Critiquing modern US Conservatism: What All Conservatives Can Agree On?

Critiquing modern US Conservatism: What All Conservatives Can Agree On? September 2, 2017

Today I will be getting back to my ongoing critique of Conservatism, by dissecting claims about the central theses of Conservatism, as expressed by Conservatives. Previously I looked at the Sharon Statement (1960). This time I am looking at a summary of the commonalities between a diverse group of Conservative thinkers that was gathered together for a book called ‘What is Conservatism?’. This summary is called What All Conservatives Can Agree On.

What is Conservatism

What is Conservatism?


Amongst the contributors to this volume are M. Stanton Evans, the author of the Sharon Statement; William F. Buckley, after whose hometown in Connecticut the Sharon Statement was named; and a number of other Conservative luminaries, including Russell Kirk and F. A. Hayek. This book was originally published in 1964, a year notable in American politics for Barry “Mr. Conservative” Goldwater’s presidential bid, and his refusal to sign the Civil Rights Act that same year.

I will break the introduction of ‘What All Conservatives Can Agree On’ into two parts, and then address each of the six points on which, apparently, all conservatives can agree on, and critique each, individually.

(Note that I make particular use of a distinction between conservative and Conservative. When I say something about Conservatives I am making a much narrower generalization than when I say something about conservatives.)



That there is a contemporary American conservative movement, which looms larger and larger on the political scene, no one will deny. Nor is it difficult to designate the general political principles by which this movement is delimited, in contrast to the prevailing national tendency which we call “liberalism.” American conservatives are united in opposition to the growth of government power—of what is known as the welfare state—and to the centralization of that power in the federal executive; they are opposed to the characteristic leveling egalitarianism of the time, an egalitarianism they see expressed on every level—political, social, economic, intellectual—of our national life.

I previously mentioned, in “Ideological Asymmetry of the American Party System”, ultimately a rejoinder to the claim that “contemporary American conservative movement… looms larger and larger on the political scene”:


Though the Republican Party is the smaller party, it can punch above its weight.

For as long as political science has had data on this, Republicans have been:

  • Twice as likely as Democrats to support their party’s ideological policies.

  • 50 percent more likely to know that the Republican Party is more conservative than the Democratic Party.

  • More than twice as likely to have ideological reasons for supporting their party.

  • More than four times less likely to list social reasons for identifying with their party.


The phrase “looms larger” is both telling, and accurate. Modern conservatism is, as the next paragraph in the target article intimates, a response to the modern liberalism of collective action to establish individual rights and liberties for the common man. Modern conservatism is, at its core, an attempt to argue against modern liberalism, and re-establish non-modern conservatism. This is clear in the US, from the Obama-era obstructionism (despite Obama starting his term with overt calls to reach across the aisle), to gerrymandering.

I am not, for a moment, going to pretend that gerrymandering is an exclusively Republican practice, but of the 10 most gerrymandered states in the US, only one works in the Democrat’s favour. Were the districts drawn by a non-partisan redistricting committees, 22 districts would no longer be safe Republican strongholds, as opposed to the three at risk for Democrats.

With regard to America’s most gerrymandered state – in the news for other reasons more recently –  “Two years ago [2014], more than half of [North Carolina] voters cast Democratic ballots, yet Republicans secured the vast majority of congressional seats.”

And of course, we know about the electoral college’s impact on results. The electoral college was offered as a sop to the South to encourage political involvement, but it is now, in effect, the gerrymandering of the entire electorate, as it gives undue power to the states that the GOP worked so hard to turn in the 60s (districts that had active KKK chapters in the 60s, and are more likely to vote Republican, even decades after the chapter closed: see Brandeis for a short write-up, and Vice for a more involved analysis).

One key problem with gerrymandering is that representatives in such districts are more likely to tend to extremes. There is no reason to tend towards the centre, and every reason to move further right. They are decoupled from accountability. This seems like a case of a representative knowing that they have a safe majority, and thus playing to that majority, exclusively, in a district-wide case of ‘Risky Shift’ (A social psychological term, referring to the observed tendency for people to make more daring decisions when they are in groups, than when they are alone). So it will be interesting to see what comes of the upcoming Supreme Court Ruling on gerrymandering:


Of course there are other dirty tricks on the conservative side, a classic case of which, in English electoral history, being the Zinoviev letter. Again, liberals are not pure as the driven snow, but they’re also not claiming to be the parties of moral values (or fiscal responsibility).


