Has conservatism failed in America? It looks like many of its recent ideas have been rejected by the American electorate. Follow me as I explore how conservatism in America had to adapt to new challenges like socialism, how it made a mistake in some of the ideas that it adopted, and where conservatism is going next.
First off, what is conservatism? Conservatism, ever since its inception in the 1600’s, has been a counter-revolution against progressive ideas in favour of traditional values. Originally it was a reaction against liberalism and the Enlightenment. Conservatism as we know it today in America emerged in the 1950’s. It had acquired many elements of traditional liberalism because liberal ideas like Laissez Faire, rejection of the divine right of kings, etc., are enshrined in the Constitution. But modern American conservatism is now in a culture war to stem the rising tide of socialism.
So then what is socialism? While socialism is simply about workers having a stake in the means of production, it is vilified most for its ideal of a classless society. Socialism is hated and feared by conservatives because it would require a redistribution of wealth, and includes the need for welfare. Conservatives hate communism even more! Communism is the theory that there must be a revolution to drag the world into a socialist utopia where there are no governments, no class divides, no wars, and other such assorted fairy tales. These ideologies are the enemies of American conservatism today.
How did conservatism adapt to the new challenge of socialism? There’s a bit of a cyclical trend here. A quick history lesson: there was a philosophy invented in the 1930’s that aimed to be the polar opposite of communism. It stated that all this classless equality stuff is just nonsense because the upper classes earned their right to be there through superior ideas and genetics–basically social Darwinism. It believed that the state must be strong and must enforce morality (e.g. ideals of the superior classes) against the inferior, and often rowdy, lower classes. It was staunchly anti-immigration and anti-gay. Ultimately it was ultra-nationalistic and imperialist. This ideology was called fascism, and while I do not mean to imply that conservatism is fascism (it’s obviously not) I do mean to say that conservatism also adopted some of these superficial fascistic traits as it changed its focus from combating liberalism to combating communism.
For example: Neoconservatives embraced the ideal of a strong imperialist state with superior ideas, which led to the invasion of Iraq. Mainstream conservatives embrace the idea of the state enforcing morality which has led to recent battles against women’s rights and gay rights. Some conservatives believe in protecting the upper classes, so they want to cut the parts of social spending that help the poor while keeping the social spending that helps the wealthy (instead of actually reducing government spending). Again, these are ideas that are also present in fascism and which had emerged in some but not all elements of conservatism. It does not imply that the two are the same.
Is America sliding towards fascism? No. Personally I believe that the last two election cycles were a very clear sign that the majority of Americans rejected ideas that were even remotely fascist. I don’t say this to imply the Republican party is fascist, because it has many facets to it beyond the traditional conservative movement, and it has many ideas that do appeal to the American public and could be very positive if implemented. Nor do I say this to in any way support President Obama (who has increased drone strikes with shocking civilian casualties and has jailed dissidents/whistle-blowers without charge, has failed to protect the freedom of the press in the case of Wikileaks and has kept Guantanamo Bay open, among other things), whom I have voted against twice in favor of Ron Paul. I say this to point out that American voters rejected the fascist ideas that conservatism has adopted, despite the other ideas in conservatism that may appeal to them..
The ideas I speak of are what caused both McCain and Romney to lose by HUGE margins. Huge for American election standards at least. Both of these candidates, and the Republican media apparatus that rooted for them, implied that white Anglo-Saxon Protestant ideas are superior and hinted that Hispanic or African American cultures may be lazy and inferior. They consistently implied that these poor and often non-white segments of society were always looking for ways to live off of welfare and affirmative action. Some even sounded an alarm that these dangerous “liberal” moochers made up a full 47% of the American populace. Again, they had good ideas in the mix as well, ideas that did appeal to many people. But overall, America rejected the package because it included ideas that are too close to fascism for comfort. Furthermore, future America will reject these notions even more because its racial makeup will be very different. I predict that future America will be safe from actual fascism because it will contain too much diversity to create a powerful state that protects the interest of one “superior” race or class.
So then is America moving towards socialism? No. That is ridiculous. What about the Affordable Care Act? No. That’s mostly just fixing a broken and abusive system, but not yet doing the kind of redistribution of wealth of Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security. It’s also a far cry from the world’s best medical systems found in social democracies in Europe. Obamacare is liberal and egalitarian but not socialist. Furthermore, the anti-socialist sentiment in America remains strong. Could America move towards socialism in the future? Possibly, but I don’t know.
What does this mean for conservatives? I predict conservatives will drop the “near-fascist-like” rhetoric and stick to the more popular ideas of lower taxes and limited government. Republicans are already embracing immigration to woo the Latino vote. I predict this trend will continue so we will eventually see the “lazy minorities” rhetoric die down as well, and possibly the rhetoric against immorality pertaining to women and gays. Conservatism in America is already liberal by world standards for its embrace of free markets and its rejection of monarchy. Now it will transition towards a more moderate and palatable position in order to be able to win elections again. I think that this will make America an even better place to live in. Go USA!