Saturday, October 3, 2009


A couple weeks ago, I was asked what a socialist society would look like, and that got me thinking. What would a conservative society look like?

History has given us a plethora of examples of different types of societies. If you want to see communism and its rigid outlawing of private property, look to Russia 1920s, Vietnam 1980s or China’s Great Leap Forward. Pay special attention to the vast armies, secret police, slave labor camps and mass murders.

If you want to see the impoverished, stagnant societies that are created by hard core socialism, look no further than Cuba today or East Germany 1988. Just don’t try to buy bread, use the decaying infrastructure, or speak out against the secret police.

If you want to see social democracy in action, just look at bankrupt England circa 1970s, with its militant labor strife, high unemployment, deflating currency, nationalized industries, decaying infrastructure and a sad, defeated people. Of course, you could look to modern England, Japan or Sweden for the softer version, where nationalization is foresworn (except in critical industries like health care) in favor of heavy, heavy regulation and the acceptance of high unemployment and a burgeoning underclass. Slow but sure collapse is still collapse, but at least you have longer to kid yourself that it ain’t coming.

We’ve seen cleptocracies (Russia, Kenya), theocracies (Iran, Afghanistan), cultocracies (North Korea), and failed states (Somalia).

If you want to see modern liberalism implemented look to modern England, where criminals are treated as victims, minorities are guaranteed equal results, regional hatreds are stoked, religion has been neutered (except for militant Islam), taxes are heavy but spending is heavier, competition nearly forbidden, and a privileged few make sure that no one in the middle class can excel very far beyond the burgeoning underclass of binge drinking, drug addicted, knife wielding thieves. Oh baby sign me up!

But where in the world has conservatism every been tried? Indeed, what time period could we point to as our conservatopia?

Many people cite the 1950s, but that really doesn’t work. The 1950s was a time of heavy taxation, increased regulation, large scale social engineering by the government, and a destruction of individual rights to fight the red menace.

We could argue for the second term of Ronald Reagan. He gave us a strong defense, strong foreign policy, lower taxes, and decreased regulation. Yet, he made only a dent in decades of socialist creep, and despite his best efforts to adjust the Supreme Court, it remained firmly liberal in all of its rulings.

Perhaps the time that was most like our conservatopia occurred between the Republican revolution of 1994 and the election of George W. Bush. That was a time marked by lowered taxes, lowered regulation, fiscal responsibility, increased government accountability, expanded free trade, a reduction in the welfare roles, and a series of reforms to privatize or eliminate government functions. But it was also a time of lowered morality and weak foreign policy.

So what about this. . . the American West of the 1880s. The American West seems to be the one time period when each of the competing conservative groups co-existed. You had libertarians, mixing with capitalists, mixing with religious settlers, all co-existing in a time period of limited government interference with people's lives. The one thing missing was rule of law, but you had a sort of "social sanction" working as a substitute. Not to mention that rule of law was slowly being established by the law and order crowd.

Moreover, unlike the periods mentioned above, this group was free to live according to their own beliefs without having to combat an entrenched modern liberalism. There was no IRS, there were no limits on freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion. Thus, the religious settlers were not told they had to avoid the public square. The capitalists were not regulated and controlled and told who to hire. The libertarians were not told that the state could crawl up their backsides with a flashlight in the name of public safety.

Perhaps that is the period we should point to when people ask, what would a conservative society look like? Perhaps that was our conservatopia? Maybe that’s why westerns remain so fixed in our imaginations today?

What do you think?


ScottDS said...

As the person who asked the original question, thank-you for this article!

Your mention of the late 90s is interesting (I can't believe we're "reflecting" on that time now!) and re: lowered morality, it would be interesting to judge that period if the whole Lewinsky scandal had never happened. It may not make a difference at all but it's the first thing I thought of.

Surely there must be a "best of both worlds" happy medium. The Old West but with today's advancements in technology and healthcare.

Writer X said...

There are still small towns throughout Arizona where you'd think the "Old West" still exists. They remain very insulated--and they prefer it that way. I think the wide open spaces had/has a lot to do with the conservative lifestyle, too. The one nice thing about the American West in the 1880's was that there were no victims--life was more grueling and there was no time to be a victim.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, You're welcome, and thanks for the question.

I'm not saying that a conservatopia would look exactly like the old west. I'm saying that seems to have been the one time that conservative values predominated and that each of the conservative groups (whose values often clash) got to live the way they wished/envisioned. If you want to see a conservatopia in action today, you would need to bring the social structure forward to today and see how that plays out.

In terms of the morality slide in the 1990s, it wasn't just Lewinski. You had Hollywood going out of its way to start promoting anti-values programing (remember the fight over Murphy Brown's portrayal of single motherhood a few years earlier), you had the birth of gansta rap, you had "I smoked but I didn't inhale", you had a lot of extremism on college campuses spilling over into the public sphere ("all sex is rape"), and the birth of political correctness. You also had a black lobby that had a lot of power until the Republicans came along that wanted reparations and a dramatic expansion of affirmative actions, and even talked about getting more votes than whites as part of reparations.