This consensus on the practical political level rests upon a general consensus (at least so far as it is contrasted with the “liberal” outlook) on the nature of men and their relations to government and society. By and large, it is parallel in modern circumstances to the consensus of the men who founded the Republic and conceived the Constitution.

Within this consensus, however (as within the consensus of the Founders of the Republic), distinct differences of emphasis exist. Specifically, the deepest element of divergence arises from the opposed emphases of those conservatives who stress the concepts of tradition and authority and those who stress the concept of freedom.

But the consensus is a great deal more fundamental than the divergence; as against the prevalent Liberalism, contemporary American conservative thought shares a common set of values; and these values are derived in their essentials from the values held in common by the Founding Fathers.


So, our understanding of the nature of men (and indeed women) hasn’t updated since the writing of the constitution? There has been no impact on “our” understanding of humanity from the intervening 200 years of moral philosophy? 150 years of sociology? 100 years of evolutionary theory and modern biology? What about 75 years of psychology? No? Well what, pray-tell, is “modern” about modern conservatism, then? (Note that I am using these approximate periods of time in order to place them somewhere in the 50 years between 1964 and 2017.)


What all Conservatives Can Agree On

That consensus can perhaps best be summarized by contrasting its basic assumptions with the basic assumptions of Liberalism:

This should be good…



However varied their religious commitments, the contributors to What Is Conservatism? all accept, implicitly or explicitly, the existence of an objective moral order based on what Eric Voegelin has called “the constitution of being”—that is, the existence of immutable standards by which human conduct should be judged.

Those religious commitments being, presumably, Catholic or Protestant, and almost never anything else? (And originally Protestant only… becase we can totally ignore the “Founding Fathers” that were deists, right?)

Is this “immutable” standard, then, the Christian Bible? I won’t go into the myriad problems of calling such a standard immutable, there is more than enough content, on this blog alone, to call that into serious question. Later I will talk about the importance of group membership to conservative thought, amongst which membership to a white race is often seen as important, whether explicitly, or implicitly. Such a trivial marker of self-identification, however, has caused the Aramaic-speaking Semite, known to his fans as Jesus, to be portrayed as white, often blue-eyed, and fair-haired.

Image processed by CodeCarvings Piczard ### FREE Community Edition ### on 2016-04-11 05:02:42Z | |

So much for Immutability!

Image from Christianity Today, Why Jesus’ Skin Color Matters 

One can only consider moral standards immutable if, as I suggested above, one had missed the preceding 200 years of moral philosophy (and the last 50 years of developmental and moral psychology), and had some very strange folk beliefs about the effect of culture on beliefs. It is ironic that, if anything in morality does count as immutable, it is the concepts of fairness, or harm (because human bodies haven’t changed over-much in recent evolutionary history… or at all, if you’re a creationist, ironically). However, as we know, conservatives consider these concepts to be merely on a par with Authority (respect), In-Group (loyalty), and Purity (sanctity) (Graham & Haidt, 2010[1]).

Is that an “authority” that is defined by membership to an in-group predicated on relative racial purity, perchance? Often the answer is yes; what changes is whether that “yes” is implicit (“patriot”) or explicit (KKK/neo-Nazi).

Ignoring that (mostly) tongue-in-cheek jab, this raises further questions:

  1. Authority/respect: What constitutes legitimate authority? What is the basis of that respect? Reflexive respect (deference) on the basis of authority is not an answer to that question; it is the start of a circular argument.
  2. In-group/loyalty: If recent years have taught us anything, it is that conservative Republicans have a much narrower definition of “American” and thus “patriot” than Democrats do. So what constitutes an in-group? The group I think I belong to, or the group a conservative thinks I belong to? Let’s not forget that conservative Republicans gave us the terms RiNO (Republican in Name Only – a No True Scotsman fallacy) and “true American Patriot”, which apparently excludes the Khan family, and transgender soldiers.
  3. Purity/sanctity: The sanctity that so often underpins conceptions of purity is culture- or religion-specific, this is one basis of otherizing; making other people’s practices impure, and thus making them “dirty”.


