Essay:Why Society Isn't Becoming More Conservative

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Andy Schlafly, founder of the ultra-conservative, fundamentalist Christian website Conservapedia, contends that the United States is inevitably becoming more conservative. Much, if not all, of his reasoning comes from his “Best New Conservative Words” which are a list of words he believes express conservative insights. He claims that “conservative words” are being generated at a much faster rate than “liberal words,” indicating conservatism’s ultimate triumph over liberalism. The rate of “conservative words,” by Schlafly’s calculations is roughly doubling every century. This is known as “Conservapedia’s Law.”

What are these conservative words that Schlafly claims are being generated faster and faster each century? Alcoholism (“excessive or addictive drinking of alcohol”). Algorithm (“an efficient and consistent step-by-step methodology for achieving a goal, the opposite of liberal style”). Apple Pie (“honesty, simplicity, wholesomeness. Relating to, or characterized by traditionally American values”). Duh science (“first coined by the LA Weekly to criticize the LA Times for failing to criticize a publicly funded study that concluded that pessimistic people are often in bad moods”). Illiteracy (“liberals seek to produce illiterate voters who lack independence, and many graduates of the public schools are illiterate today”). Personhood (“inherent rights guaranteed to all human beings from the beginning of their biological development, including the pre-born, partially born. Also, the state or fact of being a person”). Trivia (“insignificant detail, which can sometimes obscure what is important and distract people from the Bible; liberal Wikipedia is filled with trivial junk”). These are just several of a long list of words Schlafly has compiled to make his point. Any rational person, whether you believe society is becoming more liberal or more conservative, would view this list as utterly ridiculous.

“Conservative words” are words that, as Schlafly himself put it, express conservative insight. Conservative words should be words that actually reflect conservatism in its political form or any other form of the word that don’t have some sort of outlandish political spin to it. “Alcoholism” has nothing to do with conservatism. “Algorithm” has nothing to do with conservatism. “Apple Pie” has nothing to do with conservatism. “Illiteracy” has nothing to do with conservatism. “Trivia” has nothing to do with conservatism. “Duh science” and “personhood” would be lucky to even be considered “words” at all. With a list such as this, it appears Schlafly goes through the dictionary and pulls out words he thinks he can construe somehow into a “conservative” word and doubles how many words he pulls out for each successive century.

So how can people predict whether or not society is heading towards a more liberal or conservative future? Will it allow us to see whether one ideology with triumph over the other? The easiest and best way to look into society’s ideological future is to look at societal and political trends that trace from the past into the present.

First let’s look at non-political trends and how conservative or liberal they are becoming. An example that comes to mind is public education in regards to gender. As late as the 1960s, girls in school could still be required to wear dresses and were barred from taking classes such as woodshop. That would undoubtedly be considered a conservative practice (relative to today). Today we see that school dress codes aren’t nearly as strict; the apparel girls wear to school is much less conservative compared to what was required several decades ago. Today girls and boys are free to take classes that were once confined to only one gender. This clearly shows how public education in regards to gender is becoming increasingly liberal rather than conservative.

A second non-political trend would be how people dress in public. A man who was a more conservative dresser would be wearing formal attire; in the 1920s, for example, men always went out in suits. In today’s society people go about their business in casual clothing such as jeans and a t-shirt. Women are often seen out in short shorts and other more revealing clothing that would have been intensely frowned upon only fifty years ago. Much like the first example discussed above, society views what’s acceptable to wear in public much less conservatively. Openness about homosexuality is yet another example of society’s trend toward liberalism. Several decades ago open discussion of homosexuality was frowned upon. The idea of being homosexual was largely deemed preposterous. Nowadays science can pinpoint the genetics of homosexuality, it is freely debated in both formal and informal settings, and homosexual individuals are more comfortable being open about their sexuality. This is undoubtedly a clear trend away from conservatism.

Film and television also show society’s abandonment of conservatism. If one looks at the content of films and television throughout the 20th century into the 21st, one would see a huge increase in topics that were once frowned upon previously. More profanity, sexuality, and violence in these media arise from trends toward liberalism. An old R-rated movie would be quite mild compared to a modern R-rated film.

Politically, there are numerous examples of society’s slow abandonment of conservatism.

Consider Social Security. In the 19th century, the idea of the federal government providing any kind of financial safety net for some of its citizens would have been seen as an appalling travesty. The government was not supposed to be an entity that involved itself in its citizens’ welfare like that. But in the 1930s, FDR realized that such a measure was necessary, especially with the disastrous effects of the Great Depression. That was an obvious step towards liberalism. Now, Social Security is seen as a vital and tremendously important part of American society. Over the 20th century, more welfare programs from the federal government were added to the list. Although the welfare-reform efforts of the Republican Congress of the 1990s could be seen as a step toward conservatism, the big picture shows the trend is obviously increasingly liberal. President Obama’s health care reform is another good example.

Government involvement in the economy also clearly demonstrates American society’s movement toward a more liberal culture. Prior to the Great Depression, government involvement in the economy was largely unheard of and considered a grievous breach of its power. The government was only known to occasionally try to break up huge, manipulative trusts. FDR set yet another precedent by implementing Keynesian economics and including the federal government in the economy. Since then government regulation in the economy has become somewhat commonplace. Like Social Security, increased government intervention and regulation in the economy is unquestionably a movement away from conservatism.

The changing characteristics of federalism also show a slow abandonment of conservatism. Conservatives assert state rights. The increasing mix of state and federal roles and responsibilities is not a conservative trend whatsoever; it blurs what the state’s unique responsibilities are and greatly limits its independence from the federal government, an independence conservatives strive for. In addition, the federal government is intruding on responsibilities once held solely by the states. The fourteenth amendment to the Constitution is another great example. It bars local governments from denying citizens life, liberty, and property without due process. It’s been used for nearly 150 years now to apply the Bill of Rights to the states (originally it only applied to the federal government). The fourteenth amendment thus further limits the power of the states, something that could never be considered a conservative move. Such a fundamental shift away from conservatism gives evidence for an increasingly liberal society.

Is this trend toward liberalism good or bad? The increase in violence, sexuality and profanity in film would be an argument for the harm of increased liberalism. If people several decades ago saw one of today’s movies they would think the future holds a corrupt, morally defunct society. But today’s society isn’t corrupt and morally defunct. Increased liberalism may seem bad in some instances, but society adapts to whatever negative curveballs societal evolution throws at it. Other aspects of increased liberalism such as universal healthcare and equal rights for same-sex couples show how positive an influence it can be on society.

An ever increasingly conservative culture would look nothing like today’s society with respect to the past. If Schlafly’s argument for conservatism’s eventual triumph is correct, we should be witnessing less and less government intervention, more suppression of homosexuality, stricter film-rating, more states’ rights, less opportunities for girls in school, and many other radically different trends. But the trends we see in modern society are the total opposite.

Both the political and non-political aspects of American society are moving in a liberal direction. The government is undeniably taking less and less conservative stances in issues and its role in the economy and its citizens’ lives. American people and American culture are embracing a less conservative style. Will liberalism ultimately triumph over conservatism? Almost certainly. What we view today as liberal will one day be perceived as conservative. Conservatism as we know it may never be completely lost, but it will become less and less relevant as society advances.