Bronze-level articleConservative

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Conservative, n.: A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.
—Ambrose Bierce

A conservative on the political spectrum tends to be for the status quo, consistency, and traditional forms, while being against any change on the grounds that it might be for the worse. In the United States today, the term has been conflated by many with very narrow social and religious prescriptions and co-opted by neoconservatism. During the 2008 election campaign, an article in Atlantic Monthly contrasted the old-fashioned conservatism of Edmund Burke with the right-wing radicalism of Newt Gingrich and company.[1]

Note that left/right and liberal/conservative are only regarded as synonymous in the United States. In the UK, the Liberal Democrats are both socially and economically liberal (yet more on the fluffy socialistic side and not very libertarian). Following a hung parliament in 2010 they entered into a coalition government with the Conservative Party. In Australia, the Liberal Party are the direct analogues of the US Republicans or the UK Conservatives — they're economically liberal and socially very conservative. Explaining this to American conservatives tends to make their heads explode.

Conservatives are usually mad at the damned liberals for no particular reason at all. They attack them as general purpose scapegoats for any ills of society, as seen from their perspective.

Contents

[edit] Social and economic conservatism

Conservative is a very loose term, essentially meaning only "in favour of conserving." While there are many, many types of conservatism, one essential distinction in the field of politics and society is between social conservatism and economic (or fiscal) conservatism. Although the two often go hand-in-hand, especially in American politics, they are not inherently connected, and it is quite possible to be a fiscal conservative without being socially conservative or vice versa.

Social conservatism emphasises convention, morality (or old-fashioned notions of morality) and established roles within society and the family. Social conservatives are often, though not always, strongly religious. They support traditional gender roles, marriage and "family values" (a term with a multitude of meanings). Social conservatism is often accused of being homophobic, due to its distaste for same-sex marriage and sometimes racist and sexist to some degree because of the associations with old-fashioned values that supported such things. Demands for "equality" or "justice" tend to be seen at minimum as lofty, abstract proposals that are likely to change with the seasons of intellectual fashion. Disrupting settled folkways in the name of these abstract beliefs will always run afoul of the iron law of unintended consequences, while the traditions that would be changed may be sacred, and certainly are our own. They often express outrage at political correctness and perceived moral decline (e.g. "Hollywood values"). Social conservatism can be extremely influential in politics; the "pro-life" movement to outlaw abortion is an example of social conservatism in action.

Economic or fiscal conservatism is also very significant politically. Fiscal conservatives support low taxation and free market capitalism with minimal regulation. This benefits the economic interests of certain industries, entrepreneurs or the ruling class in some countries. In Europe, many economic conservatives are not necessarily socially conservative, often being non-religious and unconcerned by issues such as same-sex marriage. In America, however, the two forms of conservatism are heavily intertwined, especially within the Republican Party and its supporters. This bundling of the two major types of conservatism with each other is extreme to the extent that many conservatives cannot recognise the distinction - and see both concepts as central to "conservative values," leading to the idea that you can be all in favour of abolishing tax, deregulating the market and abolishing trade unions all you like, but if you make a single pro-choice statement, you're labelled as a RINO liberal.

The Libertarian Party in America is oriented toward fiscal but not social conservatism, as social conservatism often lends itself to authoritarianism, which is the opposite of the libertarian ideal.

[edit] Conservatism in various countries

Worldwide, better-off people are generally less likely to be discontented with the status quo and therefore more conservative. Poorer people have more reason to be discontented and are therefore more likely to want change.

[edit] United States

American conservatives are far to the right of conservatives in other Western nations. They have little compassion for poor people, overvalue the free market and are deeply suspicious of anything that seems to them government interference. Republicans in Congress, all for example oppose the Affordable Care Act, which is seen as dangerously socialist,[2] even though it had rather conservative origins.

Broadly and recently speaking, the conservative movement was split along two paths in the 1960s, defined by Barry Goldwater's and Nelson Rockefeller's approaches. Rockefeller's was a more traditional conservatism, calling for fiscal responsibility and minimal government intrusion into private affairs, both personal and commercial (except for the Rockefeller drug laws, of course). Goldwater conservatism, which found its successful avatar in Ronald Reagan, was more reactionary, longing nostalgically for a time that never existed before modern changes that bother some people. The conservatism of Goldwater and Reagan was at the time called the New Right.

