The disastrous results in Israel’s election are yet another example of the Right cannibalizing itself. It’s not the first time this happened in Israeli political history or American political history or European political history. It’s an ongoing theme whose motto is still, “No enemies to the left.”
What the “mainstream” conservatives fear most of all is a drift to the right. Some of this is the whimper of whipped dogs. Every party to the right of Stalin has had to spend decades fending off accusations that it was the second coming of the Third Reich, the KKK and Genghis Khan. The Pavlovian training has taken hold and every conservative echelon is expert at going into damage control mode when it senses that its own right might do something that would give the left fuel for their accusations.
But there’s another factor at work here. It’s cultural. Mainstream conservatives have become another arm of the urban technocracy. They want many of the same things that liberals do, but with less regulations and more tax shelters. They aren’t interested in major changes, only the minor ones that will keep the system going. Even when they are dedicated reformers, their vision extends no further than a bunch of high tech cities full of immigrants going to universities and then inventing things.
They are competent, rather than imaginative. The Left repeatedly outmaneuvers them because the Left is always pushing to the Left, while they are content to put a chair against the door and wait for those crazy hippies to get off the LSD, cut their hair and give up. But to their surprise the Left never does.
The leaders of mainstream conservatism aren’t angry, and they dismiss the people who are as loons. When the left does something oppressive or defeats them, they don’t get mad, they get ironically amused. They make detached observations citing Trollope. They are as much a part of the jet setting elite, as their liberal colleagues, and they have an exit strategy, whether it’s Singapore or Thailand.
They aren’t liberals themselves, but their conservatism is an outmoded thing that was only fit for a conservative society. In a conservative society, they are the old guard. In a liberal society, they are still the old guard, standing for the values of moderation, civility and not getting too worked up about things that can’t be changed. In a liberal society, what they conserve is not conservatism, but the liberalism of their youth.
The one thing that worries them is the ascendance of the right. They don’t much like their own base. It’s angry, noisy and ignorant. It doesn’t understand the rules of the game. And it represents a threat to their careers.
They may draw cartoons and sing a few songs, but they aren’t revolutionaries. They don’t want a culture war. And they don’t really want to change the way things are. They may not approve of the politics of their children, and they gasp in horror at debt ratios and proposals to privatize things, but overall they like the way things are. And they imagine that it can remain that way, hanging forever in mid-air, never going further left or further right, a perfect balance that will endure for all time.
They have a simple arrangement with the Right. They pledge allegiance, faintly, to its beliefs, mouth the right words during elections, promise to ban abortion, build settlements, and then they shake their heads ruefully and go back to the club regretting the necessity for participating in this clown show. Between elections they sometimes put their intellectual firepower at the disposal of these ideas, though never when these ideas appear to be polling badly, especially with the young.
In exchange the Right, the real Right, those angry people with quaint ideas about personal freedom, moral revival and national greatness, are expected to know their place. And their place is behind the sawhorses at the rally and in line at the voting booth. When that changes, then they attack their own right with far more vehemence and violence than they ever employ against the Left.
The Left does not worry them all that much. In a way the left has become their career. The opposition defines their work. Its radicalism ensures that they will always have a base, no matter where that base comes from.