I think a lot of people have wondered about Lewinski. If the Republicans had let that one alone, would it have changed anything? I think that took the shine off the Republican Revolution because it made them appear intollerant or overly-zealous, but it didn't cost them either chamber of the Congress -- their out of control spending and corruption did that.

AndrewPrice said...

Writer X, I think you're right about there being no victims, because there wasn't a victim industry that would support you. Every penny you got from someone else came from somebody you knew, so it made it very difficult to be a victim.

I think the reason the West was a conservatopia had more to do with "adverse selection" or "self-selection". Going to an untamed area with limited government interference and a chance to build your own future appeals to conservatives. Liberals are much more comfortable staying near authority. Thus, conservatives moved West and liberals stayed in the big cities in the East.

I think it's the same reason that we as a country are so much more conservative than Europe -- all their conservatives came here to follow the American dream and to escape the nanny state. The liberals stayed home to be taken care of by their leaders.

ScottDS said...

I know it wasn't just Lewinsky. While I wasn't cognizant of the Murphy Brown issue at the time (though I certainly don't think it was the end of the world), from a cursory glance at Wikipedia, I think both sides made a mountain of that proverbial molehill. (Of course, the idea of a controversy erupting over a character who's a single mother seems totally quaint today!)

As for gangster rap, yeah, you'd have to put a gun to my head to get me to listen to 99.9% of it.

My dad (a former Republican turned Democrat) and I both agreed that, if the Dems ever agree to reparations, we'd both sign up as Republicans in an instant. :-) (I really don't think it's ever gonna happen, though.)

Interesting comments re: "self-selection."

LL said...

I suspect I was born 150 years too early - or 150 years too late.

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: Although the formal institutions were very weak, I'm not sure that there wasn't more good law being enforced in the Old West than there is now in the New West. Detroit today vs. Dodge City back then. Which is more dangerous? But in Dodge City you had least had some freedom.

StanH said...

I’m there! I live in a district in Georgia that votes between 87 to 93% Republican, eureka. Now if we could get rid of Washington, hmmm… I agree with WriterX you get outside of the cities and people are more self-reliant, therefore conservative, even the Democrats. That may be overly simplistic, but an observation of mine non the less.

FB Hink said...

I always like defer to Thomas Jefferson. Two quotes stand out:

“When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become as corrupt as Europe.”

"Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bands."

Jefferson believed that America had to retain its spirit of rugged self-determination to retain its liberties. The old west represents, maybe the last gasp of the dying self-sufficiency as it gave way to the progressive era propagated by big city elitists. Unfortunately, the big city elitists believe that Jefferson was a crack pot or perhaps we might be able to persuade them to our way of thinking.

MegaTroll said...

Interesting post! I never thought about it, but if people had asked me what conservative government looked like, I would have said the 1950s or 1980s. But you're right, those weren't really conservative periods as much as they were roll back periods?

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Murphy Brown was just on symbol of a larger battle. At the same time, feminists were out there denigrating stay-at-home moms, and even many on the left were starting to worry about single motherhood (which remains the single biggest indicator of poverty).

AndrewPrice said...

LL, 150 years too early? I'd love to be around in 150 years and see how things turn out!

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I suspect that the idea that the Old West was an unusually violent time is probably statistically not correct. In fact, I'd bet it was probably a safer time than today. Violence today is much more pervasive, impersonal, and easy.

Stan, I agree with you about being outside cities, but you can't count that as a conservatopia because you are still subject to all liberalism rained down upon us by the Feds.

AndrewPrice said...

FB Hink, The Democrats love to claim Jefferson as their own, but I think he would be shocked and horrified at what his party has become and they would be shocked and horrified at the things he said and believed.

Mega, It is kind of depressing when you think about it. I'd be happy to hear if anyone else can think of a more representative period?

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, P.S. Thanks on the self-selection. That probably merits a whole separate post, but I think it explains a great many things -- like why Hollywood is full of liberals, why Europe is further left than we are, as are the coasts, and why Eastern Europe is further right than Western Europe, etc.

I also think it means that allowing political refugees is a mistake because that lets the regime chase away the very people who are needed to bring down a corrupt government.


I'm afraid the best we can hope for is a micro nation. We should buy a small island and start one. We could all wear cowboy hats.

CrisD said...

This post is just another example of how this blog is an oasis for me.

~Genius theory ( and well defended) about "the American West." Would make a great book.

We lived in Colorado for 6 years and traveled around quite a bit. I urge everyone to explore the west! The landscape is stunning and is what inspired me to pick up my paint brush again.

AndrewPrice said...

CrisD, Thanks, I'm glad you approve! :-) I only wish that I could come up with more examples.

Trestin, I fear that you could be right. Still, a large majority of the public does believe in conservative values (so say all the polls), so I have hope that one day we could get the entire country (except for maybe a couple states) much closer to becoming a conservatopia.

Individualist said...


This is really interesting because the one element which worked to end the Old West could be considered the railroads.

The railroads brought the east to the wast but they also brought Pinkertons and Government Monopolies and Corruption.

This is an intriguing thing to think about.

AndrewPrice said...

Individualist, That is an interesting thought. I wonder what that tells us?

That also may explain why we rarely see the trains, the Pinkertons, the bankers and the Easterners as the good guys in Westerns.

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