Furthermore, I’m not sure I want to trust someone that believes a celibate cleric is an authority on marital problems, or that Jim ‘Snowball’ Inhofe is an authority on climate science, on “authority”. Similarly, group membership is mostly predicated on who your parents are, in a socio-cultural sense, rather than who you are, in a personal sense. Reflexive loyalty is not a reflection of anything but training, and the post hoc rationalization thereof. Finally, purity/sanctity arise out of both of the above immixed with evolutionarily derived (or “god given”) reflexes – no thought required. And as to those baser instincts …

“Nature … is what we are put in this world to rise above.”

– Katharine Hepburn, The African Queen.


This conservative acceptance of hard truths imbedded in reality clashes directly with the ‘Liberal’ dependence upon the instrumental as the foundation and justification of political theory and practice. The Liberal’s faith is in “democracy” (the rightness of whatever is desired by 50 percent of the population plus one), or in “progress” (the rightness of the direction in which events have been and are moving and, therefore, the rightness of whoever has the power to move them), or in “enlightened up-to-date experts” (the rightness of the intellectual fashions of the age) . . . or in a combination of all three.

Hard truths like ‘reliance upon fossil fuels is bad for the environment’? Or, ‘biology only makes sense in light of evolution’? Or, ‘homosexuality is mostly genetic’? Or, ‘differences in race mostly arise from the way the races have been treated’? Can you detect the self-aggrandizing tone adopted by the author(s), here? Not least, in denigrating what liberals believe, they have already shown contempt for democracy, progress, and science, and now they claim to be the arbiters of truth.

No surprise, then, that Conservatism is mostly defined by its alighting upon what liberalism alit upon, significantly after the fact (in the same way that science has only ever been overturned by more science, never by religion). Admittedly, the lag between what scientists have discovered and what the populace considers to be an accurate representation of reality has lessened over time (along with the increasing liberalism of the populace that this very document complains about), but it is still a notable lag. Indeed, it is most notable because the conservative leaders are the most inclined to stick in the mud.



For all of the contributors, the human person is the necessary center of political and social thought. Whether their stress is upon his freedom and his rights or upon his responsibilities and his duties, it is in terms of the individual person that they think and write. They affirm the primacy of the person in contradistinction to contemporary Liberalism, which is essentially concerned with collectivities (“the people,” “minorities,” “new nations”), instrumentalities for the submergence and manipulation of the persons who make them up. Whether conservatives conceive the fulfillment of the person primarily in terms of individual autonomy or in terms of community, they reject the ideological concept of collective entities.

The fundamental problem, here, and I have mentioned this before, is the way in which people of the two primary political persuasions raise their children. If a child is raised in a Conservative (with a capital C) household, then they are more likely to be defined by the groups they belong to, e.g. Conservative, White, Protestant, Evangelical, American, Heterosexual, etc., as opposed to who they are as individuals. Individuality, is something to be discovered after they turn 18, or 21, or whatever is considered an appropriate age to be sufficiently trained to not go off the rails. There is little difference between this and the Rumschpringe of the Amish and Mennonite sects.

The Amish and Rumschpringe

The Problem with Rumschpringe

A child raised in a more liberal household is more likely to be encouraged to discover who they are through experience and experimentation, whilst the parents set boundaries on that experimentation:

  • No, you can’t push your sister in front of a moving car, how would you like it if she pushed you in front of a car?
  • No, you can’t have chocolate for breakfast, it will make you sick, and too tired to play later.
  • Yes, you do have to share your toys, otherwise how will your friends be able to play with you?
  • …and so on.

Notice that whilst the parent here is authoritative, they also provide reasons, and are thus not authoritarian.

This is by no means exclusive to liberal parents. The more centrist of conservatives do the same, albeit to a lesser extent, and in subtly different ways. (See my post, The Natural Conservative vs. the Nurtured Conservative, and the Pew Research article on parenting values between Liberals, Centrists, and Conservatives, on which part of that was based.) There will, however, be distinct and unsubtle differences between the liberal parent’s, and the more conservative parent’s, reaction to a child playing with their “private parts” (itself a term coming straight out of religious conservative thought). Private parts are not inherently sexual in children. (Just as breasts and breastfeeding are not – seeing a pattern here?). Discovering our genitals is as normal as discovering any other body part. It just happens that, as with our mouths and fingers, genitals have more nerve endings, and are thus, by definition, more fun to “play” with. It is perfectly possible to discourage a child from playing with their genitals without using guilt and fear to achieve this end. But meek and compliant children are easier to deal with.

