid things about indigenous peoples) I’m not sure how this is evidence of the complete incoherence of the American Right, any more than one incoherent post is evidence of the complete incoherence of Patrick J. Deneen.

avatar D.W. Sabin February 17, 2011 at 4:13 pm

Whenever discussions about rustic indigenes convene, I am quickly confused by an inability to decide who is the savage and who is the improver.

avatar John Gorentz February 17, 2011 at 8:15 pm

I can imagine. It’s probably similar to what happens when people are discussing Big Ten basketball. I get quickly confused by an inability to decide whether it’s the red wine or the white wine that’s supposed to be served with fish.

avatar D.W. Sabin February 17, 2011 at 9:30 pm

Make no mistake, a nicely rendered horseradish crusted Grouper is well aided by either white or red wine but my preference, had I the ability to restrict myself to one would be for the Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley Terroir …Erath preferred.

As to Big Ten Basketball , buy the ticket, take the ride.

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