The nature of political conservatism and it's demographic the phenomena of the rise of the right-wing
The context for this essay is obviously the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency; and more widely the swing to the 'right' occurring across much of Europe. Also the shock, confusion and atmosphere of incomprehension, that seems to have arisen in consequence. As usual mine seems to be a minority theory, certainly it is presented for consideration in that spirit, whatever history may finally make of it.
Wealth, Social Class, and Culture
A common notion or received wisdom of the relationship between wealth (as income and assets) and social class; seems to be a one dimensional one :
- the wealthy, powerful 'upper-class' are at the top of society
- the less wealthy, middle-class are in the middle and
-the poor, powerless working-class are at the bottom
The assumption being that class as cultural values: education, ways of: speaking, socialising, dress along with spiritual, religious, ethical and finally political beliefs; is well correlated with income and assets. But this one dimensional model doesn't seem to quite work !
- Where to place the "billionaire peasant", the "impoverished aristocrat" and the bohemian artist ? Are bohemians to be considered working-class on the basis of wealth or middle-class on the basis of culture. ?
So cautiously the necessity of a two dimensional model is considered. Cautious, because in the spirit of 'Occam's Razor' a minimal theory is sought; as there seems to be a tendency in sociology to start adding dimensions, every time some new aspect of society is considered!. So how well will a two dimensional theory of society work ? That is a theory that places individuals in a space measured by wealth in one direction and culture in another ?
- Tentatively, it seems to !; working-class, middle-class and upper-class all have a place; along with "billionaire peasants", the "impoverished aristocrats" and bohemian artists
The Traditional Conservative
(aka right-wing demographic in the above model)
Received wisdom would seem to expect political conservatism (whatever this may turn out to mean ) to be correlated with the upper-class and progressive politics with the working-class. Now whilst this 'theory' may be very convenient for a Marxist (say); Is it true now ? Has it ever been true ?; .The political fact which the recent US presidential election draws large, is simply the enormous number of voters currently in this demographic of 'conservatives'. But they can't simply be the upper-class as that demographic whilst owning perhaps a large percentage of a society's assets are only a small percentage of the total population How can such an insignificant demographic have much effect on something as concrete, cut and dried as votes , a US presidential election ?..
Conservatism as any Right-Wing Political Ideology?
There seems to be a usage of 'conservative' , which is chiefly concerned with gradual change versus radical or sudden change; or a political philosophy in that context . eg " Conservatism (or conservativism) is any political philosophy that favours tradition (in the sense of various religious, cultural, or nationally-defined beliefs and customs) in the face of external forces for change, and is
critical of proposals for radical social change...."
But here the emphasis will be more on those " political philosophy that favours tradition " and their relationship to more "progressive ones, than the resistance to sudden political change .
eg "Conservatism is a political and social philosophy that promotes retaining traditional social institutions in the context of culture and civilization......"
Conservatism often seems a catch-all category for any non-progressive ideology: eg in a derogatory sense as: a parochial, xenophobic, dogmatic identification with some social sub-group. But more fairly as non-progressive in the sense of being opposed to or perhaps just indifferent to altruistic notions of social justice for the oppressed groups of society: the poor, women, colored people , refugees, various ethnicities, and those of gay, lesbian or minority gender preferences, the disabled....etc.and perhaps one should include concern for the environment !
- notice this will include those whose traditional religious values are in opposition to one or more tenets of social justice eg justice for women, but who may have little in common with
-those who are opposed to more open forms of altruism eg having concern for poverty in their town, but not nationally, but who again have little in common with
- those who are simply egoists of some form ie their commitment to help individual members of those oppressed social sub-groups, whose unjust situation is the subject of the various social justice ideologies above; is contingent or non-existent
It is perhaps useful to introduce a very general definition of altruism here: [altruism]: "An absolute (as non-contingent) 'commitment', by the individual to some group; and a contingent commitment to the self" with [ commitment ] as a promise to helpand/ or identification with ; comment : so this will encompass those whose commitment is limited to the increasingly, more encompassing groups: partner, family, tribe, nation, species or all sentient life forms ! and see it in relation to a very general definition of egoism: [egoism]: "An absolute (as non-contingent) 'commitment' by the individual to the self; and a contingent commitment to some group" again with [ commitment ] as a promise to help and/ or identification with comment : so this will encompass those whose commitment is limited to the increasingly, more encompassing notions of the self : as Id (small children and sociopaths), the whole personality, the whole personality in relation to society (perhaps enlightened self-interest), and perhaps the whole personality in relation to society and cosmos (perhaps egoism as a spiritual path).
