The raging divide between conservatives and progressives may be at an all-time high these days. While both sides point fingers at the other, it’s interesting to note that neither side is right or wrong. Nor does either side own a superior objective truth.
Both sides, taken together, more accurately represent what is happening in the world. Both views, taken together, comprise what “should” happen. We argue at Copiosis that both sides ultimately want the same things. Neither side focuses on that though. Instead each side focuses on what’s different about the other side, thereby amplifying differences.
That’s a problem, but it’s not fatal. I believe Copiosis can help both sides learn to focus on what’s common to both rather than what differentiates them.
And that’s why I wanted to write this post about why the world needs conservatives.
The Republican Party seems hell-bent on destroying itself as it resists inevitable social, economic and political progress. But America can’t lose the conservative perspective. It needs and benefits from that perspective, as much as it benefits from progressive ones.
Conservatives may not get this. Value inherent in conservative perspectives isn’t about preserving “tradition“, Christian or family values, or even the American lifestyle. It’s something more important. That’s what I’d like to share in this post.
I’m going to argue that conservatives, or rather the conservative perspective, is important in creating both America’s and humanity’s future. I’m also going to describe why current conservative agendas pose a great threat to America’s future.
First, let’s look at what conservatism is. Here’s a dictionary definition:
The author draws on a handful of sources to compile his excellent definition, one I agree with, but which also reveals faults in the conservative perspective (for conservatives reading this, the progressive perspective also includes distortions). But let’s ignore those because this post details value conservatism offers.
A more comprehensive view
Here’s how the author defines “conservative”.
First, he says conservatives recognize a transcendent quality existing in each individual, born of a “God-given” free will which makes arbitrary force an anathema of that free will. Second, he says, conservatives believe “liberty” and free will can’t be expressed without political and economic freedom. So, third, conservatives believe government exists to protect such freedom by preserving internal and external order via national defense and justice administration.
Fourth, conservatives say the US Constitution represents the best arrangement so far for ensuring government doesn’t abuse its power. Fifth conservatives argue that the best way to allocate resources is through a free market economy. And sixth, conservatives support an American foreign policy whereby exercising such a policy accords with the “just interests” of the United States.
He offers more detail than this. For example, he says conservatives believe society should be ruled by a combination of the divine intent referenced above and personal conscience. Conservatives, he says, revere the variety and mystery of life and supports the idea that civilized societies require order and hierarchy wherein “property” and “freedom” exist inseparably.
However, conservatives also believe man must control his will and his appetite, knowing that he is governed more by emotion than reason. And while acknowledging societies must change, conservatives say, that change must happen slowly and not put at risk that which already exists, According to this author.
Lastly, the author offers a summation, quoted from one famous conservative, Barry Goldwater: “the Conservative looks upon politics as the art of achieving the maximum amount of freedom for individuals that is consistent with the maintenance of social order.”
Conservatives support palatable rates of change
So conservatism prioritizes human freedom, bestowed from “God”. Maintaining freedom happens through a just government, restricted by the Constitution. Capitalism, they say, is the best resource distribution method and, finally, any changes to such things should be pursued in a slow manner as change could dismantle social order.
Generous progressives reading this can see how conservative views appreciate the status quo and, by extension, slow change. Most progressives can also point to many problems with this.
But conservatives bring equally valid solutions to potential progressive problems. That is if, by “progressive”, we mean changes which might overturn or dramatically or disruptively alter the status quo.
This is where conservatism benefits society. A great balance exists in all things. A balancing of conservative and progressive perspectives offers the best possible “now”. But “balanced” doesn’t mean “equal amounts”. I would argue for an unbalanced balance of more progressivism than conservatism. In other words, a more aggressive tendency to change, backed by a conservative perspective which perpetuates the foundation upon which that change happens. I’ll explain more about this in a bit.
So the foundation of “tradition” conservative beliefs create make change possible, even radical ones, but at a pace humanity can accept and appreciate. It is that foundation conservatism creates that explains why conservatism is essential. But too much conservatism can cause stagnancy and unrest. I think we’re seeing that playing out today.
A rational rate of change
Conservatives essentially say “keep things the way they are, because they’re working. Consider new ways, but be careful in the consideration, and, especially in the implementation rate.”
That creates a nice, rational foundation for change happening.
