Saturday, February 04, 2012


Is Conservatism a Religion?

Some of my Conservative friends have accused us Liberals (Progressives? Social Democrats?) of believing in a religion.  I shall try to present their arguments fairly and objectively.  They argue that we Liberals ignore human nature.  Humans are greedy and selfish.  On election day they vote their immediate self-interest.  An economic safety net comprising Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, free medical care, and the like discourages saving for retirement, living a healthy life style, and looking for and accepting jobs that aren't the kind we are used to.  Instead, our society should encourage or even force self-reliance and discourage dependence on government to bail us out when we are in trouble.

My response to that argument is that Conservatives are ignoring human nature.  Humans may indeed be greedy and selfish.  However, the history of our species indicates that cooperation with and taking care of other humans are characteristics that have enabled us to dominate the planet and climb to the top of the food chain.  We Liberals believe in exploiting these social and mutual help aspects of human behavior.  We believe that a successful society is based on mutual support rather than individual greed.  Certainly there are greedy individuals.  However, the society must contain structures that exploit human tendencies toward mutual support.  Hence, we advocate in favor of free medical care for all, for unemployment insurance, for generous pensions, for a generous and effective social security system, and the like.

Are these two opposing sets of beliefs like religions?  Are Conservatives ignoring important aspects of human behavior in advocating a society that rewards greed and self-reliance and punishes dependence?  Are Liberals ignoring other important aspects of human behavior in advocating a society with adequate social and economic safety nets?  I suppose you could say that either set of beliefs resembles a religion.  In a religion there are certain things you are supposed to believe even though they seem impossible (Jonah and the whale, Moses and the burning bush, the punishment of the snake for tempting Eve).  Both Conservatives and Liberals believe that in a fair election the majority of the people would choose their respective visions of the ideal society.  In the case of Conservatism it would be a society without labor unions, without pensions or social security, without Medicare or Medicaid, without unemployment insurance, and an absence of government regulations on business.  In the case of Liberalism it would be a society with free or almost free medical care for everyone, with generous pensions, with strong democratic labor unions, an effective economic safety net for the unemployed, and with enough good jobs that no one would have to be unemployed.  Conservatives tend to look to Hong Kong as their model.  Liberals look to Denmark.

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