I have been re-reading Corey Robin's The Reactionary Mind. According to this book, defending arbitrary hierarchies is the first priority among conservatives. They believe:
- Workers should obey their masters.
- Wives should obey their husbands.
- Downtrodden ethnic groups should obey socially privileged ethnic groups.
- The laity should obey priests.
- The non-affluent should show proper deference towards those with great wealth (who could never be malefactors).
These hierarchies have implications for daily lives, not just political rule. For the right, liberty is liberty for the rulers to do as they will, not for those who suffer what they must.
I deliberately do not write about slavery. According to Robin, conservatism is literally reactionary. Conservatives defend hierarchies that are currently threatened or recently overthrown. They focus on restoring what was recently lost. Maybe this has something to do with widespread fear and resentment on the right.
Conservatives often do not have admiration for the rulers of the ancient regime. If those rulers were willing to do what needed to be done to preserve their power, the threats would never have gotten so far, and losses would not have been suffered. The conservative, unlike his popular and complimentary image, is willing to make radical changes so as to reconstruct society as it once was. This seems to go along with the awareness of some contemporary neoliberals that market societies are not natural formations, but must be constructed and maintained by state power. But is this aping of the left consistent with the conservative's encouragement of anti-intellectualism and stupidity? Perhaps the idea is that only an elite need understand the goal, while widespread ignorance among the masses can only help the cause.
The hierarchies that conservatives seek to defend or restore are not meritocracies, in the sense that those on top are expected to have superior intellect, wisdom, or morals. Rulers should demonstrate their fitness to rule by seizing what they can, in war or business. Maybe this has something to do with why many conservatives endorse the supposed "free market", without worrying about externalities, information asymmetries, transaction costs, or market power. One can also see here an echo of Friedrich Nietzsche's overman.
Much of the above comes from the introduction and first couple of chapters of Robin's book. Much of the rest consists of case studies of particular thinkers and polemicists.Reference
- Corey Robin (2013). The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin, Oxford University Press.