The center of the modern American conservative movement has incessantly been pushed further and further to the "right": with each success, the bar is moved farther to the right; with each failure, it is likewise moved. It now has a tendemcy to incorporate strong elements of fundamentalist Christianity,[3] creationism including YEC, xenophobia,[4] warmongering,[5] wilful ignorance towards science, global warming denial, people who think birth control is not a critical medical issue for women, and a prideful nationalism, typically manifested as a loudly enunciated belief that "America is the greatest country in the world"[6] and God's chosen country. Many conservatives in the United States promote religious indoctrination in schools, such as prayer in public schools, which blatantly violates the separation of church and state. They generally support less government funding for scientific research that would benefit American ingenuity, but would rather want to reduce taxes on the already privileged and create tax havens for the rich. They also advocate for increased military and police spending to moralize the world, whatever that may mean.

The Bible nowhere mentions America but prideful biblical literalists in no way let that get in the way of their certainty that their America should lead the rest of the world to their way of thinking. Only citizens (mainly men) who accept the insane sound concepts of the Religious Right are true Americans and have the right to lead the world. Filthy Democrats are in no way properly American and can only lead the rest of the world to error. All this leaves residents of other nations, large and small, understandably cheesed off, indeed more sensible people in other countries may get anxious.

While not all conservatives, obviously, embrace all these views, walking away from more than a few can easily leave a politician "outside" the "big tent." American conservatism has moved so far in some directions[7] (invasion of personal privacy[8] and big government[9] for instance), that many traditional conservatives have been stranded in its wake, wondering what happened to the tenets of the movement they used to hold dear and why they are now branded as deceitful, nasty libtards.

[edit] United Kingdom

The UK Conservative Party (often going by its old political nickname of the Tory Party) would, in all irony, be defined as liberal by US conservatives. This is because in UK politics there is less of an extreme divide between the left and the right - it could be said that all parties are essentially battling for a middle ground, with only a slight hint of left/right political alignment, mostly inserted due to party tradition. While in the last decade the Tories have struggled with presenting a united front and have been through various leaders, it recently elected David Cameron as leader and successfully formed a coalition government (with the Liberal Democrats who are ideologically between the Tories and the Labour Party) after the 2010 general election. As a sign of evil liberal infection within the party, it supports publicly-funded health care and has many Muslim members[10] - a Muslim stood for a seat in Parliament representing the Conservative Party in a recent election (he lost... for some reason). They also seem to be okay with abortion and civil partnerships for gay couples and aren't too hot on compulsory religious indoctrination either, and Cameron was able to pull off full gay marriage rights in England and Wales under the coalition (at the dismay of much of his party).

However, their fiscal policies are still within the realms of conservatism. Much of the 2010 UK election was fought over what to do with the economy to pull it out of the recession; characteristically, the Conservative Party favoured immediate spending cuts to cut the country's budget deficit while the more left-wing Labour Party preferred to hold off any cuts until later and pay for it with a tax rise.

[edit] India

Indian conservatism is represented by Hindu nationalism. The Bharatiya Janata Party is the chief conservative party in India.

[edit] Australia

Australian conservatives are, ironically, represented by the Liberal Party of Australia, so named because it was first formed on a platform of economic liberalism (although they are center-right by global standards). They stand for traditional values, and all the other stuff that US conservatives stand for (except gun control, and quite a lot of their members are pro-choice). They generally support some government intervention in the economy, particularly in health care and education, but aren't socialist by any means (they especially don't like the unions). The current leader of the Liberal Party, Tony Abbott, is a devout practicing Catholic and a cold opponent to abortion. For some reason, the Religious Right doesn't have much of a voice in Australian politics, but clearly it does exist. The fundies are represented by the Christian Democratic Party, the Family First Party (which has no representation on the federal level). Though, the former leader of the Liberal Party, Malcolm Turnbull, is actually a borderline liberal (he is from the smaller, moderate faction of the party).

[edit] New Zealand

The New Zealand political sphere has no strong conservative representation and the right, like Australia, are centre-right. The New Zealand National Party won the 2008 elections and are traditionally considered to be a right leaning party, however their policies would be considered more liberal than Barack Obama's. While there is economic conservatism, social conservatism is almost unheard of, until the shit hits the fan.[11]

[edit] South Africa

Prior to its first democratic elections in 1994, South African politics was dominated by the conservative National Party, which governed the country on the basis of "Christian nationalism" and "separate development" - the basis for apartheid.

