I despise the glorification of conservatism. The idea that there were once pragmatic, cautious, competent, gray-suited guys making all the right moves is laughable. If they were so pragmatic and competent, they wouldn’t be extinct from the political landscape. Here’s one gray-suited dinosaur, George Will, making a case for conservatism in 2007:
Today’s political argument involves perennial themes that give it more seriousness than many participants understand. The argument, like Western political philosophy generally, is about the meaning of, and the proper adjustment of the tension between, two important political goals — freedom and equality. Today conservatives tend to favor freedom, and consequently are inclined to be somewhat sanguine about inequalities of outcomes.
Let’s plug “somewhat sanguine about inequalities of outcomes” into our translator machine–Beepboopbopboopbeepboopbopboop–and out pops, “not at all worried about equality.” What is freedom without equality? It’s freedom for the white guys in gray suits. It’s freedom to feel safe within the status quo. It’s freedom to engage the world while looking through a gray-suited lens instead of through a lens of multi-cultural reality.
So, how can we describe the gray-suited lens through which conservatives look out upon the world? Extensive research has been done to answer that question.
Ideologies, like other social representations, may be thought of as possessing a core and a periphery (Abric, 2001), and each may be fueled by separate motivational concerns. The most that can be expected of a general psychological analysis is for it to partially explain the core of political conservatism because the peripheral aspects are by definition highly protean and driven by historically changing, local contexts. We regard political conservatism as an ideological belief system that is significantly (but not completely) related to motivational concerns having to do with the psychological management of uncertainty and fear. Specifically, the avoidance of uncertainty (and the striving for certainty) may be particularly tied to one core dimension of conservative thought, resistance to change (Wilson, 1973c). Similarly, concerns with fear and threat may be linked to the second core dimension of conservatism, endorsement of inequality (Sidanius & Pratto, 1999). Although resistance to change and support for inequality are conceptually distinguishable, we have argued that they are psychologically interrelated, in part because motives pertaining to uncertainty and threat are interrelated (e.g., Dechesne et al., 2000; McGregor et al., 2001; van den Bos & Miedema, 2000).
It seems the conservative lens is, to a large extent, clouded by fear and uncertainty, which makes sense when you see the newest incarnation of conservative ideology grounded in anti-progress, anti-science, and anti-intellectualism. Another telling feature of the research (one that George Will would agree with) is that conservatism endorses inequality; I’ve got mine (money and civil rights) so why should I worry about you. How American, to base your worldview on fear, resistance to change, and inequality.
Maybe there’s a defense for conservatives somewhere in the idea that these fear-based feelings are really a psychological attempt to cope with the world around them, and not a conscious decision. The brain studiers who read this will have to comment on that. But please don’t glorify a dinosaur that never existed only because you remember the good ol’ days. The good ol’ days weren’t that good unless you were wearing the gray suits.
(For more on the subject, don’t forget to read this houlios post on the age-old challenge facing today’s Republican Party: how to con Americans into thinking conservatism–the cod liver oil of American politics– is good for them.)