This is a distinction that has fascinated me lately. I first thought about it when I read Henry Fairlie’s description of a traditional conservative in Britain. I realized that his view of a traditional conservative is what many right-wingers would call a ‘liberal’ or even a ‘socialist’.
Here is the example I just noticed (from the comment section of the article, The Future of America’s Working Class by Joel Kotkin):
pablo on Wed, 04/20/2011 – It might be cliche to sound the call of the “rich get richer while the poor get poorer,” or it might be anti-conservative to suggest that there’s a policy agenda that should speak to mobility. But, having spent time in places like Bangladesh, Indonesia, or Mexico, I can attest to the value of social mobility. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the notion of “freedom” to which we vigilantly cling as conservatives is best reflected by social mobility, or “opportunity.” The freedom to take risks and strive for a greater future, the freedom to take risks, fall flat on one’s face, and be able to pick themselves up again. Each of these freedoms is dependent on access to capital, healthcare, and education, and a social net to some degree – making the each of these – capital, health, education, and welfare – fundamentally conservative values, in as much as they support the most conservative value of all – freedom of social mobility.
A traditional conservative will support any social institution (public or private) that promotes and maintains social order and public good. A traditional conservative will emphasize the social/societal (both social responsibility and social benefit) over the isolated individual.
A right-winger, on the other hand, will do the opposite. However, in America, it’s confusing. During good times, many social conservatives will be drawn to right-wing rhetoric in blaming the poor and disenfranchised. But during bad times, many social conservatives begin to join the ranks of the poor and disenfranchised, and all of a sudden they remember the value of traditional conservatism. So, right-wing is the attitude a social conservative has toward other people’s problems and social conservative is the attitude a social conservative has toward their own problems.
The distinction here is the ideology of fiscal conservatism, ideology that too often contradicts the reality of implemented policies. Fiscal conservatives make big promises about a meritocratic society, but they refuse to take responsibility when their promises turn out to be pipe dreams. Of course, those making the promises are rarely the same people who suffer the consequences for their failure.
As another commenter noted:
theodion on Sun, 03/20/2011 – The most essential guarantees employed to justify capitalism are that your young children will have a much better life than you do, and in President Kennedy’s well known words “a rising tide lifts all boats” that means all of us benefits from the accumulation of capital funds. These guarantees ring hollow in a period of time in which the relative situation of the working people of the US is declining and its ruling class is in a position to appropriate a growing share of the nationwide revenue. My conclusion to what has occurred is that the connection among productivity and wages has been damaged.
For decades, promises were made. And it took decades to discover how false those promises were.
Here are some other comments that further the discussion:
cosmopolitanprovincial on Thu, 06/03/2010 – However, your focus should have been on the government-directed economic policies of the past 30 years rather than wholly blaming the welfare state. When maufacturing started to disappear from this country the govt. line was: “let the factory fail, after all it’s a free market.” Contrast this with the recent multi-billion pound bailout of the banking and financial service sector, which ordinary working people are now going to have to pay back in taxes for the next couple of decades. When a recession affected the bankers and stockbrokers, suddenly the “free market” disappeared and state intervention was the order of the day. This speaks volumes about where govt. priorities lay.
This is a classic case of being anti-welfare only when it affects the poor. Yet when the rich or corporations need welfare, then it is happily dished out to the tune of billions.
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John Mountfort on Thu, 06/03/2010 – Absolutely correct. This nonsense of blaming The Welfare State for the problem of the growing underclass is based on a ridiculous assumption that human beings are so plastic in their capacities that they can be expected to respond to every change, however traumatic or rapid… and if they don’t, it’s because of some imaginary failing, like a Welfare State that just sucked the virtue out of them by making life too easy. But out virtues are themselves a product of the most stubborn aspect of human nature: our desire to have things remain the same. One would think conservatives would understand that… but I guess that’s another reason why we have hypocrisy.
cosmopolitanprovincial on Thu, 06/03/2010 – Like someone else pointed out, nearly every northern European country has a much more generous welfare system than Britain but they don’t have the same social problems.
Another point is that Britain is the country which has followed the “American model” more than any other nation in Europe. Sometimes we “go further” than the US: for example, nearly all state schools here are soon going to be under the governance of private organisations, many of them profit-making corporations (some of them from America). Our postal service is also going to be privatised. Other European countries who have not followed this model so slavishly have not experienced the same crime levels or social problems that we in the UK have. Please bear in mind I am not blaming America for this, it is the decisions of UK politicians who are responsible. But the point is, whatever the problems are, it isn’t because there isn’t enough ‘capitalism’ in the UK. We are a very similar economy to the US, often with identical brands and stores available (McD/Subway/KFC etc. in every town in the land).
[ . . . ] Like John, I agree that it is disingenuous to blame the underclass for this crisis: it is not they who decided that their source of jobs was systematically wiped out or that houses would become unaffordable or that the only economy left was based around shopping and drinking. It is a complex issue, based around globalisation (where factory jobs are basically in China or India rather than Britain), and the main focus of the political elites being on the middle-classes.