Someone using the house we rented in Arizona had recorded some episodes of the latest season of Yellowstone. They were interesting. I could not watch the entire series because it is no longer offered on our TV. Unlike some of my friends, I am not a huge fan of the TV series Yellowstone, but I do like parts of the shows. It has some diverse and interesting characters.
In Arizona I think most people identify with the patriarch of the Dutton family, John Dutton. He is very conservative and around here that is a very popular ideology. I don’t agree with all of his philosophy either, but I have some sympathy for some of his philosophy which I have called left conservatism, after the philosophy of the novelist Norman Mailer.
At the end of Season 4 of the series Yellowstone, John Dutton decided to run for Governor in Montana and got elected. His opening statement to the people was interesting and revealed his essential conservatism that is very different from the conservatism of most of the current American right: “I am the opposite of progress. I am the wall it bashes against, and I will not be the one who breaks.”
This is much more closely aligned to what Norman Mailer called “Left Conservatism” than modern Republicanism. Mailer said he wanted to “think in the style of Marx to achieve the values of Burke.” That was the essence of his philosophy. Burke was the leading conservative thinker in England during the time of the French Revolution. I remember first hearing that expression from Mailer 50 years ago and always thought it was a remarkable political philosophy. I found much attractive in it then, and I still find much attractive in it today.
In season 5 of Yellowstone, in his victory speech, Dutton told his supporters,
“We have a lot of work to do, and a lot to undo. The question we all have to ask ourselves and one that I will look to everyday, is what will Montana look like in 100 years? Much of that is dictated by the way the world sees us today. Right now, we are seen as the rich man’s playground. We are New York’s novelty and California’s toy. Not anymore. You have elected me to be a steward of the state, and the land, and its people, and that is exactly what I will do. You know environmentalists just love to debate what’s Montana’s most valuable resource. Is it the water? Is it the wolves? Is it the trees? The answer is actually pretty simple. It’s you! The farmers and the ranchers who live with the land not on it. When protecting you now is how Montana still looks like Montana when none of us here tonight are here to see it.”
That’s a real conservative attitude, but no one with which I entirely agree. He wants to protect the land and the people as they are now. He wants to conserve that. That is what conservatism is all about. But we must remember that we don’t just conserve what rich men like. The rich are happy and contented. With their wealth they can buy privileges. They can buy the government that acts in their interests and not in the interests of ordinary people who can’t afford to buy their political leaders. That should not be preserved.
In the TV series Dutton wanted to conserve the largest ranch in the state. It was worth millions. It was his ranch. Who would not want to conserve that? But how does that help the single mom on social assistance? How does that help the Uber driver? Or the bar tender at the local bar? Ordinary people are important too. Most conservatives don’t understand that at all. They just think soon they will be one of the rich people.
For a man like Donald Trump the only people that count are his rich buddies and the people who support him in power and then only as long as they continue to support him no matter what he does? He appreciates only absolute loyalty to himself. Many conservatives are exactly like that. Those are not my kind of conservatives.
Conservatives also claim to stand for freedom. At least for the freedom to do as they please. They are not as concerned about the freedom of working-class people to get the health care they need. Or schools. Somehow often that does not count. John Dutton said freedom was important to him. This is what he said:
“Freedom. I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately. The word. What it means. The dictionary thinks that it means “the right or power to think, act or speak as one wants without hindrance or restraint.” As governor of the state, I’m sworn to protect that right. Building a city in the middle of the most pristine wilderness strips you of that freedom. It eliminates your freedom to breath clean air and drink clear water. It strains this ability. It strains the ability of our hospitals and our schools and our police. It requires an increase in our taxes which in turn strains our families, forcing you to decide if you can afford to live in a place that you call home. That’s no progress in my mind. It’s an invasion. And today the invasion is over. Today I’m signing an executive order that ceases funding for the paradise Valley development and the Paradise Valley Ski resort.”
John Dutton’s philosophy of what I would call left conservatism is far from perfect. It contains in my view many grave inconsistencies, but it does contain some important insights into things that are worth preserving. Like freedom for everyone not just freedom for the wealthy to do whatever they choose whether that is good for most people or not. Left conservatism is an anti-dote to the shallow modernism of so much contemporary thinking. That sort of “freedom” is not worth preserving.