Discovering That Conservative Is What I Am

Note that “conservative” is being used here as an adjective, not a noun.

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

I have been advocating for years for an advance in our understanding of justice that would include a “democratically distributed income.” Imagine, then, my amazement at realizing that I am conservative. That is a measure of the tectonic shifts that have struck our nation (the result of pressures that have been building over time — since, in some cases, 1776).

I’m saying that “conservative” has come to mean using rationality to preserve Liberal society, i.e. democracy and the rule of law with the primacy of liberty for all as its primary concern. Postmodernists attack the ‘the rational’ as an instrument of oppression. Both democracy and liberty are under attack from both the political right and the political left.

I’ll take up the political first. In doing so, I am aware that I am generalizing, but the beliefs and attitudes that I attribute to each side are, if not completely ubiquitous therein, at least essential to both sides’ current political identities.

Democracy and liberty are completely symbiotic. Neither can exist without the other. To attack either is to endanger both.

Liberty is the exercise personal prerogatives. Lefties want to deny some people the exercise of personal prerogatives they find abhorrent, such as owners of businesses denying service to people based on those owners’ religious beliefs. Righties also want to deny some people the exercise of personal prerogatives they find abhorrent, such as non-heterosexual people expressing their sexuality as freely as heterosexual people are allowed to do.

The exercise of personal prerogatives often depends on acquired sources of power. One such source of power is money/wealth. Lefties are convinced that taking money/wealth from those who have ‘too much of it’ is necessary to further ‘social justice’. Another acquired source of social power is knowledge. Righties are convinced that anyone expressing more knowledge than they possess is being ‘elitist’; if it were possible, they would as surely want to take knowledge from such ‘elitists’ as lefties want to take money/wealth from the economic ‘elite’. Of course, both sides are sympathetic to any elite of any kind who is sympathetic to their political perspective.

Both sides also directly attack democracy. Democracy is freedom of political speech combined with democratically distributed political rights (i.e. rights associated with participation in the political process that are available to all citizens but for universally applicable restrictions, universally applied).

Simply put, both sides want only their side to have complete freedom to speak politically and exercise all of their political rights. Lefties are more inclined to limit freedom of political speech (of the other side); righties are more inclined to limit the exercise of political rights (of the other side).

Meanwhile, postmodernists insist that ‘the rational’ is a device for some to use to dominate others. They got to that position in large part by attributing rationality to ideologies.

Ideologies, however, are no more rational that sacral religions are. Both are based on beliefs.

No one has any trouble accepting that sacral religions are based on beliefs. A belief is an assertion that cannot possibly be validated — or invalidated — within material existence. Asserting that God exists is a belief.

People seem to have a hard time accepting that ideologies are based on beliefs. Yet, to assert that people are ‘equal’ can only be a belief, whether that belief is part of a religion or not. For that matter, to assert that any group of humans is inherently superior or inferior to other humans can also only be a belief. Likewise, it is also a belief to assert that there are such things as a priori Rights (i.e. Rights that were discovered by human beings, not the creation of human beings). One way or another, those beliefs account for every ideology.

One thing the meta-ideology of Liberalism got absolutely right is that justice requires universality. No belief is universal among human beings. All beliefs divide people into ‘us’ and ‘them’.

Conflicts based on beliefs can only be “contests of power” (Michel Foucault). In such conflicts people come to feel that the only options are total victory or total defeat. That makes justifying any means all too easy to do.

In political conflicts of that kind victory ends up being the imposition of one set of beliefs on all people. So postmodernists (led by Critical Theory) are correct that ideologies inherently tend towards totalitarianism, but fail to realize that it follows from their basis in beliefs. [Schisms within Liberalism are becoming as unbridgeable as those between it and Marxism or Fascism.]

For justice, our only option is a strictly rational ethic of justice, involving no beliefs, that follows from observation within material existence. A society governed by that ethic would reinforce democracy, maximize as a practical matter the liberty that co-existing people can share, and transform the outcomes for society of the existing economy. Nowadays, advocating for such change is the conservative thing to do.

further reading:

Real Justice (summarized for a ‘5 min read’)” here in Medium

The economic implications are summarized in a “3 min read” — including options for further reading — in “For Crying Out Loud, ACCEPT That A SOLUTION Actually EXISTS” also here in Medium.

Resolving the tensions within Liberalism without a strictly rational approach to justice can be accomplished with a new understanding of the relationship between liberty and equality: “Equality Is All We Need;” “Re-thinking Individualism to Avert the Worst Tragedy in the History of Civilization” also here in Medium. It does, however, all come down to the same ethic of justice.

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Stephen Yearwood

unaffiliated, non-ideological, unpaid: M.A. in political economy (where philosophy and economics intersect) with a focus in money/distributive justice