Conservatism isn’t

There are actually two kinds of conservatism (or conservativism). One who adheres to the basic idea of what conservatism should be, and a much more popular version which actually has no relation to conservatism, apart from calling itself that.

What is the primordial conservative idea? Simple: Change is dangerous. It should either not be allowed, or if it should be allowed, then only in a very slow pace. Every new idea has to prove its merit first, before it should be implemented in society.

Now, what we’ve got with most parties and people who call themselves “conservative”, is something altogether different, as far removed from the above idea of “conservatism” as the dictator Stalin from the idea of “communism”.

The idea is much more “everything was better in the past”; whereas the “past” does not correspond to any historical reality, but to an idealistic picture of “how it should be” projected into history. Most self-termed conservatives might agree to the above mentioned idea that “everything was better in the past”, but of course would vehemently deny that their “past” differs from historical reality.

Historical reality is not easy to grasp, and there is also a huge mismatch between what is actually known by scientists, and what is taught in schools or popularised by novels, movies or the media. Indeed they do reflect a picture of history much more in line with this “past” of conservatives than with historical reality.

To give you an example: Anti-Abortionists mostly think that laws allowing abortion are a relatively recent development, and this recent development has to be reverted. However, the reality is, that those laws disallowing abortion completely, are also a relatively new product of the rising piety in the modern age. In the middle ages, abortion up to the third month of pregnancy was allowed. Abortion was allowed (with some constraints) in christian society for more than 1500 years. So in fact, the idea that abortion may not be allowed under whatever circumstances is totally, radically NEW, and not in any way a conservative idea. And the same applies to a lot of ideas brought forth by self-termed conservatives.

Even the most basic ideas about the past are totally wrong. “I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless
beyond words. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discrete and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly know-it-alls and impatient of restraint”
. The quote is, of course, not a modern one, but from Hesiod, 800 B.C. And this goes on trough the ages. In every generation someone complains that the youth has no respect. Either our present society is already completely depraved (including those complaining about the lack of respect, since they logically also must have had parents they did not respect), and each generation has had less respect for their elders, or more likely, this is a total artificial construct. Hesiod does nothing more than to project his wish “The youth should show more respect to elders” into the past to legitimise it. He casually overlooks that when he was young the elders probably also thought he was disrespectful.

This is exactly the same behaviour we’re seeing nowadays under the name of “conservatism”. Projecting ones radical ideas into the past to legitimise them, and to not let the ideas appear as radical as they really are.

Another wondrous device is to drop facts from history, and then demand the return to that modified “past”. For instance, the idea that women should only do the household and take care of the children. The problem with that is, that this has been radically changed by the industrialisation, men were suddenly no longer working at home (where they took over some parts of household-chores, and certainly aspects of parenting and education) but somewhere in a factory. And of course, before that, women were also working on goods that were sold. In effect, in the pre-industrial society, both women and men did both, household, parenting and “work for money”. Of course, depending on society, some things were deemed “mans work” and some “womans work”, but that does not alter the fact that both were available at home, and both did household chores and work which would earn money. Now, where “back” do you want to go? Do you want to forbid men to work at factories or companies too? Of course not. Ignore some facts, invent a “past” which suits your ideology and dub yourself “conservative”.

And today, most of what is termed “conservatism”, even by self-declaration, isn’t. It’s pure camouflage for radical ideas, projected into some invented “past” to legitimate them. The same of course, goes with the label “traditionalist”.

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