Towards a Conservatively Progressive Revolution in America

no contradiction in terms

Photo by Stephen Walker on Unsplash

Politically, “conservative” means resistance to societal change; “revolution” means to transform society. How can those two attitudes be conjoined?

People of a conservative mind can only become revolutionaries if they feel forced into that position by societal circumstances. As in physics, conjoining incompatible elements requires pressure. Politically, that pressure comes from perceptions of the current state of society and its projected trajectory.

There is one more thing required: a catalyst. Politically, that catalyst must be an idea. For a conservative revolution that idea must provide a vision of a society that, though transformed, would not be radically altered.

How can a society be transformed yet not be radically altered?

A society consists of a group of people who share a political process and an economy. Every human society that has ever existed, from the simplest to the most complex, has had both of those. (The political process includes the institutions of government, in whatever form those might take, which in turn includes some way of making ‘laws’ — rules governing conduct — and enforcing them.)

The political process and the economy embody particular values. In small, simple societies those values can be ubiquitous among its members. Larger, more complex societies will always have a variety of values shared by various members of it; which values are to be chosen to be its ‘organizing principle(s)’ is itself an issue for the political process. (That reflexive nature of the political process is resolved in democratic societies by having freedom of speech informing the constitutional process, as was the case in the establishment of the United Sates of America — and the Articles of Confederation before it.)

The political process and the economy produce a particular set of outcomes for society. Those outcomes are abstract — rights and laws — and material. To change either or both of those sets of outcomes is to transform society.

That can be accomplished by changing the values and/or the basic institutions of society. That is revolution of a radical kind.

It is also possible, however, to transform the outcomes for a society without changing its values or its basic institutional structure. That would be a conservative revolution. Indeed, a conservative revolution is only possible if people of a conservative mind see transforming the outcomes for society as the only means of preserving those values and institutions.

I’m saying that is where we are today in the U.S.: either we will have a conservative revolution or we will have a radical revolution. I don’t see how our existing society cannot withstand the strain it is under much longer.

Revolutionary change, radical or conservative, can go in either direction: backwards or forward; as a retreat or as an advance. The former could be called a reactionary revolution. The latter would be a progressive revolution.

I am in favor of a conservatively progressive revolution. I want to preserve democracy and the rule of law with the primacy of liberty for all as its primary concern. I want us to preserve the institutional structure and the basic nature of our economic system (market-based, to use a familiar term).

Yet, I want us to transform the material outcomes for our society: making the existing economic system self-regulating, with no unemployment or poverty (at no cost to anyone, without having to redistribute anything) and no taxes or public debt (at any level of government) while increasing environmental sustainability (even without additional regulations, without requiring any changes in behavior). To be clear, there would still be no limit on income/wealth. I have learned how all of that can be accomplished — via a single Act of Congress.

Materially, this paradigm would accomplish the ultimate goals of the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ in this country. In the abstract each side would have to accept one compromise: the former would have to accept that redistribution isn’t part of the solution and the latter would have to accept that the solution involves applying democracy to the economy (not a dogmatized notion of liberty). Given what follows from that paradigm, surely neither of those is a rip-you-heart-out concession.

The “revolutionary” part is a new and different way of supplying money to the existing economy. That’s it. That is all it would take to accomplish all of those results without any kind of radical revolution. To learn more, the best place to start would be…

For Crying Out Loud, ACCEPT That A SOLUTION Actually EXISTS” (a “3 min read” — including options for further reading — here in Medium).



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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