There are people who become addicted to violence. They are not necessarily conservatives. Most such people don’t appear to have started from a point of loving violence. Rather, they are thrust into violent situations one way or another, and find that they like it. Or rather, they like the feeling it gives, of being elevated, of living on the edge, of having survived.
It happens to some who experience war. Not all. Perhaps it happens only to those who have a certain predisposition, which is awakened by being in a place where you are not certain you will be alive in the next minute. I speculate that it also happens to certain criminals. Perhaps serial murderers. However, among violent criminals there is one constant: every one of them experienced terrible violence in their family as a child, so maybe there is no natural predisposition for violence among them.
Extreme sports have become popular with a small portion of the sports world. These are people, usually men, who constantly push the limits, further and further into danger. These are not bungee jumpers, doing something scary that thousands of others have done. These are people who ski off of high cliffs, who dive from a plane to see how far they can fall before opening their chute, who climb vertical cliffs with no safety equipment. They all report exhilaration at doing something few can do. Some die doing it, after ratcheting up the risk, notch by notch.
Historically, conservatives are happier when they are challenged, when things have not gone well. They feel exhilaration at rising to the challenge, at saving something dear to them, even when it’s not really practical to do so. Even when they never really had that something. That’s why they despised the administration of Bill Clinton, at a time of rising comfort and affluence that they theorize makes us weak and pampered, and why they were energized during George W. Bush’s administration, when the clarion call went out to defend freedom with a war on terrorism and two invasions.
But during the Obama administration the war challenge is gone. He is trying to extract us from Bush’s wars, and to close Bush’s secret prisons, and restore the affluence of the Clinton years. Boring, soul-killing. They despise him, and accuse him of all sorts of ridiculous things.
Unfortunately for them, the action-loving conservative is completely out of step with history. A few centuries ago he could count on all sorts of horrors, from continual wars of invasion to regicide to torture to random killing of innocents to satisfy his life affirming passion for violence. Incidentally, Burke, the first conservative, who lived around the time of our revolution, was quite ambiguous about this characteristic of conservatism. In one place he extolled the virtues of the calm, the predictable, the established. In another he saw no better alternative than suicide if there were no violent challenges.
But all is changed now. The world no longer agrees with or even tolerates a lover of violence of any kind. Every kind of violence the world has known has steadily diminished for several centuries. The last great war ended in 1945. Torture was once commonplace, and now we look on torturers as monsters. Murders are down. Crime of all types is down. Abuse of children and animals is down. The only reason we don’t believe it is that non-violence is not news. The news is always horrible, or it isn’t news. Nobody reports that the police did not shoot someone. I take that back. The NY Times reported on an NYPD accounting showing that an astonishingly low number of New Yorkers were killed by police last year, continuing a long downward trend. It would be nice to read that the same thing is happening around here.
But the crucial takeaway is that the violence that certain people love, and which conservatives have embraced as the necessary protection of the castle, a primary requirement, is at a historical nadir, and is still going down. No one respects a violent person or country anymore. One of the signal virtues of the conservative cause has become passé.