A guest blog by Josh Monteiro, Pastor of Emmanuel Church, Northstowe, and written in a personal capacity. The views expressed are the author‘s alone.
In biblical studies over the last 50 years, there has been a growing recognition that there was not a single simple thing called “Judaism” in the 1st century AD but a variety of different Judaisms, with some commonalties, but some important differences as well. Historical study requires an understanding of the different movements within Judaism just as much as it requires understanding the commonalities which distinguished Judaism from other groups.
As a regular lurker, and occasional commenter, on political and religious blogs and websites, I thought it might be helpful to highlight some of the different flavours of conservatism I observe. While there is enough commonalty that these may all be considered conservative, the differences are marked and significant. This identifying of flavours of conserative may be helpful for conservatives seeking to make coalitions to push forward policies, and wondering why other conservatives don’t share their values or enthusiasm for a particular policy. It may also help explain frustrating conversations across the left-right political divide where the debaters don’t seem to connect: possibly the conservatism some progressives are attacking is not the conservatism held by person they are speaking to. (And vice versa, though I am not attempting to discern the flavours of progressivism in this post.)
So here are my five flavours of conservative.
1) The loss-averse conservative. This is what might be called the conservative personality: “What we have is good, and if we change anything we might lose it.” People who have done well under the current system, and therefore have a lot to lose, are often loss-averse conservatives. But so are many people who are not particularly well off. They know that compared to almost any other time in history, and the majority of places in the world, we live in immense security and luxury. The status quo is really pretty good. And that suggests, to the loss averse conservative, that changes are more likely to make things worse rather than better. Slightly ironically, after 2 decades of centrist rule, the Blairites (and their close cousins the Cameroons) are conservatives in this sense.
2) The economic conservative. These are people who see the power of the free market to direct resources and labour usefully and create wealth. They want to avoid monopolies, high taxes (which stifle wealth creating free trade), and government bureaucracy. They are generally pro-privatisation. Some economic conservatives also care about limiting government debt and in general good management of government resources. Economic conservatism in this sense is as compatible with social liberalism as social conservatism.
3) The nostalgic conservative. These are people who think that taken as a whole, it would be better to live in a past era than the current time. Whether that is the 1950s, the 1890s or the 1100s, they see the past as having virtues and strengths which we lack, and that on balance living in those societies was better. If they could turn the clock back, they would. To some extent, nostalgic conservatism is natural for the elderly, but it does seem blind to the many ways life was terrible in the past, and better now. On the other hand, in an age often foolishly deluded that the new is always better, the nostalgic conservative may help us to see virtues and insights from the past that we have lost or overlooked.
4) The social conservative. These are people who are happy with technological progress but concerned with the social structures of society and what is sometimes called “social capital”. They care about families, bringing up children, churches and other voluntary groups, and the nation including the armed forces. They think we will be happier and more prosperous in general if we can strengthen families, and have strong local and voluntary groups. They may be very happy with modern technology, and may also be happy for some key public services to be well funded and strong, especially the NHS, schools and the police, even if it means higher taxes. They tend to want a shared national culture, and to be patriotic in a quiet way, rather than “anywheres”.
5) The civilization conservative. These are people who are concerned that civilisations rise and fall, and who think that our civilisation is in danger of falling, whether down the world rankings or into total collapse. One version of this sees the danger as being a change of civilisation. The UK’s trajectory means that in 50 or 100 years it is a different civilisation which has lost the unique character and special strengths it had. These civilisation conservatives will be worried about immigration, and the abandonment of “Western Civilization” or Judaeo-Christian values. Another version sees the danger as being an undermining of what made the UK great and cohesive as a society, such that at some point in the future the entire society falls apart under stress in some way. Our current prosperity does not give the civilisation conservative any pleasure, since it masks the cracks and faults in the foundation, which they believe need urgent attention before a whole culture or society collapses.
What do you think? Do you recognise these distinct flavours of conservatives? Have I missed some? And if you were to do the same for progressives, what flavours would you identify?