Is Conservatism a Legitimate Political Ideology? Was it Ever?

“Conservatism* is a sham!” That was the original title of this thread. While it’s actually both sexier and more succinct, I opted against it because it doesn’t accurately reflect my position, although it’s not that far off. The Trump presidency has shed a lot of of light, or maybe brought to the surface, the real impetus behind the people who claim to be conservatives, and thus revealed the true nature of conservatism. Well, partly.

I need to make two important distinctions before I proceed–separating two different types of conservatives–namely, ones that don’t really have any real convictions in a legitimate (more on this later) political ideology, and ones that do. The reason that my initial title is both (mostly) true, but too misleading for me is that 99% of conservatives fall into the former category, while the rest fall into the latter. In other words, I believe there is such a thing as a legitimate conservative ideology, but so few people actually believe this that it’s fair to say conservatism is largely a sham.

Now it’s time to explain what I mean by a legitimate political ideology. First, I want specify that I’m talking about legitimacy within a liberal democracy. The rule of law; a constitutional government, separating powers in a way that creates checks and balances; free and fair elections; a free press; freedom of religion; due process–a legitimate political ideology would take these as a given. What also legitimizes a political ideology are the presence of legitimate goals–goals that relate to making the lives of both individuals and the overall society better. By “better” I’m thinking of things like protecting civil liberties, while also ensuring the security of the overall society; I’m thinking of a healthy economy, where one can earn a living, afford quality housing, education, health care. I could probably name other things, but hopefully you get the idea.

In the rest of this thread, I want to address two questions: 1) How is conservatism illegitimate? 2) And what does a legitimate conservatism look like?

(*In this thread, “conservatism” and “conservatives” refers to the American forms of both.)

One thought on “Is Conservatism a Legitimate Political Ideology? Was it Ever?

  1. How American Conservatism is illegitimate

    Short answer: The principles and policies conservatives have espoused are largely facades for the desire to preserve or increase power primarily for two groups–namely, the wealthy and majority status groups (e.g., whites, Christians, etc.). For example, a conservative position espouses conserves status quo because this creates stability. Many of the rules, institutions, traditions provide stability because they have proven effective over time. To change them too quickly can lead to instability and chaos. I believe such a conservative notion has merit. However, my feeling is that a large majority of Americans invoke this principle as a rationale to preventing the influence and wealth they already possess; that is, they are preventing the loss of both, while not really possessing any substantive convictions in those principles and policies.

    To me, an ideology–and the policies that come out of it–used only to protect the most powerful, regardless of whether this hurts or helps citizens and the society, is not a legitimate political ideology. Moreover, if these groups violate, or show a willingness to violate, fundamental components of a liberal democracy (e.g., free elections, the rule of law, etc.), than that such an ideology is illegitimate political ideology in a liberal democratic society.

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