Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Conservative Paradox

To be more precise the paradox is that of conservativism  in a democratic polity.

Now conservatism has no single definition, depending on the specific society it also differs,  the quote by Tolstoy about unhappy families* applies to conservatism also. However, broadly speaking conservatism tends to emphasize importance and conservation of existing traditions, customs and institutions, considering this to be key to a life well lived. In short it is democracy of dead.

So what is the paradox, democracy by its very nature is susceptible to mob rule or tyranny by demagogues,  there can be checks and balances in form of republican form of government but ultimately political power, like any form of power is corrosive. It corrodes the moral grain of those entrusted with stewardship of democracy, it corrodes the political institutions, until the checks and balances give way. The ultimate bulwark against this corrosion is an informed public, whose awareness about politics goes beyond palace intrigues, not only zealously tracking the conduct of political officials and the debates on policy but also finer nuances pertaining to political philosophy.

The above sounds nice, and you might be thinking where is the problem. Well, it is this.

Since conservatism is concerned with the society as a whole, it seeks a balance between the various (often competing for power) social institutions, among which state is but one. The engagement described above is nice in theory, but human nature being what it is, the engagement can turn into obsession fairly quickly, this obsession creates imbalance in favour of state. State monopolizes, in order, the discourse, the narrative and finally even the perspective. This monopoly causes gradual decay of all the institutions, with the exception of state, which progressively sucks up more and more power. This social upheaval, needless to say, is diametrically opposite to what conservatism holds to be prerequisite for good life.

 So what is the resolution of this paradox? Unfortunately there isn't any, pertaining as it is to fundamental nature of democracy and human nature itself. However it is possible to mitigate this somewhat.
One by cultivating general scepticism of the state and another by cultivating a  broader sense of civic virtue which strengthens all the institutions and not just state.

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

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