But when conservatives look too hard or focus too much on trying to maintain the foundation, things can go awry. Instead of greeting and appreciating change, such ideas trigger insecurity, worry and fear among conservatives. Some conservatives believe things as they are, are so great, they must be preserved, at the cost of progress or evolution, which is a natural part of life.
Today’s conservatism has its foot too hard on the brakes. Some even want to return to the past. That’s not evolution. Conservatives fear progress progressives offer because they believe such progress threatens their ideals and values. Rather than helping that change come about in measured ways, conservatives are trying to prevent changes.
That’s a problem.
Houston, do we have a problem?
Consider a rocket on a launch pad, supported by the pad’s scaffolding. When rockets launch, the thrust they generate creates an opposing force to gravity, which allows the rocket to lift, then generate enough velocity to push it into space. The launch pad serves as a stable foundation for that operation. It holds the rocket upright until it can lift on its own power. If the foundation, the launch pad, weren’t stable, the rocket would topple.
But what if the launch pad wouldn’t let go at that crucial moment when the rocket is ready to reach for space? That would create problems wouldn’t it? The rocket would never launch and we’d miss out on vital and exciting discoveries. We’d also squander resources like fuel, time and equipment.
So launch pads play a vital role in launching rockets to space. Of course, SpaceX and others like Virgin offer different, more modern approaches. But the launch pad example serves the purpose here. Launch pads serve an important role but the main even is the launch. Not the pad.
I see the conservative way as society’s launch pad. It offers enough consistency, a stable foundation from which progressive ideas can launch. Imagine if there was no stable foundation of ideas and institutions. In their place were instead all kinds of changes happening, one new idea after another, one new government after another. As soon as one person expressed an idea, before any resources were allocated, another expressed another idea and so on, and so on. Hardly any ideas would get off the ground.
Conservativism offers society the value of stability and certainty. A place from which we can explore new ideas. It has a place and it deserves appreciation. But conservatism is not the main event. Evolution is.
Conservatism gone wrong
Taken to the extreme, the conservative perspective turns society inward, stymying progress, new ideas and social advancements that can create whole new, beneficial normals. New normals that redefine what it means to be human.
We see this with some conservatives railing against homosexuality, gay marriage and other social issues such as Black Lives Matter. All these are expressing evolution. An ugly side of conservatism emerged after Americans elected Barack Obama president. Then the entire conservative establishment set as their number one priority making sure Obama accomplished nothing. I think that’s shameful and anti-evolution.
We see this in other areas too. Particularly with the radical conservative wing. They’re stoking fear and insecurity among their constituents when it comes to immigrants, medical advancements such as Messenger RNA (mRNA) and CRISPR breakthroughs. Or political ideas such as Universal Healthcare, student loan forgiveness or President Biden’s climate change agenda.
Another problem with stoking conservative fears and insecurities is unfolding today. People in fear and insecurity are easy to manipulate. That makes the conservative party vulnerable to becoming a vector for despots or dictators who intend to turn the United States into a dictatorship.
It’s happened elsewhere
Don’t laugh. That’s what happened in Russia. Russian Dictator Putin came to power at a time when the Russian state collapsed and its then-current leader President Yeltsin was gravely ill. People starved. They had no heat for their homes. The economy was in shambles. A better future was nowhere in sight.
Putin and his supporters capitalized on that fear and insecurity. They promised to return the country to its former glory. But while doing so, he and his supporters dismantled the country’s electoral processes, enriched themselves and changed constitutional laws making it possible for Putin to remain in power in-perpetuity. The rest is history.
The current version of the Republican Party, especially its extremist wing, makes not only the party itself vulnerable, it also makes democracy vulnerable too. Republican’s love of Donald Trump offers the best example of a wannabe dictator using conservative ideology, fears and insecurities to manipulate conservatives, then capture, secure then keep power.
Thankfully, Trump failed. Then again, there is 2024. Or is there?
Conservatives benefit humanity in their focus on creating stable societies. But their over-focus on that end can squelch human progress. Progress and life go hand in hand. Without progress life can’t continue. Combining healthy levels of both progress and the stability conservatism offers creates what I think represents the best path forward.
So conservatives contribute value. Closing the divide raging in America may require focusing more on what conservatives and progressives have in common than what makes them different. Progressives can take the first step by celebrating rather than condemning what conservatives bring.
Such a first step, I believe, represents a good starting place for healing the divide America faces.