This is a radically different approach from traditional conservatism. It is certainly not based on the currently popular and simplistic idea that conservatives should be liberal on the social issues and conservative on the fiscal or economic issues. It also is not about the contrast between capitalism and socialism or about the merits of or problems with Christianity or any other religion. It is instead an attempt to determine fundamental principles that follow from developing a broad view of what is necessary for human survival and human welfare over the long term, i.e., on what makes a social system sustainable. The basic ideas are derived from my discussion of building a system of ethics for a population that is not constrained by a narrow vision. That discussion can be found at: http://www.third-millennium-ethics.com
This new approach to conservatism is based on the following six fundamental principles:
(1) Conservatives should continue practices that work and should not conduct radical social experiments with the whole of society;
(2) Conservatives should acknowledge that humans have not evolved to live in large societies and therefore all humans are to some degree misfits in large societies;
(3) Conservatives should understand that there will always be a tradeoff between tending to the individual’s needs, the family or small group needs, and the nation’s or large group’s needs;
(4) Conservatives should be wary of the concentration of power in any entities, including private entities, and especially those with a narrow focus or short-term goals, such as corporations;
(5) Conservatives should accept that humans have certain propensities for developing behavior patterns based on evolutionary pressures during human history, and should try to understand what these are and apply that knowledge in designing societal institutions or formulating laws and rules for people to live by; and
(6) Conservatives should be against genetic enhancements, empowering Artificial Intelligence, and creating man-machine hybrids or otherwise artificial or synthetic humans, as they need to emphasize the importance of traditional humanness.
Now, to the first principle. The first fundamental principle is that conservatism should be based on the idea that we should continue doing what works, or at least be very measured in the implementation of different methods, if we do not have a thorough understanding of the phenomena, and we do not have a thorough understanding of much of the phenomena in human society.
Understanding of the hard sciences has improved immeasurably over the last few centuries because in investigations in the hard sciences virtually all the significant variables can be isolated and rigorous experiments can determine precisely the effects of independent variables on dependent variables. On the other hand, as the social sciences attempt to describe phenomena of virtually unbounded complexity, the significant variables cannot all be isolated and no experiments are possible to determine exact or precise relationships between variables. That means that social science theories are little more than guesses, which can be all the more problematic because, without hard proof, the theories that rise to the top are likely to be those favored by powerful groups rather than those with the greater weight of the evidence on their side.
There are innumerable policy choices for a society to make over time, and history has shown that most societies have failed, implying that policy choices frequently lead to failure. Obviously, those making the decisions on policy thought they were good ideas at the time, but often they led to failure over the long term. That is why it is essential to consider sustainability of the social systems implemented. Just as sustainability is critical for ecosystems, it is critical for social systems if the society is to survive for the long term.
Note that one of the many implications of this is that it is very dangerous to put all the power in one body that can make decisions for the entire society. As these decisions are just guesses, one bad guess can cause catastrophe if it is implemented universally. That supports the wisdom of distributing power at different levels and among different entities.
The second fundamental principle is that since humans evolved in small groups except for the last few millennia of human history, they are not well adapted to living in large groups, such as modern cities and nation-states. So many social problems follow from the mismatch between the environment we evolved in and the environment we find ourselves in today. As human technology and civilization evolved, it became advantageous for humans to join the larger groups, though often little choice was involved, as the larger groups offered greater security from outside threats and provided greater economic specialization leading to greater efficiency, greater wealth, and a higher quality of life for many, though certainly not all. But humans have never been able to completely emotionally adapt to the larger groups and still are not there today. Humans have the propensity for engaging in behaviors, and for the desires that motivate those behaviors, that are healthy for small groups but may not be healthy in a larger group, often because large groups provide some degree of anonymity along with a lack of emotional connections between most members of the group.
One approach to minimizing emotional adjustment issues in a larger group was the development of the institution of marriage and the nuclear family. Many assume that these developments followed simply from the implementation of agriculture and the creation of the idea of private property. Those practices played a part, more so in societies with polygamy (which of course only served the interests of a small percentage of males, i.e., elite males), but the more critical reasons for the development of marriage and one-man, one-woman marriage particularly and its associated nuclear family were that it provided a small group that could meet the emotional needs of individuals, needs that had been unmet for the great majority in the large group, and it could provide a degree of protection to the more vulnerable members of the family group (in the large group, in interactions between individuals without emotional connections, there often are more incentives to be abusive than to be caring). The nuclear family provided a cohesive and well-defined small group within the larger group, which, if stable (and laws developed to try to maximize its stability), could provide dependable human relationships that could aid in survival of self and small group as well as meet emotional and sexual needs. When these needs were met, antisocial activities would have decreased and productive economic activity would have increased, increasing the wealth of the society and the quality of life of the great majority of individuals within it. Men particularly became more productive, as they could spend much or most of their time isolated from other adult males and not feel dominated by the alpha males, an emotional state that shuts off creative decision-making processes and lessens motivation.
The larger groups also brought problems associated with anonymity, including free rider problems and many varieties of abuse of the weak and vulnerable by powerful or predatory strangers. In a small group, everyone to some degree has emotional connections with and trusts the other members of the group, so the powerful are restrained in abusive behavior by these human feelings. Also, because all members of the group are known to each other, behavior inconsistent with the group welfare is easily identified and addressed, but these advantages disappear with the anonymity that a larger group provides. So the larger groups had to develop new means to regulate behavior among people who are strangers to each other and have no emotional connections. Laws and customs had to be developed for the purposes of maintaining social harmony and ensuring group survival, including those that would protect the weak and vulnerable from abuse by strangers.