The Conservative Party of South Africa only came into being in 1982, when a group of ultra-conservatives, led by Dr. Andries Treurnicht (a Dutch Reformed Church minister), broke away from the National Party. They objected to the creation by PW Botha, of the so-called Tricameral Parliament (which gave token representation to Indian and coloured South Africans, whilst ignoring black South Africans) and other reforms, which the Conservative Party felt were a threat to white minority rule.

In other words, the Conservative Party of South Africa came into being, because they felt the ruling apartheid regime wasn't being racist enough.

[edit] Canada

Conservatism in Canada has, like its counterpart in the United States, shifted further to the right in recent years, and rather strangely. The Tories were once known as the Progressive Conservative Party, which was centrist by today's standards and even pragmatic enough to win votes from the most hardline Dipper. The Social Credit Party once occupied the space further to the right; with the collapse of the SoCreds during the 1980s, the Refooooooorm Party of Canada (1987-2000) emerged with a social conservative platform and its base of support in the Western provinces, replaced by the Canadian Alliance (2000-2003). The Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance merged in 2003 to become the Conservative Party of Canada, who are effectively Rockefeller Republicans or Blue Dog Democrats (sans the social conservatism, xenophobia, and warmongering, but the wackiness occasionally seeps in).

[edit] Europe

The multitude of nations in Europe (resembling a firecracker factory on fire) exhibit three different patterns of relations between conservatism, Christianity, creationism, liberalism, socialism, leftiness and rightiness. For a human from any saner continent,[12] the political conditions of Europe are most probably very confusing.

[edit] Catholic sphere

The conservatives are generally represented by Christian Democratic parties that are large center-right parties, but seldomly extremely right, since the extremist niche is occupied by fascistoid parties and far-right populists that don't fit well in fine balls. The local Catholic Church generally gets somewhat involved in the politics and usually supports some center party ex. the Catholic Church in Italy heavily promoted the Christian Democrat Party (Democrazia Cristiana) against communist forces for much of the Cold War, going so far to excommunicate all communists between 1949 and 1983.

Liberals are generally center, seldomly left - the left niche is occupied by socialists and social democrats that however usually prefer to compete with the center liberals. The Pope has officially endorsed Big Bang as "The One and Only True Creation," so Young Earth creationism and other pseudoscience is not considered "Christian values." The far-left is occupied by a few socialist or Communist parties that either rejected Soviet ideology very early or have kept the "red Soviet faith" until today - long after Communism was falsified by itself.

The Catholic sphere is constituted by the Romance-speaking nations, plus South Germans, Austrians, plus some western and southern Slavs, the Polish, the Czechs, the Hungarians, the Slovaks, the Slovenians and the Croatians.

[edit] Orthodox sphere

Among the Greek Orthodoxes, Christianity is rigid and stands for Christian values in the war bunker sense. The Grand Enemy were the commies, that had a tendency to nationalize church property, which automatically drove the Orthodoxes into the arms of the enemies of Communism. Orthodoxes often stand for far-right conservatism, quite often militant such. The conservative position partially coincides with fascist movements. Liberal parties tend to be center-left to center-right, and they compete in the same political left-right range as the former communist parties that scrapped communism in the same millisecond that Gorbachev said they were free, and relabeled themselves as social democrats. On left side of these new social democrats a vacuum emerged, which was later filled up with new communists that have little continuity back to the Soviet bloc communist parties. The most weird case of such a black hole party are the radically reactionary left-right-extreme (but nothing inbetween) National Bolsheviks of Russia: how they manage without violently killing themselves is not known.

The Orthodox sphere is constituted by Romania, Russia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece, but also some Central European countries such as Hungary share traits with this pattern.

[edit] Protestant sphere

The Protestant countries invert the pattern of the Catholic sphere: Protestant broad churches meddle little in politics, except for purely humanitarian reasons. Conservatives and far-right liberals usually coexist in the same party, which is called "The Right" (Höyre) or some muddled "Moderates" or some such. Pure liberal parties are intermediate to small sized, and position themselves at the center, slightly inclining to the right. These are market-liberals or social liberals. The large center-right Christian Democrats are replaced by large social democratic parties, usually broad center-left to center-right. The left is occupied by reformed former communist parties that originally sided with the Soviets and Stalin. Originally they competed with the Greens, the latter of whom in a very short time drove rightwards to compete rather with the Social Democrats. Christian Democratic parties - if they exist - are tiny and pathetic and try to adhere to the US-styled conservatism of the Republicans, up to and including their pseudoscientific inclinations. They work in coalition with the large conservative-liberal coalitions, but are generally politically despised for being religious trolls, and so they're politically ineffective. They have their main voter foundation amongst Christian fringe sects. The far-right parties are populist and xenophobic, but either under a strong pressure to surpress their xenophobia and other neuroses.