Teaching the Children: Sharp Ideological Differences, Some Common Ground


An adult raised in the former way will crave “freedom” and autonomy, unless of course they are so cowed by the authority figures in their lives, that they continue to crave subservience to an authority figure. This allows them to outsource their thinking about almost anything, by following “the rules”. Don’t get me wrong, some people are predisposed to this in a way that has nothing to with their upbringing, and everything to do with genuine personal preference… but it should be a choice, not a superimposition.

Children made meek in this way “shall inherit the earth” (now there’s an inducement!), but they often make for pretty abysmal adults. See what happens when you’re raised to identify with your whiteness or American-ness before identifying with your uniqueness. Neo-Nazis and KKK members arise naturally from the former, violent “patriots” and Tea Party “activists” from the latter. Children raised to identify with their uniqueness first have the freedom to choose group membership with people they see as fellows. That group membership may be predicated on something such as race (from Black Lives Matter to London Black Atheists), albeit that the basis of affiliation may in fact be experiences of oppression at the hands of those that actually define themselves by their race, or it may be predicated on things that are much less defined by cultural expectation, such as a given special interest.

This is the fundamental difference between modern liberalism and modern conservatism. Conservatives have internalized their group membership, and now want to express their individuality. Liberals have internalized their personal autonomy, and seek groups of like-minded people, or groups of people with similar needs. Unions formed around individuals recognizing their joint need to throw off shackles of dehumanizing oppression, and the human rights movement recognized the common humanity of all individuals. These changes were against the Conservative establishment, that recognized the inviduality of the business owner, not the faceless units that were the workers, and the commonality of (most) Europeans, not all people.



This is seen most clearly in the contrast between the conservative and the Liberal attitudes towards the state. While there is great divergence among conservatives as to the degree to which the state must be limited, they all share, in contrast to contemporary Liberals, a distaste for the use of the power of the state to enforce ideological patterns upon human beings. However much they may differ on the modes by which, and the extent to which, the power of the state should be limited, they are in full agreement that it is but one institution among many and that when its role is aggrandized it becomes dangerous beyond measure.

^Conservatives are of course notorious for their distaste in using and abusing power.^ (For those not aware, the use of the chapeau before and after a statement like that is known as a sarcastrophe, indicating sarcasm.) Conservatives in general, and Republicans in particular, are notorious for using political power to establish their versions of religiously inspired laws on topics from abortion to homosexuality, human rights to welfare, and so on… and most often at the state level.

On the topic of abuse of power, the very word Gerrymander comes from the use of the practice by Elbridge Gerry, an intriguing political figure, hard to pin down, politically, but a proponent of limited government, instrumental in limiting federal power over state militias, and thereby a proponent of what has come to be called “state’s rights” as well as the modern interpretation of the second amendment vis-à-vis gun control. His support of so-called individualism, whilst becoming wealthy via war (and therefore on the backs of those who didn’t have that luxury), and securing his power through marriage, marks him out as thoroughgoing Conservative.



The “planning” of human life, so characteristic of the Liberal ethos, is anathema to every one of the contributors. That instrumental outlook in which human beings are conceived as faceless units to be organized and directed in accordance with the blueprints of the social engineer can be held only when men ignore the separate integrity of each human person as a focus of value and the existence of immutable moral laws not susceptible to ideological reconstruction. The libertarian and the traditionalist emphases within conservatism alike reject the centralized power and direction necessary to the “planning” of society.

This is going to take some breaking down, so please bear with me as I deal with this in parts:


4.1 The “planning” of human life, so characteristic of the Liberal ethos, is anathema to every one of the contributors.

Recall the idea that liberals are generally in favour of ‘big government’ and democracy (and ridiculed for being so, in this very document). If “big government” is, nevertheless, truly democratic, then the people are engaging in the planning of their own lives through government – this is basically self-government, but via an intermediary (of which they are a part) which tries to ensure that parties aren’t acting at odds with each other – this is the thing that conservatives, by their own admission, in this document, are against. It’s almost like these conservatives are unaware of the concept of government of, by, and for the people, which is a strange admission, given who said that, and which party they eventually represented.


