Summary of dissertation work: For my oral examination (the defense)
My dissertation committee chair, Bob McAndrews, writes of my forthcoming defense, "the usual way these meetings go is for you to briefly summarize how you came to your dissertation topic and how the Human Science program helped you shape it, then to explain your methodology and 'findings' and then what you feel your work has contributed to existing scholarship. Then we will discuss your work. Try to keep your summary to 15 minutes."1 This entry will form the basis for that summary.
I owe JoAnn McAllister, who was, until recently, the Human Science department chair at Saybrook University, who is now president of the Human Science Institute, and who is on my committee, a lot of credit for my dissertation topic. I entered Saybrook's Human Science program flailing about for a topic and had begun looking at the question of how, in the Neolithic, we had come to make a horribly wrong turn toward an authoritarian system of social organization.2 McAllister argued that the state of the field in archaeology would make this topic very difficult. She was right. As I was already discovering, especially from my starting point of Riane Eisler's The Chalice and the Blade,3 it is a complete mess.4
As I wrote at the time,
[JoAnn McAllister] advised that I should instead examine my question about why we organized ourselves into coercive social systems from the perspective of George Lakoff's Moral Politics.5 She was just saying to look at this from a social psychological perspective and in light of Lakoff's conservative (strict father, gender bias intentional) and liberal (nurturant parent) morality systems, and while one might ask what this has to do with coercive social structures, as a feminist, she's well aware of the link between patriarchy and conservatism.6
I'm not a linguist (let alone a cognitive linguist), a psychologist, or a statistician and the idea of pursuing the social and political psychology angle of this became less attractive as I noticed that the work on right-wing authoritarianism and social dominance orientation was almost entirely quantitative and positivist. And while Lakoff offers very important insights into conservative thinking, I had, for several years, come to recognize conservatism as a multifaceted rather than monolithic phenomenon. Lakoff, while importantly recognizing that some conservatives might prioritize some metaphors differently from others, was still fundamentally treating conservatism as monolithic. This is not in any way to disparage Lakoff. Indeed, when I first read Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think,7 I thought it then and I continue to see it as highly insightful. But there is a need for a more comprehensive analysis of conservative ideologies.
Furthermore, even to breathe the word psychology in the same sentence with the word conservative, at least in the usual connotation, is unfortunately to suggest a pathological condition. George Nash argues—I think reasonably—that this is a way of evading conservative arguments.8 It seems to me further that before we even begin to discuss pathology or "a condition," we need to thoroughly evaluate whether a conservative perspective is in any way a reasonable view of the world: If conservatism can be shown to be irrational, then and only then can we perhaps begin to address the connotation of "a pathological condition."
This does not require an uncritical approach, but it does entail prerequisites which the field of Human Science is admirably suited for. First, working backwards, addressing conservative arguments means listening to them. We need to represent those arguments as fairly as possible—which is a reason for some form of narrative or critical discourse analysis: These methods enable a verbatim presentation of those arguments. But because with conservatives we are not viewing, in large part, subaltern people—regardless of how they may see themselves—but rather the oppressors of subaltern people,9 a critical theory approach—in my view, also integral to Human Science—which highlights social inequality seems appropriate for addressing the arguments.10 Critical theory methods such as those included under the umbrella of critical discourse analysis, and specifically in the case of this dissertation, discourse-historical analysis, become an obvious choice.11
Initially, I recognized only three—what I now call—tendencies, which I now label capitalist libertarian, functionalist conservative, and traditionalist conservative. I was in for an eye-opening experience as this list mushroomed to include authoritarian populists, neoconservatives, paleoconservatives, and social conservatives.12 My dissertation approach thus follows: I seek sample articles from each of these (now) seven tendencies to show how these tendencies overlap and differ from each other. Narrowing the topic to a single topic I thought most likely to highlight differences, I selected undocumented migration. While I hadn't been paying much attention to an issue I saw at the time as boiling down to humanity versus a murderous xenophobia, as it happens, beginning in 2013, undocumented migration became a major political and legal issue as migrants—who might more properly be called refugees—fled dire poverty and drug gang and cartel violence in Central America and arrived in the U.S. in large numbers, as President Barack Obama sought immigration system reform, and as some state governments challenged his executive order setting priorities for deportation that conservatives interpreted as an 'amnesty' in court.13
Oversimplified, my findings were, for each tendency of conservatism, as follows:
- Authoritarian populists view undocumented migration as a problem which begins at the border. They are uninterested in causes such as the 'war on drugs' or poverty. Their view of migrants falls can be categorized as what Elizabeth Minnich describes as a hierarchically invidious monism, that is, as a polarized binary in which one pole ("us") is held substantially superior to the other ("them").14
- Capitalist libertarians view undocumented migrants as "free labor," that is, as labor which employers are free to exploit.
