What Is Conservatism?

Much confusion follows the terms conservative and conservatism. This misunderstanding arises from the fact that we live in a time of ideology, but conservatism is not an ideology; more like customs or folkways, it is a philosophy of life based on direct experience, and does not summarize into handy bullet points like the much simpler Leftist doctrine.

Leftism has one idea: it believes in human equality, which is another way of saying that any given individual can never be wrong, barring a crime against another individual. Equality means that sensible decisions are on par with nonsensical ones because in each case, the person making the decision is equal and therefore accepted and given a minimum basic social status regardless of outcome.

Notions like egalitarianism — that all individuals are equal, and therefore beyond criticism with any impact on their social standing — fit within the form of ideology, or prescriptive belief systems which tell us what we should or ought to do. These assume the presence of civilization as a constant independent of our actions.

Conservatism centers itself around the idea of adaptation, or instead of thinking in prescriptive terms, to conserve the best of what has been done in the past. This contains two notions: first, that we look toward cause-effect relationships over time to determine what is functional, and second that we look at a qualitative assessment of its results.

Prescriptive belief systems measure entirely by human standards, as in what we think should be true or should be made true, where conservatism applies a results-based standard known as consequentialism which measures effects in reality over both short-term and long-term.

We can see glimpses of this in how others have described conservatism. Jonathan Haidt introduces conservative thought as a balancing between multiple factors that measure goodness:

Haidt (pronounced like “height”) made his name arguing that intuition, not reason, drives moral judgments. People are more like lawyers building a case for their gut feelings than judges reasoning toward truth. He later theorized a series of innate moral foundations that evolution etched into our brains like the taste buds on our tongues—psychological bases that underlie both the individual-protecting qualities that liberals value, like care and fairness, as well as the group-binding virtues favored by conservatives, like loyalty and authority.

…Researchers have found that conservatives tend to be more sensitive to threats and liberals more open to new experiences.

…”People do indeed reason, but that reasoning is done primarily to prepare for social interaction, not to search for truth.”

…Building on ideas from the anthropologist Richard Shweder, Haidt and his colleagues synthesize anthropology, evolutionary theory, and psychology to propose six innate moral foundations:

  • care/harm,
  • fairness/cheating,
  • liberty/oppression,
  • loyalty/betrayal,
  • authority/subversion, and
  • sanctity/degradation.

…Liberals jack up care, followed by fairness and liberty. They rarely value loyalty and authority. Conservatives dial up all six.

Because Leftism is based in a human-oriented instead of results-oriented framework, it perpetually seeks to control, or impose a uniform standard on all as a way to use them as a means toward its goals which are outside of the civilization itself. The goals of Leftism exist independent of any civilization, and are intended as ideological achievements, not practical or realistic ones.

Control consists of removing any variation and directly imposing the will of some central entity or idea, rejecting individual assessments of how to apply it or how it should be adapted in different contexts. Control, like universalism, exists without context, and imposes a world of human symbols upon the more complex contexture of reality.

For control to succeed, it must address the individual outside of civilization. This is why liberals jack up care/harm, fairness/cheating and liberty/oppression. Conservatives favor social order instead, and so for them, while fairness and non-tyranny are important, so are loyalty, hierarchy/authority and having something sacred at the core of what we do. This is geared toward perpetuating civilization.

In this way, we can summarize the two belief systems as follows:

  • Right = order
  • Left = individualism

Order occurs outside of the human individual, but requires the individual to have an inner motivation toward achieving it, because it is not the kind of thing that can be measured as in a meritocracy or allegiance to an ideology. The symbol and reality are separate, where with ideology, the symbol intends to become the reality.

We find this hard to understand, because all of our modern thinking is strictly ideological:

Note the difference between concept and ideology. An ideology has a tight, well defined set of rules, while a concept is amorphous and changing.

Once you go outside of ideology-land, you find yourself in a nebulous space where you have principles and knowledge of the past, but have to apply these as best you know how. There is no right answer; there are some wrong answers, and then others which are varying degrees of quality in terms of results, and whoever gets the best one relative to the others wins the race, with everyone else getting second, third, or fourth place (and so on).

