Conservatism in the Land Of Progress was a bit of a joke until the white power structure came under attack by the dispossessed--the working poor, women, minorities. The ruling elite exploited the group identity of its conservative followers using fear of the other, in these cases the other races and sex, to maintain their power. This worked very well for the elite, who paid the lesser elite, the aristocracy (or Villagers, as we call them now), to do the actual exploiting and conserving. Many think tanks and institutes were born, and many clever politicians were nurtured on the mother's milk of payoffs. But the Other had elites as well, elites who did not yet have enough power to exploit their own members, although that came in time.
Meanwhile, the conservatives attacked the elite Other, which of course chipped away at the reputation of all minor elites. Newspapers gave way to a few television stations, which gave way to many sources of information--so many, in fact, that conservatives never had to hear a dissenting word if they didn't want to. Talk show hosts and political preachers gradually replaced journalists and public intellectuals, just as a blend of news and entertainment replaced Edward R. Murrow. The elite journalists were no longer needed to pass on the message; they were being by-passed by the new conservative aristocracy, the propagandists, to spread their propaganda directly to the people.
And so David Frum is told his services are no longer required, since they no longer are. You don't need a Harvard Man to explain to the authoritarian followers why they should elect a dog-whistle candidate like Bush or Santorum or Mitch McConnell. You just have to blow the dog whistle.
Billmon considers the Conservative Party.
The business, of course, is disinformation: the creation of a closed loop of emotions, beliefs and pseudo-facts that buttress, at all times and all points, the party line.
However, the more I study this, the more I’m convinced the primary goal of the exercise isn’t to convince the broader public, whom I think the Rovians essentially view as the equivalent of the "proles" of 1984 -- dull lumps of unthinking flesh who, nine times in 10, will follow the loudest, most simplistic and most passionate voice they hear.
The goal of conservative disinformation, then, is to provide that voice by creating the kind of "mind" (e.g. epistemic community) among the true conservative faithful that [Julian] Sanchez is talking about: one impervious to reason, logic and -- most importantly of all -- factual evidence. The growing nervousness of some conservative intellectuals, like [Ross] Douthat and Frum, about this project perhaps reflects the dawning realization that they are basically irrelevant to its success.
They are indeed. They are no longer needed; all that is needed is to parade Sarah Palin around on the Discovery Channel, or sponsor tea parties as Fox has been doing. It's not poliltics, it's Politainment! No brains needed at all, and in fact there is always the danger that the Villager will dissent from the elite's plan, out of hubris or greed or vanity.
The creation of a closed mind is, of course, a prerequisite for successful doublethink (defined as the ability to hold two diametrically opposed beliefs at the same time, and to immediately change one or both of those beliefs when instructed). By their very nature, doublethink constructs tend to be fragile. They have a low tolerance for contact with non-managed reality -- much less open debate (thus the need, in 1984, for the constant writing and rewriting of history, to ensure a seamless and timeless continuity to the party line).
But the real breakthrough discovery by the conservative propaganda machine (Fox News, in particular) is that despite this inherent fragility, it doesn’t take an Orwellian police state to create and maintain the kind of self-contained, artificial consciousness that doublethink requires. Indeed, it can be done even in a supposedly free and open society....
One final note: I should clarify that when I refer to the creation of a "self-executing" conservative doublethink as a breakthrough, I’m only talking about the American political experience. The ability of an authoritarian movement to build a powerful false narrative -- and then persuade millions of followers not only to believe it but actively defend it against encroaching reality, even in a more-or-less free society -- was clearly demonstrated in Weimar Germany during the 1920s and ’30s by [GODWIN REDACTION].
One can hope the peculiarities of time, place and culture explain much, if not all, of the catastrophic success of that previous experiment, which is unlikely to be repeated now.
But I’m not entirely sure it would be the smart way to bet.
The only thing that is needed for a recreation of Weimar Germany is an authoritarian people who would rather kill than let go of their needs and desires--and we already have that.