Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Why I'll Probably Never Vote for a Republican

Last year I explained why American liberal's fear of markets will probably keep me from voting for most Democrats. However, as Obama's approval rating is plummeting, I'm actually growing more frustrated with American conservatism. Though the words liberal and conservative have muddled definitions, there is a clear difference in my understanding of them, how they view change. Liberals embrace the hope of the future, expecting that there will be improvement. Conservatives, embrace the successes of the past, worried about the repercussions of that change*.

The situation in America is uniquely convoluted. If conservatives are afraid of change, then the Founding Fathers were liberals. However, they set up a conservative Constitution meant to keep national policy stable. Both ideologies are perfectly logical, but the pessimistic conservative worries me more. Though some change has been harmful, most of American history has been positive change. Conservatives are afraid to roll the dice, worried that the change will be harmful. But by attempting control and not allowing some risk, we miss out on the great things that change can bring. It is that control that worries me most about conservatives. Coercion of others is one of the great threats to our humanity.

Conservatives, because they fear change, are less likely to tolerate things they don't prefer (think immigration and drugs). They need more categories for things they dislike and things they find morally reprehensible. Sadly, this is also true for many American liberals (think environmental laws and gun restrictions). But it is the conservative distrust of the new and different that can lead to social division like nationalism and racism. Although conservatism is useful in dealing with situations we don't fully understand, it also limits growth by being afraid of new things. The liberal argument fails when things are fine the way they are. The conservative ideology fails when our current path continues to be beneficial. I believe both of those are true, so I'll continue to be weary of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans.

*Economist F. A. Hayek's essay Why I Am Not a Conservative was helpful in the formation of several ideas articulated here.


  1. This was really insightful Harrison! I never thought of the conservative/liberal contrast like this.

  2. Who says conservatives don't like change?This is a common misconception in my opinion. I don't see any evidence provided.

  3. Thanks Andrew.

    Justin, how do I present evidence for my understanding of conservatism. I cited Hayek, who has a similar definition. The latin "conservare" means "to preserve". Also dictionary.com has a similar definition.

    Being a conservative yourself, how do you define the difference?

  4. You could mention a Republican-supported bill that you believe was created solely to resist change. Saying "conserve" means "preserve" is not support for the idea that conservatives hate change.

  5. Republican support for Arizona immigration law and Republican opposition to Obama (and Clinton) health care changes.

    Let me clarify, I'm not saying all conservatives hate all change. I'm just suggesting that by their nature, conservatives are less comfortable with change than a liberal. Sometimes that's good (think about conservative opposition to communism), but sometimes it's bad (think about conservative opposition to Civil Rights).

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  7. My feeling is that true Republicans are uncomfortable with "change" when change means more government influence--which politically, it almost always does. Libertarians usually hate this kind of change too.

    (And by the way, Civil Rights had bipartisan opposition.)

  8. What about conservative Republican opposition to drug legalization or gay marriage. Those both involved change to less government influence.

    As for Civil Rights, it opposed bipartisanly opposed by the conservatives in each party.

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  10. Well if you define "conservative" as "people who hate change," then I guess you're going to find that people who hate change are conservative.

    Conservatives don't want drug legalization because it would rip apart this country, not because it's "change." Think of all the Bush reforms -- No Child Left Behind, the Patriot Act, the Medicare prescription drug benefit, partially privatizing social security, reforming immigration so that there's a pathway to citizenship. This is a hell of a lot of change.

    The like/hate change argument is too hyperopic to be useful.

  11. I guess I should say that certainly conservatism is defined by a desire to preserve certain social norms. But as a conservative Republican, there are a lot of changes I would like to see enacted, so I take offense to the idea that I "hate change."

  12. You think drug legalization will "rip apart this country" because you are a conservative. Conservatives aren't weary of change for no reason, it's because they think that change will be bad. Liberals think the opposite.

    Most of the reforms you mentioned (NCLB, Medicare expansion) are hated by true conservatives. The others are reactions to change (Patriot Act, immigration reform). I think one of the primary (and perfectly legitimate) conservative fears about immigration is the fear of change it will bring.

    You not not be comfortable with the like/hate idea, but surely you admit liberals are optimistic about it and conservatives are pessimistic about it?

  13. I just cannot believe that a libertarian who I think would argue that almost every progressive government action of the last century was unconstitutional, is telling me I hate change.

  14. 1) I'm not sure that they are unconstitutional, I just don't prefer them.

    2) I never used the word hate, you did.

    3) I <3 conservatives.

  15. Ok, I'm reading over this all again, and I'd like to just start over--because I think almost everything I said was wrong and almost everything you said was right.

    You are right that conservatism can be defined by an aversion to change of social norms. Not just any change, but change that dramatically shifts the status quo. You are right that this is a defining characteristic of most conservatives.

    I do consider myself a conservative Republican, but I do not think that I am averse to change, in social norms or otherwise. (So maybe I'm not as conservative as I think I am.) I am not "afraid" of change in general (you used fear, not hate, sorry). There are some changes that I think are good and some bad. I am a pragmatist. I do not have certain beliefs because I am a conservative, I am a conservative because I have certain beliefs. I also have other beliefs which are not conservative, which is why I'm also a centrist.

    You are right that the opposition to the Civil Rights movement was the more conservative elements of both parties.

    Through all of this I still maintain that the love/hate change argument isn't really useful for defining anything, and that there is quite a bit of societal change that most libertarians oppose. Like all those progressive government actions you don't prefer. Which leads me to think if that's the case, and you heart conservatives, it might not be all that unlikely that one day you'll vote for a Republican. I guess we'll see. :)

    Thanks, friend. Debating with you is always enlightening.

  16. Only true friends can debate this long and still like each other.

  17. Harrison,

    I have to go with Justin on this one. I think that your definition of conservative isn't very useful. Ultimately, it reinforces the argument by label methodology that is one of the biggest problems about political discourse in this country. Maybe we should abandon those labels altogether. I think libertarian still works although I prefer classical liberal (lots of fun at cocktail parties although I don't usually get asked back). Maybe progressive and traditionalist are better for the argument you want to have. And let's chuck liberal and conservative completely!

    Interesting discussion. You have a great blog.



You are the reason why I do not write privately. I would love to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or not.