But in order to have a sustainable system of laws, there must be an authority structure, with a government or state, which almost inevitably forms into a hierarchy, because that is a simple and easily achievable form of effective and efficient organization. This usually creates a class of powerful elites at the top of the hierarchy who can abuse the common people without serious repercussions. And this abuse is virtually inevitable, given that all individuals behave according to the array of pressures that they face, internal and external, and so the powerful will often indulge in their most frivolous desires at great cost to others if no push back exists (note that push back can include internal forces such as conscience that has been cultivated through training or education).
The third fundamental principle is that there will always be the need to strike a balance between tending to: (1) one’s own needs; (2) the needs of the small group, usually the nuclear family; and (3) the needs of the larger group, often the nation. There is an argument that we have come to the point where the larger group should be the human race, though the needs of the human race could even be considered as something else to be balanced along with the other three. Conservatives have traditionally put more emphasis on the first two elements on the list, whereas socialists and communists have put more emphasis on the third element. Liberals, on the other hand, usually put the most emphasis on the first element, then the next most emphasis on the third element, and the least emphasis on the second element.
I would argue that conservatives should value all three elements roughly equally, though one must address one’s own needs in order to adequately address the needs of the small group, and one must address the small group’s needs in order to properly address the needs of the larger group. One cannot be very helpful to the small group, the family, unless one is healthy mentally and physically, so one has to tend to oneself in order to tend to the small group. And if one is part of a healthy and vibrant small group, then one can be more productive and more helpful to the larger group. Also, I believe that over the long term, the needs of the individual, the small group, and the large group of the entire human race converge, that is unless the human race becomes fragmented by subgroups receiving genetic enhancements or otherwise being fundamentally changed.
The fourth fundamental principle, that conservatives should be wary of concentration of power in any one government or in any entity, is based not just on Lord Acton’s maxim that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” but also on the idea that all policies are to some degree guesses, and we should not allow ourselves to all be doomed by one entity’s very bad guess.
Also, note that the danger of concentration of power is not just that powerful entities can and usually do bend and shape the rules for their own narrow and short-term purposes at the expense of others. For a society to survive long term, the needs of all members of the population must be considered to some degree in lawmaking, as human societies are interconnected and the needs of all converge over the long term, so even the elites are affected negatively when too many of the common people are suffering. Too much concentration of power will often lead to the powerful entity shaping the rules exclusively for its own narrow and short-term purposes, which will weaken the entire society over the long term, possibly to the point of collapse, dooming the powerful as well as the weak.
The problem can be even more acute when private entities, such as large corporations, acquire excessive power. While a government is expected to, and thus must make at least an appearance of trying to, provide for the general welfare, a corporation is tasked with and expected to only maximize the welfare of the shareholders. It is usually the case that in the short to medium term the welfare of the shareholders and the general welfare differ to a considerable degree, but their interests generally converge over the long term. However, as explained in the discussion of the sixth fundamental principle, the welfare of a subgroup of humans, such as the owners or managers of a powerful corporation, can potentially continue to diverge from that of the entire human race over the long term.
The fifth fundamental principle is that conservatives should accept that humans have certain propensities for developing behavior patterns based on evolutionary pressures during human history, and they should try to understand what these are and apply that knowledge in designing societal institutions or formulating laws and rules for people to live by. As stated in the first principle, conservatives should be faithful to traditional practices to the extent they have served their purpose well, but when seeking improvements efforts should be made to discover and develop an understanding of human potential for developing new behavior patterns that are healthy and sustainable. This requires an examination of the evolutionary pressures during human evolution that shaped and formed human propensities for behavior. Analyses of these evolutionary pressures and the impact they would have had on human potential should be incorporated into any determination of recommendations regarding any significant changes in expected behavior or cultural norms.
The sixth fundamental principle is that conservatives should be against human genetic enhancement, empowering Artificial Intelligence, and creating man-machine hybrids or otherwise artificial or synthetic humans, as they need to emphasize the importance of traditional humanness (to paraphrase a Christian saying, “what benefits us if we gain the whole world, but lose ourselves”).
Conservatives should value humanness, as that is valuing what we have been and what has worked for us throughout our history. Obviously we are evolving and our evolution has accelerated in the last few thousand years, and we should not see that as a negative, but at some point the acceleration in evolution departs to such a degree from the past that it creates an unhealthy disconnect. If our patterns of thought and behavior change too rapidly, then we do not sufficiently nourish or preserve the feedback loops (the human ecosystem) that we have developed over millennia that we need to survive.
Note that the interconnectedness of the welfare of all members of the society follows from all members being of the same species and participating in the same economy. If some subgroup starts to use genetic enhancements or other physical modifications, that could reduce the interconnectedness and result in a divergence of needs, not convergence, over the long term. Also note that as more and more of the labor is done by Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, an elite subgroup may come to completely rely on machines for all labor and become less connected with the common people even without genetic enhancements or physical change.
If separate classes of people are created either through genetic or other physical change or through economic changes that remove interdependence and interconnectedness, a divergence between the classes in terms of needs, expectations, desires, values, goals, and outcomes would be created, inevitably resulting in competition and ultimately conflict and likely even annihilation of the weaker class. And after the extermination of the weaker class, a new divergence would likely emerge as this dynamic repeats itself in cycles, with a probability of some cataclysmic event presenting a significant probability of human extinction in each cycle, until it become a near certainty that the human race would go extinct.