What Are We Conserving?

Politics is by its very nature irrational. The absurdities we all see cannot be explained by mere ignorance or differing values. Ignorance does not explain the passion and vitriol — after all, few people are highly emotional about advanced calculus; it also doesn’t explain the persistence of beliefs in the face of new evidence or the clustering of unrelated beliefs. There’s no reason I should be able to predict your position on immigration or taxes from your position on gun control, yet I probably could. Worse still, one would think that having a broader conception of the moral value of living beings, that may, for example, lead to one advocating for animal rights, would also lead to one advocating for the rights of the unborn, yet these two positions have an inverse correlation. Diverging value structures also cannot account for political arguments because they similarly don’t account for position clustering, nor do they account for differing beliefs in fact patterns. One’s beliefs on the morality of the police should have no effect on one’s understanding of the number of people killed by police each year, yet those with differing beliefs also differ greatly on the facts. I believe it is widely agreed that this irrationality of politics is a substantial societal danger. 


As Conservatives, we have a fundamental respect for long-standing institutions — it’s a defining feature of the school of thought. Oversimplifying for the sake of explanation, Progressives say, “Think of all the possibilities,” and we say, “Just don’t ruin things too much.” A conundrum then arises when institutions decay: how should one who respects institutions respond to an institution’s corruption? We can recognize the rot and yet we don’t want to destroy it wholesale. We may even have an instinctual dislike of those who want to change it, before we can evaluate whether we think the change is a good idea. So the question arises: what should a Conservative do in a corrupt society? 


Carl Jung had an idea that in order to be the best possible man, you needed to be able to integrate your feminine side. This idea wasn’t original to Jung — it’s perennial. The Tao Te Ching may be the pinnacle manifestation of this idea of the union of opposites taken to its most extreme. A less esoteric example is Muhammad Ali’s famous quote, “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” Boxing may be a sport centered around masculine aggression, violence, and dominance, but success at the highest level requires a sort of feminine flow or style. 


Though it may be an unpleasant thought in the age of rigid adherence to ideology and group identity, I think this notion of the integration of opposites maps very well onto politics. While I’d style myself a Conservative, I’m unashamed to admit that I hold a considerable number of maverick positions. My dominant conservative intuition is also influenced by a libertarian, left, and empiricist intuition — each of which frequently contradicts the others, and I find myself struggling to balance. I wonder if others share my eclectic political intuitions. I don’t find the idea of anarchism unattractive. I think the data likely favor single-payer healthcare over our current abomination of a system. And the topic of this article, I’d like to briefly sketch out arguments for some ostensibly left-wing positions that conservatives should consider adopting. 


The first issue I’d like to bring up is the one on which I believe we’ve made decent progress. Recently polling has shown that Republicans are significantly more likely to support Julian Assange than Democrats, but this wasn’t always the case. There was a time when Assange was a liberal darling for exposing the crimes of the surveillance state, and it’s quite shameful that Republicans opposed this. Worse still, it’s unclear whether this increased support for Assange marks a sustained ideological growth or mere power politics such as appreciation of Wikileaks releasing Clinton’s emails during the 2016 election or the disaffectedness with federal agencies for hoaxes like Russiagate. The silence from the new “free-speech party” has been deafening when it comes to cases like the house arrest of Steven Donzinger for the crime of fighting Chevron’s pollution and exploitation. Conservatives ought to respect the rights of protestors and whistleblowers. When one critiques, the purpose is to purify, not to destroy. When we fail to distinguish the two, that only invites the destroyers. Conservatives who punish those who expose the flaws in severely flawed institutions are doing a great disservice to themselves. If those flaws are not reconciled, the whole will inevitably collapse. 


Another issue on which the right has been tentatively making some progress has been economic populism. I know we needed fusionism to defeat the Soviet Union or whatever, but did letting Libertarians into the coalition really have to mean sucking up to corporations? When I say I want to preserve traditions, I’m not referring to the profits of Amazon. We’ve known for at least a few hundred years that rampant inequality precipitates collapse, and it does Conservatives no good to deny the obvious. There’s overwhelming evidence that inequality predicts crime and social unrest. I’m uncertain if this evolution will bear any fruits or how prominent this socially-cognizant Conservatism is, but I hope to see it grow in the future. 


One last issue on which the right has made some progress which I’d like to bring up is that of foreign policy. There has been a promising, albeit small, shift in right wing foreign policy since I first became politically conscious. I’ve even seen Conservative commentators critiquing Bush’s war in Iraq. There are two problems I see with this movement, despite seeing it as a net-positive. The first is that this movement seems to be motivated, not by a genuine desire to do good, but by a defeatist and disinterested isolationism. Obviously, this is better than a foreign policy bought and owned by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, but it is suboptimal. The second problem, and I believe the more severe of the two, is that the right wing anti-war movement neglects to be proactive. I’m relieved to see Conservatives not gung-ho to go “liberate” and “bring democracy” to Ukraine, and excited by the Conservatives critiquing the war in Iraq, but it seems like the criticisms are highly reactionary and with a narrow scope. I’ve never seen a Conservative draw attention to stolen assets and starvation in Afganistan (except to own Biden) or bombings in Somalia or US funded genocide in Yemen. 


Perhaps, in a year I will have flipped my position on all three of the aforementioned issues. Until then, I think I’ve presented three ways in which the Conservative movement has adopted nominally left wing positions for the better. This is a non-exhaustive list, but I think it’s more than enough to make my point. There is much value to be gained from not being trapped in one ideological camp. Naturally, this imperative applies to any left wing readers, but for my fellow Conservatives: you’re allowed to acknowledge anthropogenic climate change without subscribing to the permanent revolution and you can read Marx and Foucault without being the subject of some Kafka novel and turning into a “bloody post-modern neo-marxist!” The problem of polarization is one, universally acknowledged. This proposed epistemic humility is an easily accessible, tangible, and extraordinarily effective strategy in combating this problem, which I would implore all free thinkers to undertake. 

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