In the enthusiasm for rectifying the many ills of society, in particular the legislative changes prescribing discrimination against and pro-active action for the above oppressed groups; it may be that many without much enthusiasm or even outright opposition to such legislation; are disinclined to to voice such reactionary views , become invisible. The silent majority as they say. Notice also that those of a 'hard-line' progressive' persuasion may tend to lump those whose support for oppressed groups is contingent, rather than absolute; with those who are absolutely opposed.!
But problems with this negative definition is not the only barrier to understanding; for coupled with these traditional values and an instinctive resistance to 'progressive values' may be a disinclination to "agree to disagree"; which some might describe as 'a dogmatic assertion of those traditional values'; often accompanied by a xenophobic parochialism. Now for someone with a dogmatic social justice agenda in some form ; the problem may be more the clash of those traditional values with their relevant ideology; than the dogmatism.!
But for those more inclined to philosophical enquiry and discourse; where to "agree to disagree" is a given; conservative dogmatism will simply be anathema. Making it very difficuld to have a disinterested view of some forms of 'conservatism'. History perhaps suggests this demographic has had much susceptability to such mass hysterical phenomena as witch-craft paranoia in the middle-ages, anti-semitism under the Nazis, the anti-communist pogroms of the 50's under the McCarthy.; perhaps even the genocides in Serbia and Uganda. Worryingly unscrupulous and /or simply deluded popular demagogues ;can utilise this susceptibility !
A Metric for Conservatism?
Not with standing all these problems with defining 'conservatism' can a metric be devised
which will measure roughly an individual's place on a continuum from 'conservative' to progressive ?
Proposal: if we ask the question:
On a scale of one to ten; where one is to totally disagree and ten to totally agree with the statement :
"I am fully commited to rectifying all forms of social injustice, involving individuals in oppressed groups like: the poor, women, colored people, religeous minorities , refugees, ethnic minorities , those of gay, lesbian or minority gender preferences, the disabled....etc. and I am also committed to a concern for the environment ! "
1/ Consider our two dimensional model of society (above) with social class as culture against income; with the qualitive description of class replaced with the quantitative metric above .
2/ Consider even more tentatively (Occams Razor above ! ); if a third dimension is added to our two dimensional model of society measuring frequency as a fraction of the total population. .
3/ Then the falsifiable sociological theory is proposed; that from a survey of a representitive cross-section of society with of the above question against income The following quantitive relationship would be observed
Essentially 'conservatism' will be found to correlate more closelly with low income, than high !
Correlation of Conservatism as a Consequence of Globalization
The the currently fashionable free-market ideology of 'laissez -faire', would seem to suggest that 'optimal social advantage' will be obtained in a national economy of interacting free-markets; if government regulation of these is minimised. Regardless; without needing to define 'optimal social advantage'; it can be predicted that globalisation as the reduction of import tariff, will reduce the price of goods in national economies, It can also be predicted that the consequence of this will be 'export' of jobs to large , low wage economies. eg China, India
What is not obvious, but widely believed; is that these 'exported' jobs will be replaced in first world economies in whole or part by new ones, associated with high-tech 'disruptive' industries. Even if we allow the possibility that these new industries will :
1/ occur at all
2/ tend to congregate in those nations from which jobs have been exported;
Surely to expect that citizens with traditional but unwanted expertise can and will 'retrain' to find employment in these hypothetical new industries ; seems somewhat doctrinaire if not simply naive. Yet another failure of this pathetic, irresponsible, complacent ideological delusion !
But I digress; the contention is that these job losses occur mostly in low paid jobs in the first world economies of America, Europe, Australia, Canada etc and are disproportianately affecting the employment and incomes of the cultural working class in these countries , which in our thesis we have identified with conservatism.
Thus the rise of Donald Trump and the conservative demographic !
Presentation to The Philosophy Forum, Sunday April 2, 2017