4.2 That instrumental outlook in which human beings are conceived as faceless units to be organized and directed in accordance with the blueprints of the social engineer can be held only when men ignore the separate integrity of each human person as a focus of value and the existence of immutable moral laws not susceptible to ideological reconstruction.

Again, this fails to recognise that a government of, by, and for the people, is therefore the people organizing and directing themselves in accordance with the best information available… from the people. The lessons of Christianity are that the faceless units of the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, are to be destroyed and/or used as brood-mares and slaves. We now recognise that these nations had the right to self-determination (a human right that was not conveyed to the people, by God, via the Bible, but to the world, by the United Nations, via the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – a body that many conservatives loathe, as it happens).

The concept of self-determination is broadly accepted, despite only being agreed upon for 70 years – so much for immutability. The moral laws that were driven into young minds, underexposed to different viewpoints as youngsters, come to seem immutable. This leads to blindness to the fact that the individualism they argue for is at the expense of those not sufficiently wealthy to express their individualism (as Gerry’s war profiteering probably was, and Dick Cheney’s decidedly is). It is the very definition of ignoring “the separate integrity of each human person as a focus of value”, just as the consistent racism of the not-so-far right is.


4.3 The libertarian and the traditionalist emphases within conservatism alike reject the centralized power and direction necessary to the “planning” of society.

Centralized power is only a problem if it is abused. And which party is it that has given free rein to corporate influence, a fact that has so significantly distorted the American political machinery that the common man has absolutely no influence? Laws are now written for, and indeed sometimes by, corporations and special interest groups (Gilens & Page, 2014). So there we have it, conservatives of both stripes are right about the negative effect of power… when they’re the ones in power.



The spirit of the Constitution of the United States as originally conceived pervades conservative thought: the limitation of government to its proper functions; within government, tension and balance between local and central power; within the federal government, tension and balance between the coordinate branches. As opposed to the Liberal disdain for the rights of the states before the federal government, and the Liberal apotheosis of the executive within the federal government, conservatives, irrespective of whether their emphasis is upon tradition and order or upon liberty, unite in their veneration of the ordered liberty conceived and executed by the Framers of the Constitution.

It is either the “spirit of the Constitution” or it is “as originally conceived” – the former allows for leeway and interpretation, the latter is pretty much a coded way of saying ‘literalism’ (Antonin Scalia was an “originalist”). This is just an intentionally confusing way of saying, we wish to prioritize our regressive and self-serving take on the Constitution, whilst sounding like patriotic citizens. It’s not even especially well camouflaged.

In the previous section, the concern was raised, that “…human beings are conceived as faceless units to be organized and directed in accordance with the blueprints of the social engineer … when men ignore the separate integrity of each human person as a focus of value…”. However, now these conservatives are saying that “…the rights of the states, before the federal government…” are sacrosanct? This is just shifting the goalpost. And doesn’t this make a mockery of patriotism? So much for “One Nation … Indivisible.” Now the unit of importance is not the country, but the state. Remember, I mentioned the narrowing of definition, before? You are not a Christian but a particular type of Christian, now you are an American, but more importantly a Texan, or Georgian, or whatever.

Are the individual states not created when “human beings are conceived as faceless units to be organized and directed in accordance with the blueprints of the social engineer”? Likewise, is not that most glorious sacrifice for your country (or state, now) based on the creation of “faceless units to be organized and directed in accordance with the blueprints of the” military “engineer”? Is it not the conservative that prizes the military and (pre-emptive or “just”) war, and the liberal that prizes diplomacy and peace? Is it not the conservatives that most often boast hawkishness, and ridicules the liberal dove? (That’s another clue that Hilary never really lost her Goldwater Girl status.)