- Functionalist conservatives were principally concerned with enacting and implementing immigration reform.
- Neoconservatives were concerned with secular law enforcement and mostly sought to exclude migrants in the name of secular or biblical 'law and order.'
- Paleoconservatives perceive the white race as being under attack by 'Blacks' and 'Browns.' This is different from authoritarian populism mainly in that paleoconservatives explicitly seek to exclude ethnic and racial "others" while authoritarian populists seek to do so less explicitly.
- Social conservatives and traditionalist conservatives were both divided between those who prioritize an argument based on biblical law which would exclude migrants and those who prioritize concerns about humanity.
Arguments that prioritized ideology, otherwise known as "transcendent knowledge," and that seemingly preferred to rely on incomplete information could be found among all tendencies. I was dissatisfied with the distinctions found between 1) authoritarian populism and paleoconservatism, and 2) social conservatism and traditionalist conservatism.
This work illustrates that previous research relying on any scheme recognizing at most three kinds of conservatives assumes an oversimplistic view of conservatism. It raises serious questions about the ability of a republican system of government to resolve differences in the absence of an epistemological agreement on sources of knowledge and in the presence of so much demonization, both between partisans on either side of the debate on undocumented migration, and of so many conservatives against undocumented migrants. My most significant suggestion for further research would be to illucidate whether distinctions between 1) authoritarian populists and paleoconservatives and 2) social conservatives and traditionalist conservatives are warranted.
- 1. Robert McAndrews, e-mail message to author, November 17, 2015.
- 2. John H. Bodley, Victims of Progress, 5th ed. (Lanham, MD: AltaMira, 2008); William J. Burroughs, Climate Change in Prehistory: The End of the Reign of Chaos (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University, 2008); Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade (1987; repr., New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995); Gerhard Lenski, Power and Privilege: A Theory of Social Stratification (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966); Max Oelschlaeger, The Idea of Wilderness (New Haven, CT: Yale University, 1991).
- 3. Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade (1987; repr., New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995).
- 4. David Benfell, "Digging up the wrong graves?" January 6, 2012, https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/journal/2012/01/06/digging-wrong-graves; David Benfell, "More on the Kura-Araxes," January 7, 2012, https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/journal/2012/01/07/more-kura-araxes; David Benfell, "Right-Wing Authoritarianism," January 31, 2012, https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/journal/2012/01/31/right-wing-authoritarianism
- 5. George Lakoff, Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, 2nd Ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2002).
- 6. David Benfell, "Right-Wing Authoritarianism," January 31, 2012, https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/journal/2012/01/31/right-wing-authoritarianism
- 7. George Lakoff, Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, 2nd Ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2002).
- 8. George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, 30th anniversary ed. (Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2006).
- 9. David Benfell, "Defining conservatism," April 12, 2013, https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/journal/2013/04/12/defining-conservatism
- 10. Raymond A. Morrow with David D. Brown, Critical Theory and Methodology (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1994).
- 11. Carmen Rosa Caldas-Coulthard and Malcolm Coulthard, eds., Texts and Practices: Readings in Critical Discourse Analysis (London: Routledge, 1996); Theo van Leeuwen, Discourse and Practice: New Tools for Critical Discourse Analysis (Oxford: Oxford University, 2008); Ruth Wodak and Michael Meyer, eds. Methods of Critical Discourse Analysis, 2nd ed. (Los Angeles: Sage, 2009).
