The Ideological Roots of the Present Political Upheaval 

Over the last 300 years, three chief political ideologies have dominated Western societies. While they can coexist and have coexisted, they do not coexist peacefully, and each seeks dominance.

First, there is old-line, caste conservatism, including (sometimes) racial slavery. This version of conservatism is often, though not always, associated with monarchies: British, Spanish and French, for example. In the modern world, there are few old-line monarchies, but the ideology persists in strongmen political leaders; annoyance at negotiated politics; and tribal, identitarian social cohesiveness (for example, White Supremacy). It’s an attractive ideology to people weary (and wary) of rampant cosmopolitanism and the gradual erasure of national borders. It is a slander to consider most of these people racists, but they are much more committed to and interested in people who look and act like them than people who don’t.

Second, and more recently, radically individualistic progressivism, epitomized by Robespierre and Marx. This ideology is committed to social revolution and always (no exceptions) led by a politicized elite. It likes to play one economic class or one race or one sex off against another in order to create antagonism leading to perpetual social revolution. This assures that the elite will always be there to solve the social problem that they helped instigate. This view is rampant in the highest reaches of most Western universities, national governments, think tanks and, increasingly, big business. Unlike the other two ideologies, it tends almost always to be accompanied by an air of moral superiority: “You are venal and self-centered, but we are selfless and disinterested and know best how to run modern society.”

Finally, there’s the classical liberalism of many 16th-18th century Englishmen and the American founding. It began principally in England with Magna Carta and later flourished with Oliver Cromwell and the jurisdictional battles between parliament and the monarchy. It came to the fore at the founding of the United States. It was also heavily shaped by Protestantism, which stressed individual liberty within the rule of law. It strongly supports property rights, free-market economics, not only because this arrangement most fully eradicates poverty, but also because it protects human liberty and is a great check on political power. Classical liberalism has a distinct universalist streak. It is interested in God-given rights (like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) and responsibilities to everybody, not just people in our country or people who look and act like we do.

Classical liberalism sets itself apart from both the top-down political authority of caste conservatism as well as the radical egalitarianism championed by a politicized elite. It stresses trust in the triune God and, secondarily, in the character of the population to preserve liberty and, more formally, in constitutions and bills of rights and separation of powers. 

The preeminent weaknesses of classical liberalism are (1) that it depends on self-government, the character of the population, which is not naturally self-perpetuating, and (2) that it is vulnerable in the face of passionate, rousing, high-sounding appeals to social unity based on blood and soil (caste conservatism) as well as urges to radical social change (individualistic progressivism). Classical liberalism is a calm, reasoned ideology. When the other ideologies get the populace in a lather, the classical liberals are at a distinct disadvantage.

Unfortunately, the first two ideologies are working overtime to lather up our nation at this moment.

This is the main underlying source of the present social upheaval. 


2 thoughts on “The Ideological Roots of the Present Political Upheaval 

  1. Eric says:

    You might find interesting the following quote from the Englishman Lord Acton, an opponent of slavery but a sympathizer with the South: “The Southern slave owner was in contradiction to the two principles which animated the democracy of the Northern states. He denied the absolute essential equality of all men in civil rights; and he denied the justice of the doctrine that the minority possesses nothing which is exempt from the control of the majority, because he knew that it was incompatible with the domestic institution [slavery] which was as sacred to him as the rights of property. Therefore the very defect of their social system [slavery] preserved them from those political errors which were transforming the original characters of the Northern republics. The decomposition of democracy was arrested in the South by the indirect influence of slavery.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s