Is There A Contradiction In Conservatism?

For my purposes, conservatism is the view that favors “free markets” and social restraint. In this short essay, I’d like to suggest these are in contradiction to one another.

Free market capitalism is what many people who call themselves conservative espouse. Inherent in this idea—and sometimes even explicitly made—is the idea that the market is rational; that human beings are rational agents and that this comes to bear in their economic choices.

Setting aside the empirical evidence that suggests we are not rational agents, the next position often made in conservatism is a social one: one of social control. These two things, I suggest, are in contradiction.

Why would one need social control and not economic control if we are rational agents? Is marriage equality not rational? Isn’t the right for transgender people to participate in the military a rational decision?

What appears to be happening, then, with conservatism is a split in how they view human beings. Are we rational agents or are we not? Why would some of our actions need to be reined in while others do not?

The core of most political theory is an idea of the human being. But it seems that the idea of the human being is itself contradictory in conservatism. On the conservative view, we are both rational agents (for the purposes of economics) and not rational agents (for other social purposes).

The deep flaw in conservative ideology is fraught with problems.

A nuanced view of political theory would take on empirical work in psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, and more, in order to understand the human being and social groups and how they actually work. We can’t be both A and ~A. That is, by the most basic of Artistotlean logic, we can’t be both rational and non-rational agents.


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