The defining difference between conservatives and progressives or right wing and left wing is in their attitude towards hierarchy, and is revealed through their attitude towards capitalism.
Most of us live in capitalist democracies. We know nothing else, or at least have experienced nothing else. It's therefore all too easy to think that there's no tension between them. In our minds the terms "free and open democracy" and "free and open markets" meld together to form an indivisible corpus that shapes our daily reality. And in that daily reality the two don't infringe on each other; casting a vote doesn't diminish capitalism, and buying a car doesn't diminish democracy. So we've found the perfect system in which anyone can become rich and everyone has equal political power; one person, one vote.
Ah, if only that were true... We all suffer from capitalist realism, the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it. And therein lies a big problem, for capitalism is the roadblock between us and the freedom we all yearn for. Let me explain.
Freedom is, in essence, the absence of power hierarchies. This is straightforward and easy to understand in my opinion; every time some person or some institution wields power over people, those people lose freedom. Freedom, therefore, is served by equality, and the mechanism we've devised to reach that equality is democracy complimented by some basic rules to protect the minority, or minorities, from majority rule; that's the constitution in which certain rights for everyone are enshrined. So, if you believe in democracy, it follows that you believe in equality. And if you believe in equality, it follows that you believe that everyone has equal access to the basic necessities that enable us to to fully participate in our wonderful democratic society. Equal access to education, equal access to healthcare, housing and so on.
Why then are our conservative friends opposed to every measure that promotes equal access, promotes freedom for the masses? Well, it's because they prioritize hierarchy over freedom, consciously or subconsciously. In discussions with them, they react with amazement or confusion whenever leftists claim that there should be enough good paying jobs for everyone, that everyone should have a place to stay, that healthcare should be universal and that education must be affordable, or free even, for everyone. In their minds access to all of these rights are earned, not a given. Especially not with their hard earned tax dollars. "All citizens are equal" is an affront to their world-view. "We can't all be equal, and you or your lefty government can't make it so!" Freedom isn't an "inalienable right" in the mind of someone who believes that everything must be earned.
And that's where capitalism hinders democracy and kills freedom. We live in a system where anyone can "make it," but not everyone. For conservatives that's not a problem, they see this as the natural state of society. That's why conservatives make so much noise when Biden forgives some student-loan debts. Or when LGBTQ+ people are granted certain rights and protections. Or when women are given the right to abortion. All this messes up the natural hierarchy that's ingrained in their minds. The problem for the left is to convince them that there is no natural hierarchy, that we're not lobsters. There's only a choice; do you choose equality and therefore freedom, or do you choose hierarchy and therefore against democracy? Capitalism is a socioeconomic and political structure that creates power hierarchies, and is therefore anti-egalitarian and anti-freedom.
Conservatives will always choose the hierarchy, unless choosing against it will bring some political gain. And they'll make that choice even if they aren't benefiting from that choice. They've convinced themselves that $15 an hour is too much for someone who waits tables, and that several millions an hour is perfectly normal for someone who built a business like, for example, Microsoft, Tesla, Amazon or Meta (formerly Facebook). You see, the latter have earned that right. They have to believe that. So when a leftist proposes to raise taxes, conservatives will scream and shout. "That's theft!" Even if it's not their own taxes that will be raised but that of the insanely rich, the ones making several thousands or millions an hour. They're protective of the insanely rich on account of their strict, and ultimately irrational, adherence to the hierarchies that shape their world-view. It's not done, in their minds, to take from the top to redistribute to the bottom because it will mess with the meritocratic hierarchy that has become their religion.
Whenever a group that's traditionally found at the bottom of that hierarchy moves up, conservatives will oppose it. Women, homosexuals, African Americans, immigrants, have they forgotten what their place is? In the kitchen, in the closet, in the ghetto and abroad is where they belong! Sure this is putting it harshly and sharply, and yes, some individual conservatives may very well rightly claim this doesn't apply to them individually, but as a movement this is historically correct. Also, it's this strict and unquestioning adherence to an unnatural hierarchy that makes conservative movements so vulnerable to becoming fascist movements. This also is historically correct and is playing out before our eyes in several capitalist democracies; Italy, for example, just elected an openly fascist prime minister, and the Christian Nationalist MAGA movement in America isn't far off.
I've often said it before: the difference between left and right is the difference between adherence to egalitarianism and democracy, and adherence to hierarchy and authoritarianism. The political right serves those at the top of the social hierarchy and the problem is that there is no true political left in the sense that they upset the capitalist hierarchy. Sure, they'll do a much better job at protecting and providing for minorities and the protected classes, which is why they'll always be the lesser of two evils. But both left and right have succumbed to capitalist realism, they both serve the top of the capitalist hierarchy. And I'm talking about the political parties in America and most of the western democracies here; true leftists know that there can be no true political democracy without economical democracy, we know that "voting with your dollars" just means that the rich have more votes, and that "one person, one vote" is long dead.
Ultimately, capitalism and democracy can not coexist in a meaningful or lasting way. And the refusal to understand this leads to the situation we're in right now. The individuals at the top of the economical hierarchy will always, as even Adam Smith observed, use their wealth, power and influence to buy the political system. This leaves us with a democracy that's utterly meaningless and politicians who serve the wealthy alone. Biden announced his student debt forgiveness already while he was running for president, and conservatives who criticize him for waiting until right before the mid-term elections to actually deliver on that promise are right when they say that this timing is pure political opportunism; when it comes to the economical hierarchy, both parties serve the same masters. But when DeSantis expected liberals to panic when he sent immigrants to Martha's Vineyard, he was wrong and his scheme backfired because liberals are true to their egalitarian view on social hierarchies. You can recognize true leftists by their attitude towards both hierarchies.
How Capitalism DESTROYS Democracy - A Simple Explanation
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