I think this is a case of a builder and a bucket of bricks:


The liberal starts as a single person, at the bottom, and by degrees, builds themselves up, with the help of their fellows, into a series of interdependencies of differing sizes, for some this tops out at the level of country, for many liberals, possibly even most liberals, this tops out at some form of global inter-dependency, be it the UN, some kind of globalism, some “brotherhood [or family] of man”. Meanwhile, the conservative starts as a barrel of bricks, containing one for Conservativeness, another for Whiteness, another for Evangelical-ness, and Protestant-ness, and American-ness, and Heterosexual-ness, and so on, and then attempts to use these group definitions to create a single person. They collide in the middle, at about the point of state, or country (depending upon population-size, it seems). These collide, and you end up with a liberal individual disoriented and confused by their collision with an empty barrel, and a bunch of useless bricks.



Throughout What Is Conservatism?, sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit, runs a devotion to Western civilization and an awareness of the necessity of defending it.

Ah, Western civilization, home of imperialism, obstructionism, economics’ unchecked need for growth at all costs, one of those costs being the industrial revolution’s unchecked need for planetary destruction, and all bolstered by laissez-faire capitalism. Conservatives speak of Western civilization as a thing to be defended; I suggest that it is a process to be tended (an ongoing process of rising above). Not least because Western civilization is ALSO home to all those pesky Greek philosophers, some of whom were atheists before Jesus was a twinkle in his mother’s eye, and some of whom came up with democracy (that thing that, had scorn poured on it when it was a liberal project, but which is an object of veneration when it’s part of the Constitution). Then there’s the small matter of Liberalism itself.


This, then, I see as the consensus. The divergences can be simply summarized as the degree of emphasis placed upon the relative importance for the good society of moral tradition and freedom; upon the extent to which, on the one hand, the sanctions of state and community or, on the other hand, the persuasion of moral and intellectual authority functioning through free individual persons should be emphasized. The most libertarian agree upon the necessity of the maintenance of a high moral tone in society; those most concerned with order and tradition respect the moral liberty of the individual person and reject the centralizing state and egalitarian reduction of the person to a statistic in social planning—the deep-etched stigmata of contemporary Liberalism.

This seems like another that needs breaking into its constituent parts:

6.1 This, then, I see as the consensus. The divergences can be simply summarized as the degree of emphasis placed upon the relative importance for the good society of moral tradition and freedom;

The divergences between liberals and conservatives can be described in much the same way. This seems like a deepity, to me. It would be a failure of imagination to believe that liberals were not also seeking “the good society” and “freedom”, the problem is that liberals recognise that moral tradition has often been a hindrance to that end (and as such has almost no emphasis placed on it) a fact that conservatives often seem blind to, for the reasons given.


6.2 …upon the extent to which, on the one hand, the sanctions of state and community or, on the other hand, the persuasion of moral and intellectual authority functioning through free individual persons should be emphasized.

Now, who is it that has been using the state and federal governments to disenfranchise voters, deny science, give tax cuts to wealthy individuals and corporations, whilst underpaying swathes of “faceless” units, and then, to add insult to injury, paying billions in corporate welfare whilst denigrating people who have legitimate need of welfare?


The most libertarian agree upon the necessity of the maintenance of a high moral tone in society; those most concerned with order and tradition respect the moral liberty of the individual person and reject the centralizing state and egalitarian reduction of the person to a statistic in social planning—the deep-etched stigmata of contemporary Liberalism.

This is a lie. Libertarians are often more permissive than liberals, and thus much more permissive than conservatives, particularly on matters of sex and drugs (not sure about rock ‘n’ roll). It’s expedient to include Libertarians in the Conservative camp, because Libertarians are smart, and very good at developing plausible arguments for individualism as a goal (as opposed to the liberal interdependence predicated on an underpinning individualism). It’s useful for Libertarians because Conservatives are greater in number, and more inclined to vote like mindless drones (and Libertarians have no qualms about feigning religiosity to gain political power).

Further, I’m not sure what Conservatives think that egalitarianism means, but Merriam-Webster says this:

  1. a belief in human equality especially with respect to social, political, and economic affairs
  2. a social philosophy advocating the removal of inequalities among people

Conservatives are anti egalitarianism but pro small government. Specifically, they want to devolve power to the states, and away from federal government, even though the small government is actually achieved by egalitarianism. Sueur, Deneubourg and Petit (2012[2]) state, “by moving from a centralized network to a decentralized one, the central individual seemed to lose its leadership in the collective movement’s decisions.” Put like that, it seems obvious. Conservatives are concerned with a supposed “objective moral order” and “moral tradition”, the former is virtually code for hierarchy, which has authority and centralized power baked in (the higher up the hierarchy, the greater the authority). Egalitarianism, on the other hand, is the ultimate devolvement of power, from a central authority to the individual.

