More on the Left/Right difference
I have been updating my big article on the history and psychology of conservatism and I present below my new introduction to it:
Left-leaning psychologists and other Leftist "thinkers" sometimes "study" conservatism -- usually with the obvious motive of proving a theory which discredits conservatives in some way. But the shallowness of their actual knowledge of conservatives is shown when they feel the need to consult dictionaries just to find out what conservatism is (e.g. Altemeyer and Wyeth). That is a remarkably desperate recourse. Dictionaries record usage but they cannot tell you whether the usage is right or wrong, shallow or profound. They even record mistaken usages.
The problem underlying the recourse to dictionaries is that the Leftist wouldn't know conservatism if he fell over it. His only concept of conservatism is the caricature of it that circulates in his own little Leftist bubble. But he does realize dimly that he doesn't know what it is. So with a schoolboy level of sophistication, he turns to his dictionary to find out what it is!
By contrast, in my studies of Leftism, I feel no need to rely on dictionaries. From many years of reading Leftist writings, I can tell you what Leftism regularly is. What the Leftist does or tries to do is to stop people doing what they want to do and make them do things that they don't want to do. They are not alone in that but that underlies all that they do and say. What changes they want and why they want them I consider in detail elsewhere. So conservatives tend to allow the natural world to continue on its way while Leftists forge an inherently unstable world that can be held together only by coercion. Leftism is quintessentially authoritarian.
The redirection of a large slice of people's spending power via compulsory taxation is only one part of the coercion. There are also many direct commands and prohibitions. The very expensive "mandates" of Obamacare were under much discussion at the time of writing. Only a Leftist would think that old ladies should be forced to pay for obstetric care.
It may be noted that some people with strongly-held religious views tend to be like Leftists in trying to forge an unnatural world. That helps to explain why Leftists are infinitely tolerant of Muslim Jihadis and why the major churches tend to support the Left, some of them being very Leftist. In the 2004 Australian Federal elections, the leaders of ALL the churches came out in favour of the (Leftist) Australian Labor Party. The only exception was a small Exclusive Brethren group in Tasmania who supported the conservative coalition -- and their "intervention" sparked huge outrage in the media and elsewhere. (The conservatives won that election in a landslide).
And in England it is sometimes now held that "C of E" stands for "Church of the Environment", because of the Church of England's strong committment to Greenie causes. Cantuar Welby's scolding of business might also be noted. And a previous Cantuar (Carey, a generally decent man) called his little grandson "pollution" on Greenie grounds. Pity the children! And, in stark contrast with the Bible, a senior Anglican cleric has called "homophobia" a sin. The C of E and most of its First World offshoots no longer have strong feelings about salvation but they have strong feelings about Green/Leftist causes.
Because they focus so much on personal feelings and the promise of salvation rather than on "the world", American evangelicals are something of an exception but, even there, 10 million evangelicals voted for Al Gore in the year 2000 American Federal elections.
But back to conservatism: While conservatives tend to let the natural world run its course, that is not a defining characteristic.
What Leftists find in their dictionaries is that conservatives are opposed to change. That is indeed the prevailing Leftist conception of conservatives but it ignores one of the most salient facts about politics worldwide -- that conservative governments are just as energetic in legislating as Leftists are. Both sides busily make new laws all the time. And the point of a new law is to change something. The changes that Left and Right desire are different but both sides push for change. On the Leftist's understanding of conservatism, a conservative government that wins an election should do no more than yawn, shut up the legislature and go home until the next election!
So in a thoroughly anti-intellectual style, the Leftist ignores one of the most basic facts about politics. That sure is a weird little intellectual bubble that he lives in. EVERY conservative that I know has got a whole list of things that he would like to see changed -- usually reversals of Leftist changes. But Leftist intellectuals clearly just doesn't know any conservatives. Conservatism is NOT a rejection of change, though it may be a rejection of Leftist change.
So what really is conservatism? I have taught both sociology and psychology at major Australian universities but when it comes to politics my psychologist's hat is firmly on. One can understand conservatism at various levels but to get consistency, you have to drop back to the psychological level. And at that level it is as plain as a pikestaff. Conservatives are cautious. And that is all you need to know to understand the whole of conservatism.