Middle East

Can conservatism reform itself?

Daron Acemoglu / Boston

Centre-rights need to undergo major transformation to effectively address the causes of inequality and challenges posed by globalization and big tech.

The dispute that broke out within the US Democratic Party after being defeated in the recent Virginia Governor’s election convinced many observers that the Republicans would easily recapture the House of Representatives next year. In fact, it’s the most uncertain right in the future, and it’s a problem we all pay for.
Rights have previously been hit by an identity crisis. The rise of popular democracy in the 19th century, where industrialization created huge inequality and imitated the working class, could have wiped out the centre-right traditional parties such as the British Conservative Party. By concentrating tens of thousands of workers in cities and workplaces, new opportunities for solidarity and political organizations have been opened up. The emergence of new ideas, from anarchism and utopian socialism to communism in Marx and Engels, reflected public dissatisfaction and provided templates for alternative organizations in society.
However, the centre-right reinvented itself perhaps most spectacularly, perhaps under the leadership of Benjamin Disraeli in England. In the 1860s, Disraeli led reforms to expand voters because he believed that the conservative nationalist ideology would appeal to many workers (further than rival William Gladstone, the Liberal Party Prime Minister). ). He was right. The Tories soon re-emerged as a major party, often surpassing the Liberal Party for the rest of the century.
The new right was successful by fusing several different philosophies and instincts. Its first pillar was nationalism, which manifested itself in many ways. Its benign form was expressed in Disraeli’s “One Nation” vision. It is a communitarian identity that holds all citizens as part of a single social contract. However, Disraeli also led to a more positive nationalist sentiment, reflected in his commitment to the Jingoist vision of the British Empire. And in France and Germany, anti-Semitism was often the center of new conservatism.
The second pillar was the urge to protect traditional institutions and social order from fundamental changes. These ideas originated from Edmund Burke’s powerful attack on the French Revolution and were the key to adaptive conservatism that could provide a meaningful response when social and political changes were inevitable. The dark side of this approach was the approach to existing social classes such as gender and race. In addition to its nationalism, the centre-right’s willingness to defend such classes explained much of the appeal of the election.
The third pillar was market initiatives. Like the first two pillars, this helped the right define itself for a variety of options (Soviet socialism after 1917 or post-WWII social democracy). Conservatives opposed widespread state-owned and various government interventions to maintain the interests of the free market and in the name of Burke’s gradualism.
Nevertheless, European and American conservatives remained adaptable, cooperated with the welfare state, and sometimes even invested. Indeed, in the first post-WWII election, Tory under Winston Churchill became a new welfare state built according to the blueprint presented by William Beveridge’s famous 1942 report. I opposed it. However, they lost the election and conservative politicians soon settled on many elements of the new administration. In the Nordic countries and Germany, on the other hand, until the 1980s, centre-rights were almost as committed as the remaining labor force was directed at the basic welfare state institutions.
However, there was a fourth aspect to success in right-wing elections. It is support for wealthy companies that often fund centre-rights. Rights tended to favor large corporations when the interests of large corporations were at odds with market-supporting philosophies (such as opposition to monopoly).
The combination of economic and social development has since destroyed this early centre-right compact. With the rise of more radical right-wing ideas, new challenges and opposition to the role of government in the welfare state and economy arose. A new anti-regulatory philosophy popularized by Milton Friedman and other free market thinkers gained momentum in the 1980s under British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan. And in the 1990s, the collapse of the Soviet Union gained even more momentum. This was an event that nullified the important discussion of social democracy for the welfare state. That is, it was necessary to prevent the demands of full socialism in the working class.
Thatcher and Reagan’s deregulation agenda has helped increase inequality over the last 40 years, which has accelerated globalization and automation, undermining the feasibility of Burke’s traditionalist and communitarian nationalism. At the same time, the rise of billionaires and billions of billionaires in favor of the right-wing media has ridiculed their commitment to competitive markets.
Once again, the right needs to reinvent itself. Former German Prime Minister Angela Mercer’s policies, which have begun to resemble core social democratic measures in the last decade, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s sneaky efforts to revive Disraeli’s one-nation conservatism , Shows how the central right wing goes. However, these attempts are unlikely to succeed because they are not commensurate with the rights and the seriousness of the challenges facing the world.
Centre-right parties need to undergo major transformation in order to effectively address the causes of inequality and the challenges posed by globalization and big tech. American conservatives may find this process particularly difficult given their historical loyalty to large corporations and the ultra-rich. Indeed, they have long abandoned Burke’s ideas to stick to power in some way. From Richard Nixon’s ironic southern strategy to today’s Republican oppression law, US rights have long relied on the imbalanced distribution of power in the US political system to right-wing rural areas.
Given the changing demographics of more urban and educated voters and growing dissatisfaction with economic stagnation, this strategy cannot work forever. American rights either admit that it has to change, or become more aggressive, dependent on a small number of voters, and ultimately oppose democracy itself. ..
The Republican Party’s support for former President Donald Trump suggests that the Republican Party has chosen the second option. This means that the United States is heading into an era of deeper polarization and dysfunctional governance. There are unlikely to be meaningful policies to address inequality, climate change, and the overwhelming dominance of large tech companies. To make matters worse, the rise of oppressive authoritarianism following the recovery of the Trumpian in 2024 cannot be ruled out. — Project Syndicate

•• Daron Acemoglu, a professor of economics at MIT, is a co-author of Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty (co-authored with James A. Robinson). When Narrow Corridor: The fate of nation, society, and freedom.



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