- 12. Edward Ashbee, "Politics of Paleoconservatism," Society 37, no. 3 (2000): 75-84; David Benfell, "The Quixotic Quest to Comprehend Conservatism, Part 1," May 16, 2014, https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/journal/2014/05/16/quixotic-quest-comprehend-conservatism-part-1; David Benfell, "The Quixotic Quest to Comprehend Conservatism, Part 2," June 4, 2014, https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/journal/2014/05/29/quixotic-quest-comprehend-conservatism-part-2; Chip Berlet, "Taking Tea Parties Seriously: Corporate Globalization, Populism, and Resentment," Perspectives on Global Development and Technology 10 (2011): 11-29, doi: 10.1163/156914911X555071; George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, 30th anniversary ed. (Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2006); George H. Nash, "How Firm a Foundation? The Prospects for American Conservatism," Intercollegiate Review 44, no. 1 (Spring, 2009), http://www.firstprinciplesjournal.com/articles.aspx?article=1191
- 13. 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Hernández, "For millions of illegal immigrants, a mix of celebration and deep disappointment," Washington Post, November 20, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/millions-of-illegal-immigrants-await-news-with-mix-of-excitement-anxiety-confusion/2014/11/20/e80cf650-70fe-11e4-8808-afaa1e3a33ef_story.html; Stephen Dinan, "Disease plagues illegal immigrants; basic hygiene, lack of medications blamed," Washington Times, October 6, 2014, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/oct/6/diseases-still-problem-illegal-immigrant-families/; Stephen Dinan, "Appeals court rejects Obama plan to shield 5 million illegals from deportation," Washington Times, November 9, 2015, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/nov/9/obama-plan-shield-millions-deportation-rejected-ap/; Stephen Dinan and S.A. Miller, "Illegal immigrant children get first-class treatment at taxpayers’ expense," Washington Times, August 14, 2014, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/aug/14/illegal-immigrant-children-get-first-class-treatme/; Juliet Eilperin, Ed O’Keefe and David Nakamura, "Obama’s evolution on immigration," Washington Post, November 20, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/obamas-evolution-on-immigration/2014/11/20/856c5564-70d5-11e4-ad12-3734c461eab6_story.html; Jordan Fabian, "Obama to seek Supreme Court ruling on immigration actions," Hill, November 10, 2015, http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/259657-obama-to-appeal-immigration-ruling-to-the-supreme-court; Diane Guerrero, "'Orange is the New Black' actress: My parents were deported," Los Angeles Times, November 15, 2014, http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-guerrero-immigration-family-separation-20141116-story.html; Jodie Gummow, "New Study: Undocumented Immigrants in California Contribute $130 Billion To State GDP," Alternet, September 4, 2014, http://www.alternet.org/immigration/new-study-undocumented-immigrants-california-contribute-130-billion-state-gdp; Francine Kiefer, "House GOP blocks Obama immigration plan, but there's an asterisk," Christian Science Monitor, January 14, 2015, http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/DC-Decoder/2015/0114/House-GOP-blocks-Obama-immigration-plan-but-there-s-an-asterisk-video; Keith Laing, "Boehner ‘certainly’ prepared to let DHS funding expire," Hill, February 15, 2015, http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/232893-boehner-certainly-prepared-to-let-dhs-funding-expire; Timothy B. Lee, "This tone-deaf cartoonist forgets that Thanksgiving is about immigration," Vox, November 22, 2014, http://www.vox.com/2014/11/22/7268597/this-tone-deaf-cartoonist-forgets-that-thanksgiving-is-about; Stephanie Leutert, "How Many People Are We Really Deporting?" Lawfare, January 20, 2015, http://www.lawfareblog.com/2015/01/how-many-people-are-we-really-deporting/; Dara Lind, "The massive prisoner’s dilemma the GOP faces on immigration," Vox, January 5, 2015, http://www.vox.com/2015/1/5/7494179/immigration-republican-president; Dara Lind, "Why nobody knows how many immigrants Obama's plan will