A declawed and defanged president and a smaller federal government is a stated aim of American conservatism, yet a natural outcome of the egalitarian beliefs they oppose. That which they fight against is in fact the natural outcome of their own Hierarchist beliefs.



What becomes clear from dissecting this document is that there is a considerable hubris inherent in the conservative view, certainly from those that have any degree of sway in conservatism (aka authorities), as the authors summarized here do. This condescension extends to the trivializing of science as “intellectual fashions of the day” and democracy as “the rightness of whatever is desired by 50 percent of the population plus one”. Progress is such anathema that old documents take precedence over new thinking, by default. So, the moral order laid out in the Bible is sacrosanct, and the political order laid out in the Constitution is venerated just as much, and sometimes more (so much for “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”). This isn’t just ignoring the “intellectual fashions of the day”; it is ignoring 2000 years of moral progress, and 200 years of political and economic progress.

The belief in an objective moral order gives rise to the Conservative parenting style that is the very basis of the conservative craving for freedom (autonomy), a freedom that they will happily deny people that don’t acknowledge the same authorities, appear as part of the in-group, or behave in moral (pure) ways. This is moral hypocrisy. If raised to believe in personal uniqueness and autonomy, then freedom develops from within, and spreads outwards. This is distinct from the internalized strictures of conformity and tradition that beleaguer the conservatively raised child, giving rise to an adult that fetishizes freedom, yet still believes in the importance of an authority that they have had no hand in selecting.

The more authoritarian parenting style that arises from these beliefs about authority, treats a child as though they have an inability to think, almost to the point of assuming no consciousness at all. Which makes the conservative anti-abortionist claim about consciousness, pain, and indeed humanness in the womb highly inconsistent. Indeed, to adopt a more liberal and breadth-embracing term, such as “human” to make this argument is also a discontinuity. It has been well said that Conservatives care about you in the womb (effectively in the abstract), but as soon as you’re born you’re a drain on the tax base.


Nick Anderson’s Editorial Cartoons, no. 103439, 2013-10-30


If governance truly is of, by, and for the people, then these concerns melt away, but for this to be the case, empathy is required. Empathy, thanks to a lack of self-awareness, is something that many Conservatives seem to find difficult. Empathy is predicated on self-awareness, and self-awareness is stunted if your self-definition comes from external sources (other people’s perception of your Conservativeness, Whiteness, Evangelical-ness, Protestant-ness, American-ness, and Heterosexual-ness). Empathy is the basis of morality, and requires impartiality to extend the moral circle (Bloom, 2004[3]). Concerns about Conservativeness, Whiteness, Evangelical-ness, Protestant-ness, American-ness, and Heterosexual-ness impede impartiality, and narrow the focus of empathy to the in-group. This is why racism is almost exclusively a conservative issue. It arises from narrowed self-definitions that implicitly or explicitly include race, and requires self-awareness to combat. But Conservatives the world over will tell you that theirs is the party of values.


Cartoon by Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune.
And on Facebook.


As should be clear by now, there are some sizable holes in the reasoning presented in What All Conservatives Can Agree On and, by extension, in Conservatism as a whole. These are predicated mostly on treating children as faceless units that then grow up into adults that accuse liberals of treating people as faceless units. Egalitarianism works if people are autonomous individuals, but not if people are defined by the groups they were born into. This is why conservatives, and particularly these Conservatives, demonize egalitarianism, despite it being the way in which decentralized government is achieved. Conversely, you do not achieve small government by believing in the importance of authority, and thus hierarchy, all the while bleating about the freedom that your own belief system has denied you.



[1] Graham, J., & Haidt, J. (2010). Beyond beliefs: Religions bind individuals into moral communities. Personality and Social Psychology Review14(1), 140-150.

[2] Sueur, C., Deneubourg, J. L., & Petit, O. (2012). From social network (centralized vs. decentralized) to collective decision-making (unshared vs. shared consensus). PLoS one7(2), e32566.

[3] Bloom, P. (2005). Descartes’ Baby: How the Science of Child Development Explains What Makes us Human. United Kingdom: Random House.

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