The Protestant sphere includes the UK (foremost England) but its center is Scandinavia, and it includes northern Germany and the Netherlands.

[edit] Supply side economics

You can't have a discussion about modern day conservatism, especially economic conservatism, without talking about supply side economics. Supply-side economics is defined as an economic theory which articulates that the economy could be best served by reducing barriers to supply/production as opposed to trying to raise demand. The epitome of supply side economics is the Laffer Curve, which is the precept that government revenue is equal at zero and 100% taxation. Supply-side economics is widely criticized by neo-Keynesian economists, who are in turn voraciously criticized by libertarians.

In just eight years, the Bush Administration grew the government faster and larger than any other President, with borrowed money, and demanded $700 billion more to buy up all of Wall Street's bad mortgage paper and preserve the status quo. But when asked to boost the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) by $250 million dollars to help low-income families pay their heating bills over the winter of 2007-08 with record oil and gas prices, Bush vetoed it as pure socialism.[13]

[edit] Relative and historical nature of the term (or, why defining conservatism as a fixed set of values is pure incoherence)

It should be remembered that, like liberal, conservative is always a relative term defined by the context in which its used. For example, to the US, Deng Xiaoping was considered far more conservative than Mao Zedong, but in China the opposite was true. This, along with similarly varying interpretations of "left-wing" and "right-wing," can lead to a great deal of confusion when talking about political leanings in different contexts. The idea of conservatism has always revolved around the preservation of the status quo, in the face of change. Russian "conservatism" basically reflects the opposite of what Americans feel to be the tenets of "conservatism," simply because of a difference in historical experience. Similarly, elements that would be perceived as "liberal" in contemporary America would be considered in Asian societies as being "conservative" - these include welfare, as well as government intervention in economic sectors. In Latin America, "labor" parties have often been right-wing populist, left-of-center parties avowedly socialist, and military dictatorships (typically viewed as right-wing in the West) could range from outright reactionary to left-wing populist; examples being Augusto Pinochet of Chile and Omar Torrijos of Panama respectively.

Similarly, the binary of "left-wing versus right-wing" ideas to a great extent does not apply in some countries outside of the Western experience, i.e., Malaysia, Turkey, Singapore, and Indonesia (where communism never really played a great role in mainstream politics, except in special occasions - such as Indonesia under Sukarno). In Malaysia, the left-right debate has been eschewed in favour of a debate between the Barisan Nasional (the centre) and the Democratic Action Party (social democrats) and the Parti Se-Tanah Melayu Islam, which is the Islamic right.

Let us also consider how conservatism changes over time, such that a figure like Edmund Burke can, 200 years after his death, be claimed by both liberals and conservatives even in the country he lived in.

[edit] What conservatism is not (or doesn't have to be)

[edit] Conservative psychology

Four researchers surveyed research literature about the psychology of conservatism.[14][15] They discovered that at the core of political conservatism is the resistance to change and a tolerance for inequality. No shit. The chief psychological factors of conservatism are Surprise, fear and ruthless efficiency, an almost fanatical devotion to Ronald Reagan and a nice uniform:

  • Fear and aggression - an easy way to support a conservative position is to scapegoat some convenient "other" and demonise it as a threat to "civilised" values. Islamophobia is simply the current version of this conservative train of thought. Students of history may find other examples.
  • Dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity
  • Uncertainty avoidance - this may lead to the drawing of premature conclusions or resorting to stereotypes.
  • Need for cognitive closure - As Dubya once said "My job isn't to nuance."
  • Terror management - such as declaring amber alerts at opportune moments, calling opponents "supporters of terrorists" etc.

It is debatable whether these factors are associated chiefly with conservatism. One admitted shortfall in this study was that "little or no empirical data are available from the major communist or formerly communist countries" on this subject,[15] which made a study of communist psychology in general very difficult. However, the researchers acknowledge that these factors were also exhibited by many communist dictators, such as Joseph Stalin and Fidel Castro. They respond by claiming that these men, because they resisted change while in power, "may be considered politically conservative, at least in the context of the systems they defended."[15]

[edit] Prominent conservatives (in America, at least)

If the attitudes of the above become not just a US phenomenon and overwhelm the rest of conservative thought, then God help us all.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

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