Ideology guides control, which tries to force everything to fit a human ideal, which is an artificial construct because it is our simpler minds imposing what we think is order on a more complex world, created by something smarter than us. For those who are agnostic or atheist, this greater intelligence can be as simple as millions of years of iterations, each time testing what existed against its environment, and selecting the improvements. If you have ever watched a computer program loop through successive calculations, maybe graphing the result on a screen, you know how many thousands or millions of iterations can make a huge difference in precision.

Human thinking tends toward squares. We like blocks, evenly spaced, in rows on a grid. We like absolute balance such as opposites. We have things we desire, and things we fear. We like to believe we are unique and important in a cosmic or universalist sense, and that the proof of this is that we have many different goals for many different individuals. This simplistic vision contrasts the organic essence of nature, where every action is indirect and seemingly spontaneous, objects are unequal and scattered in dense patterns, and there is no factory-style process repeated identically for every object or person, only many different paths which hope to reach the same goal and do so in varying degrees.

Even more, our thinking tends toward centralization. We have trouble separating our individual perspective, as beings occupying a single part of a complex system, from what it would be like to be in charge of that system. If something bad happens to us, we want to ban all methods by which this bad thing could happen to anyone, because only by doing that will we have banished it, and therefore made ourselves safe.

Along those lines, we also do not handle cause-effect reasoning well. When we see an effect, such as poverty, we want to operate directly on it, by having an all-powerful force send out money and police to force everyone to be in conditions where they are not facing the evils we fear. It is not so much that our minds tend toward the totalitarian, but we favor one-step solutions, because to us problems appear out of nowhere in a single step, so there should be some simple and all-powerful counteraction that we apply like swatting a fly, ripping out a weed, or hammering a board over a broken shutter.

Unfortunately, reality does not reward centralization:

The contrast with national solutions to problems rather than federal (i.e., state government) solutions to problems is the difference between monopoly and markets. When states exercise power over education or labor relations or abortion or civil liberties, then the wise exercise of that power will attract to well-governed states people, commerce, brains, and talent.

This marketplace of governments works in practice and it also allows the sort of diversity which leftists pretend to pine for so deeply. The greater the nationalization of government, the fewer areas in which states can be truly independent, and the less those independent policies matter.

N.B. the above source uses the term “national” to refer to central control at a nation-state level, not nationalism.

There are a number of “2D political compass” type tests floating around that try to add another axis to the Right-Left divide, which they erroneously categorize as individual-versus-collective. This new axis might be called method in that it covers the spectrum from anarchy through totalitarianism, but its essential goal is to blur the difference between Right and Left.

Either side can adopt any methods, including centralization, and so this distinction is not sufficient to differentiate them. The Rightist method, however, is to eschew human control and instead to see what actually succeeds, and pay attention to that, instead of what we think should succeed.

In Right-Left hybrids, such as neoconservatism or National Socialist, this distinction becomes confused because, by pursuing a Leftist idea of equality, they commit themselves to the model of the universal human, which in turn requires an assembly-line style of applying equal pressure to all people. This causes them to fail through an informational counterpart to thermodynamics:

But what specifically established de facto socialism in Nazi Germany was the introduction of price and wage controls in 1936. These were imposed in response to the inflation of the money supply carried out by the regime from the time of its coming to power in early 1933. The Nazi regime inflated the money supply as the means of financing the vast increase in government spending required by its programs of public works, subsidies, and rearmament. The price and wage controls were imposed in response to the rise in prices that began to result from the inflation.

The effect of the combination of inflation and price and wage controls is shortages, that is, a situation in which the quantities of goods people attempt to buy exceed the quantities available for sale.

Shortages, in turn, result in economic chaos. It’s not only that consumers who show up in stores early in the day are in a position to buy up all the stocks of goods and leave customers who arrive later, with nothing — a situation to which governments typically respond by imposing rationing. Shortages result in chaos throughout the economic system. They introduce randomness in the distribution of supplies between geographical areas, in the allocation of a factor of production among its different products, in the allocation of labor and capital among the different branches of the economic system.

The rigid nature of control, which creates identical objects or events regardless of context, naturally leads to chaos because these are imposed on an uneven topography and by their centralized nature, are oblivious to different local conditions, where a cascading authority — king, duke, baron, lord — would have someone recalculating at every level, especially the lowest.

