Interesting article by Barth Anderson looking at what really constitutes “conservative SFF“. He alludes to the fact, quite rightly I think, that “conservative” (use of scare quotes will be evident in a minute) SFF isn’t a dying breed; it’s just so ubiquitous we don’t even notice it as “conservative” any more. He gives the example of The Walking Dead and, in the comments, adds “superhero films” to the roster.

But–and it’s the kind of but that would appeal to Sir Mix-a-Lot–in saying that, both Anderson and myself are making one of the biggest classification errors I’ve seen in the Puppies debate and broader culture wars.

That is, the “conservatism” espoused by Christian theocrats like Vox Day and/or libertarians like Larry Correia isn’t actually, well. Conservative. And that’s true whether you’re talking the specifics of SFF and the Hugos or in a broader cultural sense. People like Day and Correia and their ilk are better understood as neo-reactionaries, with the difference being that while conservatives are, well, conservative in their political opinions–i.e. they oppose radical change–neo-reactionaries are very radical, they just tend to be some flavour of fascist authoritarian radical as opposed to the Marxist radicals of the hard Left.

The problem is that, in 2015, actual small-c conservatives are almost impossible to find, for tedious historical reasons I won’t go into. Most everyone who calls themselves a “conservative” nowadays is, in pure PolSci terms, some brand of reactionary. Australians, you may have noticed this schism recently with the bunch of old guard conservatives like Malcolm Fraser coming out to denounce their modern, reactionary successors. It’s not that Fraser suddenly became a radical progressive in his old age. Fraser is as Fraser was. It’s the politics that shifted around him.

Anderson kind of semi-senses this distinction when he says things like:

we’ve reached a moment in history I never thought I’d see, with classic hallmarks of social conservativism arguably falling out of favor with the bulk of Americans: Namely, shunning gay marriage and homosexuals from society; criminalizing marijuana; keeping health-care privatized; having national discussions about racism, homophobia, and police brutality, that I never thought I’d see in the national spotlight .

Let’s be clear; this isn’t a mark of the growth of progressivism. It’s a mark of the slow shifting of the small-c conservative middle. Civil rights movements have been making noise about racist police for (at least) sixty years. The fight to decriminalise marijuana has been around since (again, at least) the 60s. Gay rights since (ditto) the 80s. And every single industrialised nation outside the U.S. has managed to have universal, state-sponsored healthcare1 for the last century without the world descending into death-panel induced dystopia.

In other words, after nearly one hundred years of accumulated evidence it’s ideologically a-okay for someone who considers themselves a conservative to think that maybe universal healthcare is worth a second look. Conservatism doesn’t mean the automatic rejection of all social, political, and economic change. It just means being slow and cautious about it.

In theory, anyway. Like I said, the label “conservative” has been hijacked as part of the culture wars, and actually finding people who fit in the textbook-defined box can be tricky.

Except, to come back to the point, in the context of the Hugo Awards. You remember George R.R. Martin’s series of posts on the Hugos? Well, those are classically small-c conservative, in that he seems more interested in preserving the legitimacy of the institution of the Hugos/WorldCon than he is in advancing a radical socially progressive agenda. He’s not the only one espousing this position; the anti-Puppy faction is, I think, made up of more “true SFF conservatives” than it is actual progressive radicals, and the way to tell the difference is to tease out why any one individual is pissed off at what the Puppies did.

In other words: People who are mainly pissed at the Puppies for being bigoted pieces of human shit? Progressives (a.k.a. Social Justice Warriors). People who are more outraged that the Puppies disrespected the traditions of the Hugo awards? Small-c conservatives, who we nowadays also tend to call small-l liberals.

Yes, classical liberalism–of the “all men are created equal” type–is a historically conservative position, given that it’s been around for two hundred fucking years and its predecessors are the basis of every single one of our modern democratic institutions, from the courts to the parliament. This is why neo-reactionaries hate democracy and love theocratic fascism and/or oligarchy delete as appropriate.

If you’ve just read all that, first of all, good on you. And second of all, yes. Yes, indeed this means I think Barth Anderson’s breakdown of The Walking Dead as being a conservative show is wrong in the sense that I think it’s a neo-reactionary show, not “conservative” per se. (Which also accounts for the commenter who takes umbrage at Anderson’s classification of “agriculture and motherhood” as things conservatives are opposed to. Conservatives, no. Neo-reactionaries? Definitely yes.)

But, then again, the words are used so interchangeably nowadays that maybe it doesn’t matter.

  1. So much so that the ability to adopt universal healthcare is actually considered one of the milestones to show a country has moved from “developing” to “developed” status. []