Were I a conservative, I probably would have titled this “Do Conservatives Think?” That’s because I already would have cynically dismissed them and their thinking. If I’m honest, it’s tempting. That conservative impulse lives within me. I do want the world to be how I want it to be. My problem is, the world has never been how I want it to be whereas the world has been the way conservatives want it to be. I need to change the world if I’m to have my way. Conservatives need to keep the world not just as it is but (as much as possible) as it was. That need drives conservative thinking. For better and worse.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That’s the goal. How we achieve them? That’s our politics.
I’ll tell you flat out: I believe in forward progress. My paradigm: the most opportunity for the most people. The rising tide that floats all boats – I believe in that tide. I will do everything in my power to help that tide because I will do better when everyone else does better, too.
The conservative paradigm by comparison is stasis interwoven with regression. “As is” larded with “going backwards”. It insists “how we did it back then was just fine! Why did we ever change it to begin with?”
Oh, right – democracy. There’s the conservative’s rub.
Democracy poses an existential threat to conservatism because it puts chance in the driver’s seat. Every couple of years, voters get to decide who’s in charge and which way we’re all going. What if the people voted to be in charge aren’t conservative? If they don’t want things as they were, that could get dicey in a hurry – from a conservative perspective.
The next thing you know, we’re problem solving in new ways. Innovative ways that make going backwards impossible. We, as a society, have problems. Every society does. The question is how does any society solve its problems? How do they identify problems to begin with? Conservatives want to solve and identify problems however we used to solve them.
And if something wasn’t a “problem” back then (for the reasons it wasn’t a problem), it shouldn’t be a problem today. For the very same reasons.
Example: racial equality. It didn’t exist back in, say, 1850. The white, Christian, land-owning men who penned “All men are created equal” didn’t mean “all men” though they did mean just men. Some men were not equal, they were slaves. See the problem? America itself was a new, progressive idea being constrained by old thinking.
The old thinking kept braking the new thinking. That’s always been our dynamic tension. The new thinking put “E Pluribus Unum” on our Great Seal and made it America’s motto: “out of many, one”. Diversity. That has always been our secret sauce. Diversity is what made America different from every nation that came before us.
Consider how long it took Marcomanni, Alamanni, Franks, Angles, Saxons, Vandals, Gepids, Ostrogoths and Visigoths to become “German”. About fifteen hundred years or so. Same goes for France and Spain and Switzerland and England and every nation in Europe and the world. Local tribes coalesced into Nations.
That never happened in America. European pathogens wiped out all the North and South American Nations before guns and steel were necessary. Europeans brought a great ideal with them – democracy. Bravo, Europeans. But then, other cultures also have innovated things lots of humans still do and think.
There was a time when monotheism was a radical, new idea. Ditto Christianity. And ditto democracy.
Strange thing? Democracy still feels like a new idea. That’s because we’ve never achieved the ideal democracy sets out for itself. You know, the truly level playing field. That is the idea that drew people from all over the planet to come here. To America. They come from places where how you were born is how you will die. Those at the top mean to stay there. Since they’re the ones in power now, they write the laws to their benefit so that unseating them is hard.
That conservative way of gumming up progress traveled across the pond. Conservatism got baked into our architecture. Our system favors “as is” over “what could be”. The incumbent has the advantage over their challenger. Seen another way, it’s fear of democracy limiting democracy.
Want to know something progressives never do? Limit democracy for anyone. But then, “Both sides do it” is a cynical, conservative concept.
Conservatism is happiest in a conservative environment where everyone is conservative. Conservatism doesn’t like it when others disagree with it. Disagreement threatens them because it questions them – and the things conservatives ache to conserve.
To be fair, “how we’ve done things” have often stood the tests of time. Christianity is a radical, progressive idea that became staunchly conservative. That’ll happen when a radical idea gets hijacked by an institution (like the church). The church becomes the center of its own universe. To keep going, it’s going to need people and money (never mind the ideas that started it).
Here in America, we’ve figured out how to use that Ol’ Time Religion to justify pretty much everything including slavery. Whereas Jesus wanted to help the poor and powerless, America’s version would only help those who helped themselves.
That’s a neat switch! “Do unto others” becomes “Do what we say or else”.
“All men are created equal” has the same problem. Great idea, crap execution.
That ain’t on the idea, it’s on the execution. On us. We need to “E Pluribus Unum” some sense into “All men are created equal”. That is what’s happening in America today. Diversity is directly threatening white hegemony and the white hegemonists are losing their shit.
It’s a lot easier for sensible conservatives to get overwhelmed by radical conservatives because radical conservatives can point to a paradigm that benefited sensible conservatives. These are the Republicans who poo-pooed Donald Trump’s methods while loving his results. He put money in their pockets and it’s hard to walk away from power, money and creature comforts.
To their infinite credit, some conservatives are willing to at least share some of the power, money and creature comforts. If I’m honest, I know I need those conservatives to keep me “honest”. Everyone needs someone else to check their work. For real. If my arguments can’t solve a problem better than a conservative’s argument then we need to do what that conservative is saying.
Democracy, really, is collective problem-solving. How we did things before can balance how we need to do them in the future so long as it’s practical. But, remember – what was progressive and radical before becomes de rigeur and conservative after time and repetition.
It’s a stone cold fact that progressive problem-solving won’t always solve our problems. Sometimes, progressive ideas may even cause or exacerbate a problem. If progressives can’t progressive their way out, they’ll have to find another way. If it’s conservative thinking and it solves the problem (without exacerbating it) then good!
It’s not impossible for conservatives to innovate. But, it would demand a “new” way of thinking conservatively. America’s conservative problem isn’t with conservatives or their thinking. It’s with the fact that most conservatives have completely stopped thinking.
3 responses to “How Conservatives Think”
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Was Abraham Lincoln a progressive atheist or was he a white Christian conservative?
“The chief and real purpose of the Republican Party is eminently conservative. It proposes nothing save and except to restore this government to its original tone in regard to this element of slavery, and there to maintain it, looking for no further change . . . than that which the original framers of the government themselves expected and looked forward to.”
I’m not an American. but even here in Europe some people know that he was a white Christian conservative.
“The white, Christian, land-owning men”.
That’s funny. Most men at the time, land-owning or not were Christians. A meaningless distinction.
“Our system favors “as is” over “what could be”. The incumbent has the advantage over their challenger.”
That seem to be also true for the Castro regime in Cuba. I don’t think Castro was a devout Christan but was he a conservative? What do you think?
I find these stereotypes funny and entertaining but most of them don’t match historical or current reality.
My kind of conservatism is:
If ain’t broke it don’t fix it.
If you replace something replace it with something better, something that works and not with some untested utoptian idea or something that failed whenever tried.
The truth is: You need both conservatism and change.
If you have 100% conservatism and no change you have a system in stasis. Such a system cannot adapt to a changing world.
OTOH if you have 100% change you have destruction, anarchy, chaos and a collapse of system and society.
You need both conservatism on core values that do not change and change whenever needed.
Without fixed core values you have no ground to stand on.
When I talk about fixed values I’m not talking about a book with 1000 rules but values such as the right to life, liberty, property, the freedom to speak your mind, and the freedom to participate in selecting goverment, equality before the law and such fundamental things which cannot be negotiable or subject to change.