help," Vox, January 16, 2015, http://www.vox.com/2015/1/16/7557139/immigrants-dapa-amnesty; Dara Lind, "The Senate GOP is naming its two most anti-immigrant members to run its immigration subcommittee," Vox, January 22, 2015, http://www.vox.com/2015/1/22/7867941/sessions-vitter-immigration; Dara Lind, "A federal judge just put the brakes on Obama’s immigration actions," Vox, February 17, 2015, http://www.vox.com/2015/2/16/8025691/immigration-lawsuit-obama; Dara Lind, "Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell just set the stage for Boehner's inevitable cave on DHS," Vox, February 25, 2015, http://www.vox.com/2015/2/25/8109065/dhs-shutdown-bill; Kate Linthicum, "Nearly 1 in 10 California workers is in country illegally, study finds," Los Angeles Times, September 3, 2014, http://www.alternet.org/immigration/new-study-undocumented-immigrants-california-contribute-130-billion-state-gdp; Cristina Marcos, "Conservatives not sweating DHS shutdown," Hill, February 15, 2015, http://thehill.com/blogs/floor-action/232813-conservatives-not-sweating-dhs-shutdown; Soraya Nadia McDonald, "‘Orange is the New Black’ actress Diane Guerrero’s parents were deported. It was a nightmare," Washington Post, November 18, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/11/18/orange-is-the-new-black-actress-diane-guerreros-parents-were-deported-it-was-a-nightmare/; Ruben Navarrette, Jr., "Obama and Latinos Are at the Breaking Point," Daily Beast, July 21, 2014, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/07/21/obama-and-latinos-are-at-the-breaking-point.html; New York Times, "Holding Homeland Security Hostage," February 25, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/26/opinion/holding-homeland-security-hostage.html; Barack Obama, "Remarks by the President in Address to the Nation on Immigration," White House, November 20, 2014, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/11/20/remarks-president-address-nation-immigration; Christi Parsons and Lisa Mascaro, "Obama to press ahead on deportation relief as Congress works to avoid Homeland Security shutdown," Los Angeles Times, February 25, 2015, http://www.latimes.com/nation/politics/politicsnow/la-pn-immigration-20150225-story.html; Julia Preston, "Obama Immigration Policy Halted by Federal Judge in Texas," New York Times, February 17, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/18/us/obama-immigration-policy-halted-by-federal-judge-in-texas.html; Julia Preston, "Appeals Court Denies Bid to Let Obama Immigration Plan Proceed," New York Times, May 26, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/27/us/fifth-circuit-court-of-appeals-rules-on-obama-immigration-plan.html; Robert Rector and Jason Richwine, "The Fiscal Cost of Unlawful Immigrants and Amnesty to the U.S. Taxpayer," Heritage Foundation, May 6, 2013, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/05/the-fiscal-cost-of-unlawful-immigrants-and-amnesty%20to-the-us-taxpayer; Reuters, "Court again blocks Obama's plan to protect undocumented migrants," Guardian, November 9, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/nov/10/court-again-blocks-obamas-plan-to-protect-some-undocumented-migrants; Greg Sargent, "Democrats won’t back down in shutdown fight with GOP, aides say," Washington Post, February 17, 2015, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2015/02/17/democrats-wont-back-down-in-shutdown-fight-with-gop-aides-say/; Rebecca Shabad and Cristina Marcos, "House passes bill to defund Obama’s immigration orders," Hill, January 14, 2015, http://thehill.com/blogs/floor-action/house/229469-house-votes-to-defund-obamas-immigration-orders; Jonathan Turley, "Federal Judge Halts Obama’s Executive Action On Illegal Immigration," February 17, 2015, http://jonathanturley.org/2015/02/17/federal-judge-halts-obamas-executive-action-on-illegal-immigration/; Javier H. Valdés and Donna Lieberman, "Fix immigration, but not with E-Verify," Crain's New York Business, May 26, 2013, http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20130526/OPINION/305269988/fix-immigration-but-not-with-e-verify
- 14. Elizabeth Kamarck Minnich, Transforming Knowledge, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Temple University, 2005).