This shows us the two models we can use in our approach toward life.

The first, which is high entropy, relies on us treating the world as an extension of ourselves. We find what we want, and then apply that rigidly everywhere, which leads to a gradual introduction of greater amounts of variation, leading to chaos. Identical responses to different starting points lead to radically different outcomes over time.

The second, which is low entropy, involves us treating ourselves as an extension of the world. We establish a general goal, purpose and set of principles, and then apply it on a case-by-case basis as has been the wont of conservatives since the dawn of humanity. This looks more chaotic, but because all results adapt to the same end-point, it involves many different paths leading to similar results.

In Leftism, the paths/methods are standardized; in conservatism, the purposes/endpoints are the same, and so parallel paths eventually reach similar goals. There is no pretense of making objects, people or ideas identical, because identical objects are only fit in the flat, grid-like topography favored by human minds.

This distinction between individualism and orientation toward order shows us why all political systems ultimately break down into Left and Right or something like them. We either favor the self, or we favor order, which requires the sacrifice of the self, which is necessary for any self-actualization, self-discipline, mindfulness or virtue:

The big difference between these two schemes is that The Four Kinds of Happiness moves from the self-transcendence individual to the relational and finally to the transcendent and collective. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, on the other hand, moves from the collective to the relational and, at its peak, to the individual. In one the pinnacle of human existence is in quieting and transcending the self; in the other it is liberating and actualizing the self.

Most religions and moral systems have aimed for self-quieting and, figuring that the great human problem is selfishness. But around the middle of the 20th century, Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers and others aimed to liberate and enlarge the self. They brought us the self-esteem movement, humanistic psychology, and their thinking is still very influential today.

…Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has always pointed toward a chilly, unsatisfying version of self-fulfillment. Most people experience their deepest sense of meaning not when they have placidly met their other needs, but when they come together in crisis.

Through this distinction, we can see what conservatism is not: it is not any order based in the individual, all of which depend on egalitarianism or meritocracy as a means of reducing individuals to a uniform standard and then elevating the most obedient, which is a hallmark of control. Tyranny, totalitarianism, the managerial state, bureaucracy, administration and external discipline are all forms and methods of control.

We can see now why “classical liberals,” sometimes called neoconservatives or Libertarians, are not conservatives. They refuse to consider anything at a level above that of the individual.

They are correct when they defend capitalism, because unlike socialism this is not centrally controlled and so is low entropy, but incorrect to make it out to be more than it is. Capitalism is an economic system, and it requires inputs from culture and leadership to function; if we remove those, it becomes self-serving like anything else and consumes all in its path.

Conservatives are not strictly capitalist, but see capitalism as a means to an end, which is that of implementing a flexible economic system in which results are more important than human intentions or desires.

In fact, the only civilizations which we can plausibly call “conservative” belong to the category of designs which are oriented toward a singular goal through flexible, independent methods, and these cannot be classically liberal, because in those the goal is determined by individuals, and thus the system becomes self-serving like anything else and consumes all in its path.

For these reasons, people who discuss individualism and capitalism as the cornerstone of conservatism have missed the boat; conservatives are those who aspire to being as great as ancient Greece and Rome, who defend the monarchy, and who believe strongly in the genetic roots of populations. Our unstated and informal goals are to restore Western Civilization and make it great.

“American conservatives,” who are essentially classical liberals who like a strong defense budget and Christian-ish morality, are not conservatives; they are a hybrid with Leftists, like the National Socialists, who do not realize that their methods will lead to social breakdown just as any other Leftist approach will.

The Alt Right came about from a fertile brew of influences — libertarian, anarcho-capitalist, neoreactionary, human biodiversity, Old Right, radical traditionalism, anarcho-monarchism — which ultimately synthesized into a Right-wing movement which favors hierarchy and social order over individualism. This was not random.

The analysis above shows that there are only two options, Right (order) and Left (individualism). We cannot escape the duality of approaches inherent to being human. Neither should we try, since to avoid one is to embrace the other, which means that any “third way” will ultimately distill to one or the other, as the evolution of the Alt Right in recent history shows us.

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