In a recent column, Andrew Sullivan distinguished between two types of conservatives: "There are conservatives who are always girded for war or suspect all peace as some kind of hidden war; and those who are happy at peace, greatful for its blessings and hopeful that it will last. There are those who always see Hobbes and those who see Hobbes but are greatful for Locke."
Modern conservatives are fascinated with Hobbes. The past year has made their fascination with the man -- who held that life was, unfortunately, "nasty, brutish and short" -- abundantly clear. In the United States, the Republican Party has become a party of no policy; indeed, it is now just a party of "no." New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently referred to a study, by political scientist Barbara Sinclair, which plotted the use of the senatorial filibuster -- a technique which for nearly 200 years was used effectively but sparingly: "In the 1960's, she finds, 'extended-debate-related problems' -- threatened or actual filibusters -- affected only 8 percent of major legislation. By the 1980's that had risen to 27 percent. But, after Democrats retook control of Congress in 2006, and Republicans found themselves in the minority, it soared to 70 percent."
In this country, the Harper conservatives have followed the same trajectory. As James Travers wrote in the Toronto Star:
Little now stands in the Prime Minister's way. Parliament's independent watchdogs are mostly mute, their collars drawn tight and leashes shortened. Parliament's committees, including the one investigating torture allegations, are rendered impotent by a confidential manual instructing partisan sabotage. Elected representatives sent here to safeguard the national treasury and restrain ruling party excesses are no longer able to fulfill those defining duties.
For years these folks whined about injustice, claiming that modern republican and parliamentary democracy had rigged the game against them. Now that they have been elected, even tenuously -- as were George W. Bush and Stephen Harper -- they have sought to dismantle those democracies, afraid that their time will never come again. They have operated on the Hobbesian principle that power can only be won and maintained by vanquishing one's enemies; that the world has always been a nasty place; and that the fundamental principle in any democracy -- that the best solutions are the products of debate, cooperation and compromise -- is idealistic hogwash.
They are, in truth, petulant children -- intent on getting their way. And, like the little boys in Golding's Lord of the Flies, they are quite content to burn down the island in their manic quest to rid themselves and their countries of contrary thinking.