How Conservatism Killed Democracy


Maybe "killed" isn't the right word to use here, for what actually happened is that conservatives prevented democracy to ever have a fair chance. The founders of modern conservatism were fervent supporters of the aristocracy who believed that the masses were incapable of ruling themselves and that some deserved to wield power more than most.


source: Wikipedia

We know that conservatives are all about fiscal responsibility, small government and the rights and freedom of the individual. Or so they say. In reality though, conservative governments are some of the biggest ever; they love their foreign wars and will dictate who you're allowed to sleep with or marry if given the chance. They protect existing hierarchies and power-structures because of a belief that people are fundamentally unequal, that some are more deserving than others, and they have no trouble with the fact that capitalism has strong anti-democratic tendencies. This shouldn't be surprising at all given the fact that the early founders of modern conservatism, like Edmund Burke, looked at "the market" as a way to preserve the social ranking of the aristocracy, even if the monarchy should fall; he did most of his writing during the French Revolution and started to make plans to protect the lofty position of nobility when it became clear toward the end of said revolution that democracy might spread all over Europe.

The grandfather of capitalism, Adam Smith devised his theories believing, like Karl Marx I might add, in the labor theory of value, the belief that the work done to transform raw materials into usable products is part of the value of that product. The value of the end product is the sum of the value of the raw materials and the labor. There are centuries worth of writing and debate to prove or disprove the validity of this labor theory of value so I won't get into that, but I will add that Smith's original idea has many problems (for example, water and air have no value in that strict definition of value), and that Marx's refinement of that theory in which he also incorporates the exchange value, isn't without its problems either. What's important four our purposes right now, is to understand that Burke favored the exchange value in his writings. Burke's theory amounts to, again simplified; the exchange value, what people are willing to pay for it in the marketplace of supply and demand, is the value of any given product.

For Burke's purpose, the protection of the current social order, that was a stroke of genius; value is bestowed upon a product only when someone with the means to purchase that product buys it. In Burke's model the value isn't determined in the production phase, but at the point of exchange, by the consumer. The flaw in this model is that price is equated with value, price and value are basically the same. So labor is only valuable if and when the product is desired by the customer. And that makes sense in some way as well; I can produce dull knifes all day every day, but if no one buys them, all that labor was for naught, and rightly so. However, the problem remains in this model that only things traded in the marketplace have value which makes free water the same as worthless water, free medicare is worthless medicare. But the biggest problem, and the saving throw for the aristocracy Burke intended to preserve, is the fact that the consumers with the most money also have the most influence; the more money you have, the more value you can dictate.

Conservatives to this day believe this to be moral and that the wealthy deserve the disproportionate influence they have. The only difference with the nobility of old is that power isn't assigned by birthright, but that we now have a system in which the powerful can "prove" their worth. Now, pair this view on the workings of markets with the class divide inherent in capitalism's model of production, the divide between the owners of the means of production and the working class, and you have a recipe for the plutocracy or corporatocracy we now have in the developed world, with America as its shining and most developed leader. Conservatives have always been secret adversaries of democracy and have always fought for the preservation of existing power hierarchies. We can see that in many small and large things, like the historical fact that fascist movements, with its strict power-structure, charismatic authoritarian leadership, always start as conservative right wing political organizations that appropriate left wing populist rhetoric mixed with strong leadership and fervent nationalism (the label "alt-right" is no coincidence). Or in the fact that leftist parties tend to win elections when voter turnout is high, while right wing parties generally profit from low numbers, and are the ones most guilty of voter-suppression.

Conservatives are traditionalists and resist change in general, but when we zoom in we can see that they mainly oppose change that threatens to upset the current power hierarchies in society. They were against women's voting rights, against labor unions, against same sex marriage, for tax cuts for the rich and corporations; be it in the family, in the state, the country or the ranking of that country in the world, they oppose upsets to the traditional hierarchies on any scale. So we get "Make America Great Again" from fake populist Trump, a slogan with a strong yearning for an imagined past in which everything was better, and a promise of restoring or preserving America's standing in the international community. We get "Build The Wall", conjuring up images of strong leadership that protects "us" from all those evil "them". We get promises of international "deals" (not treaties) in which our strong leader will always make sure that America benefits more than the "others". And so on... Modern human history has many examples of authoritarian and fascist leaders rising up in periods of economic despair among the working class, even in democracies.

I think we may have reached that fine line after decades of neoliberalism in which leftist parties moved to the right economically and consequently failed to effectively fight for their constituents, to fight against their conservative counterparts. They've embraced fully the capitalism that Burke envisioned to be savior of the aristocracy. You reap what you saw... Now, I skipped over a lot of steps and time to go from Burke straight to modern conservative leadership and its proximity to fascism, so please watch this video to fill that gap...

The Origins of Conservatism

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For me, the biggest issue with conservatism is its inherent tendency towards not changing... maintaining the status quo in a world that's eternally fluid, meaning that the core philosophical underpinnings — whether you like them, or not — tend to end up "left behind."


If you look up definitions of logical fallacies, one you may find is argumentum ad antiquatum (or some such spelling, I know latin not). The fallacy can be recognized by seeing someone is arguing that because something is old, it must be good. Tried and true does have situations where it can apply quite well, but when discussing the best option for now it is quite possible technology, thought, or morals have changed since the current/old solution was implemented (and one must still ask whether the current solution was the best solution at the time it was implemented or any time since).

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First of all: great post, it reminds me of so much. For example I feel there’s a perfect Reagan campaign slogan as an outline of your idea that conservatives mainly oppose change that threatens to upset the current power hierarchies in society: “ Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.”

His economic advisor has also spoken the quiet part out loud regarding what trickle-down economics is meant to do: prevent the growth of government during liberal rule by bankrupting government during Republican rule — there will be no way to pay for changes to the power hierarchy if the debt is sufficiently crippling. By the time a Democrat fixes the economy to where social programs cannot be fought with “how will you pay for it?” people will vote against the ruling party because any party in power for 8 years has a hell of a fight to get 4 more.

If you want constructive feedback, i think theres room for more of a transition when going from a list of “against this, against that” to “for x, for y” and in terms of word choice when x in that example contains the word “for” then maybe “supported” is a better antonym for “against” (and you should maybe have a more balanced list e.g. list more than one thing Republicans supported if you are going to list three things they are against).