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Are “the People” Inherently Conservative?

Image by Unsplash via Pixabay. Image by Unsplash via Pixabay.

I've been thinking about people—as in, the average citizens of a country.

If you consider recent European elections, the possibility of a Grexit, and Bernie Sanders’s campaign, you start to realize a somewhat strange pattern: that the people might actually be inherently conservative.

By conservative, I do not mean pro-free markets, gun ownership, and speech rights. Rather, I refer to a sentiment, a basic and fundamental desire to protect what belongs to a people and a place. Take for example, the continued success of UKIP in Britain and the National Front in France. The former is notorious for taking away working class voters, whom one would expect to vote Labor. The latter could continue to see an increase in votes due to the defection of everyday citizens from parties further to the political Left.

The possibility of a “Grexit” offers another interesting case study. While many see the Greek people’s “No” vote as a Leftist victory, I am not so sure. At least some of their rejection of the Troika’s terms seems to come from a sense of national pride, an inkling that the Greek people’s desires must be put before those of foreign technocrats. In a way, it’s a movement toward localism (even xenophobia) and away from cosmopolitanism. Even if Syriza is a Leftist party, its populism and (at this stage) nationalism are evident. I cannot help but think that the Greek people voted “No” in part to protect their interests, to preserve the way of life they have come to know (its economic viability left aside).

Even Bernie Sanders' campaign has a certain conservative populism associated with his democratic socialism, so much so that he’s actually somewhat moderate on gun policy:

I come from a state where there is virtually no gun control. But the people of my state understand, pretty clearly, that guns in Vermont are not the same thing as guns in Chicago or Los Angeles. In our state, guns are used for hunting. In Chicago they are used for kids killing other kids or gang members shooting at police officers, shooting down innocent people. We need a sensible debate about gun control, which overcomes the cultural divide that exists in this country, and I think I can play an important role in this.

Why is Sanders moderate on gun control? In part because he comes from the largely rural state of Vermont, home to many working class people who have an interest in hunting and shooting. Even the liberal senator can be made somewhat conservative by his constituents.

Of course, I cannot deny that people are easily manipulated by demagogues. After all, the Bolshevik and French Revolutions did happen. These events are exceptions to the rule, however, not the rule itself. Maybe, if we hope to revitalize “conservatism” in a broad sense, we would do well to recognize the inherent conservatism of a nation’s people. Surely, “conservatism” can produce negatives (xenophobia, close-mindedness, etc.). But when treated moderately and attentively, I believe there is something to be found in the pride of person and place, a cultural gem worthy of a new sheen.

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