A Conservative Utopia
Larry David’s sarcastic op-ed about the tax deal reminds me of one of my favorite moments in Curb Your Enthusiasm. While chatting about politics with someone, he asks, what’s so great about Lincoln’s preserving the Union? Why do we need the south? Let them secede.
With the recent fervor from the right about states’ rights, particularly in relation to healthcare reform, and recurring noises throughout Obama’s presidency about Texas threatening to secede, Larry’s question is worth considering. What would it look like if all the conservatives formed a “utopia” in Texas, say, and broke away from the United States?
The fascinating thing about conservatism is that many poor people subscribe to its principles thanks in large part to Fox News and talk radio, even though it calls for doing away with the safety net. This is crucial for forming a conservative utopia because the wealthy business interests who push for deregulation need the impoverished to provide (usually cheap and hard) labor and perform other menial tasks.
While the poor would likely suffer the most at first, since freedom from “government intrusion” in the work place guarantees the absence of minimum wage laws, sanitation requirements and unemployment benefits, ultimately the entire society would implode, since, as the sub-prime mortgage crisis proves, unfettered free markets concentrate most of the wealth in the hands of a few mega financial firms, which would destroy themselves by creating a massive boom-bust cycle, leaving everyone destitute. This time they wouldn’t have to worry about a “big government” bailing them out, and it is unlikely that anyone would clamor for tax cuts as a salvation because there would be minimal or no taxes to begin with. It would be fascinating to see how a society in which nearly everyone owns a gun would settle disputes when the crisis hits.
The lack of a safety net also means that poor sick people would go without health care and infect everyone else through contagion. It goes without saying that women who need abortions would have to rely on coat hangers instead of doctors, and the population would be wildly uneducated about family planning, as the Bush administration’s refusal to share its foreign aid budget with organizations that offer advice on family planning indicates. And without social security most old people would never be able to retire (especially if they privatize their pensions by investing in the aforementioned banks).
Furthermore, there would be at first little and eventually no separation between church and state. The compulsory inculcation of creationism in the classroom would undermine any hope for scientific advances, since the building blocks of biology rely on evolution, and the society would look like America did before Jefferson and Madison wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom– as Christopher Hitchens explains in God is not Great, in some states Jews and Catholics were not allowed to hold office, and in Maryland, an extremely Catholic state, the law punished those who spoke “profane words concerning the Holy Trinity” with torture and “death without benefit of clergy.”
However, I must concede that there are some problems they would likely eliminate. For one, illegal immigration would no longer be an issue because nobody in his right mind would dare sneak into a conservative utopia. In addition, terrorism would likely be a nonfactor because few to no Muslims would want or be allowed to live there, and neo-Nazi militias would have nothing to be upset about, or at least, nobody to scapegoat.
As for the rest of America, we may be hurt in the short term by losing Texas, but we’d no longer have to contend with free market fundamentalism, party sanctioned bigotry and religious political activism as a mainstream force. The only serious problem that could arise for the rest of us is that, while we’d finally be able to lead the world in curbing greenhouse gases, Texas would pump so much co2 into the atmosphere (at least until the boom-bust cycle wipes them out) that our efforts might be for naught.
Watching the conservative utopia disintegrate would be satisfying because I reject the notion that “ignorance is bliss” and believe that people should and usually do suffer because of their ignorance.
Which brings me to the real lesson from this exercise (which is all this is–I don’t advocate secession because, as Lincoln rightly understood, it would set a dangerous precedent). America itself looks far too much like the fictional society I just described: in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled that the second amendment unambiguously guarantees an individual right to bear arms, 60% of GDP belongs to a few banks, and a boom-bust cycle almost obliterated the global economy in 2008. Meanwhile Muslims are being systematically persecuted, whether it be through the Park 51 hysteria, or the charge that Obama is a Muslim as if there were something wrong with that, or the incoming Republican head of the House Committee on Homeland Security’s plans to hold hearings on radical Islam.
Millions go without healthcare, and the Republicans are trying very hard to uphold this shameful and embarrassing state of affairs with their fight to repeal health care reform. We’ve made hopelessly inadequate progress at combating climate change, and stem cell research is being impeded to appease religious conservatives. Maybe Larry David has a point. Perhaps Lincoln’s infamous maxim has ultimately wrought more damage than he could have known.