Friday May 18, 2018 · 12:58 PM EDT
What does it mean to do the same thing over and over and expect different outcomes? It means being a conservative. Across history and across cultures, conservatism always winds up in the same place: violence, xenophobia, cultural division, inequality, societal breakdown, oligarchy, kleptocracy, eroding values, subjugation of truth, concentration of power.
Pick a society or culture, conservatism always serves the interests of a few at the expense of the general populace, always betrays the people in favor of the powerful. By being a force to preserve the past, conservatism may sound benign and high-minded — tradition, values, merit. The questions to always be asked, however, are these:
How is merit to be defined?
For the issue of conservatism is always the same: someone is in the position of choosing these things, excluding others — conservatism is, ironically but not, elitist. Conservatism purports to favor the marketplace of ideas, a sort of intellectual capitalism, but as in all forms of capitalism favored by conservatives they try to rig the game. Exclude certain voters, limit rights, control media — because conservatism’s principle is for a powerful few to select certain deserving ideas over undeserving ideas.
As a backward-looking movement, conservatism chooses what tradition, what values, what merit matters. Orwell’s observation that who controls the past controls the future identifies the ultimate conservative notion. MY version of tradition, MY version of values, MY version of merit, claiming universality for values that are strictly sectarian.
That is the fundamental of conservatism — to decide what and who deserve to thrive, and to exclude (or worse) the underserving. Fundamentalist religions determine who believes the right things and determine what the right things are, condemning all alternatives. Fiscal conservatives aren’t interested in limiting spending, only in the power to select where the money is spent, excluding things they don’t like. Social conservatives don’t condemn all perverse behaviors, only the ones they get to choose as perverse.
For conservatives, the principle issue is choose who is deserving. If some are, then some are not, as simple as that.
Traditional definitions of “right” and “left” make those loaded terms: communism is “leftist”, so Soviet Russia and Red China are said to be leftist. However, those societies were and are fundamentally conservative — the “leftist” communism became the banner waved to preserve the extreme conservatism of the powerful elites. US conservatives like to focus on the communist label, assign it to liberals everywhere, when what they mean is the despotic conservative governments of the USSR, the PRC, DPRK, the old Warsaw Pact, and others. Those are perfect examples of conservatism — the label doesn’t describe the contents.