Sunday, June 17, 2007

Andrew Sullivan's "Gay Agenda"

I happened across a post over at Ezra Klein's site that linked to this post by Sully who continues to flog the theory that the movement for Gay rights is essentially conservative. matt had some thoughts on it and so do I.

I think Ezra's discription of Sullivan's conservatism as a sort of platonic ideal is apropos. It's always seemed to me that Sullivan was a political hybrid produced when quasi Randian notions of libertarianism filtered across the Atlantic to pollinate with the traditional tory politics of the UK. Thatcherism was a side product, with all its blather about creating an opportunity society while it got about the serious business of breaking the trade unions.

Sullivan is what you get when a typical conservative, middle class Brit discovers that his sexuality simply can't be fitted into the dominate frame of social respectability. In times past he would have remained cautiously closeted, his personal pecadillos treated as a private eccentricity so long as he paid tribute to popular prejudice through hypocrisy and avoided being arrested in public toilets.

It's Sullivan's fortune that he came of political age at a time when the modern Gay Rights movement had exploded on the scene. A rebellion that was fundamentally anti-conservative from its inception. It was this movement that provided the material and political conditions that allowed Sullivan the option to live an openly Gay life. The irony of a conservative liberated in his sexuality by the very forces that he despises is thick and one that Sullivan seems incapable of digesting.

This may be the central contradiction in Sullivan's thought. He wants to reconcile the irreconciliable. He believes in an idealized traditionalism in social, institutional and political life even as he desires the repudiation of such sentiments in a crucial area effecting his personal life. He attempts to paper this over with his transparent and anachronistic evocation of an "integrationist" agenda.

This is yet another thick irony. As others have suggested, this standard for "conservatism" would embrace everything from the civil rights movement to women's suffrage to abolitionism. There are many ways to describe such movements but "conservative" is not among them. To use conservatism in this way is to empty it of all practical meaning, as anyone with a basic grasp of US political history would know.

Here, I think, one can locate the fundamental incapacity of Sullivan as pundit and theorist in the environment of US politics. He really doesn't understand much about the US politically, historically or culturally. Despite his attempts at "americanizing" himself, he remains what he began as: a worshipful, British accolyte of an imagined and idolized US. Not so different from those of the post WWII generation in the UK who, intoxicated by the flash and noise US pop culture in the form of rock and roll, repackage it in an idiosycratically British sensibility and shipped it back to us via the "British Invasion". In that instance, the US audience embraced the offering, not for its American roots but as an authentic expression of contemporary British pop culture.

In Sullivan's case, his target audience didn't really buy his brand. The US Right has neither the need of, or interest in, any perspective the beyond the self referential. That Sullivan failed to recognize this from the beginning illustrates how much he confuses his wishes with reality.

After all, the social and political current that he sought to identify with reacted to rock and roll by urging it be banned and making bonfires of Beatles records.


At 4:18 AM, Anonymous Tess said...

Good post.


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