From American Extremists.
Since liberals and conservatives monopolize the political debate, they concentrate on their differences in order to maintain group cohesion, distinctiveness and relevance. However, it has been often noted that there’s not that much difference between them, or at least that the differences are minor compared to the similarities.
In what ways are liberals and conservatives similar?
- The most obvious similarity is that they both believe in hierarchies as an organizing principle of society.
This is not to say that they believe in hierarchies in the same way. They support different hierarchies and withdraw support from different hierarchies: for example, conservatives support religious power but doubt union power, while liberals do the opposite. They also support and withdraw support from different parts of government (e.g. the military-industrial complex versus the welfare state).
In general, liberals and conservatives believe in hierarchies: they merely disagree on who should be in charge (people who think like they do, of course). They agree that there are superiors and inferiors, and that the inferiors should obey the superiors’ power; they merely agree that there is such a thing as “excessive” power (like “unhealthy competition”) and an excessive amount of differentiation between inferiors and superiors (e.g. liberals want “the poor” to be supported financially, but they support the continued existence of poverty).
Another, less obvious, consequence of this fact is that they support all hierarchies, including government, the patriarchy and capitalism, even though they may profess to disagree with them. Conservatives shout loudly that government is not a good organizing principle of society, but their own worldview depends on government to implement neo-liberalist policies at home and abroad. Liberals claim to be against “unbridled capitalism” and corporations but support the capitalist system. They also claim to support women but support gender roles and systems that exploit women. Since the power elite is almost exclusively composed of men, liberals or conservatives can only be feminists despite their liberalism or conservatism.
- They both believe in boundless economic growth and neo-liberalism. Not only do they believe in it, but they see no possible alternative. The bizarre belief that economic growth is always good monopolizes discourse about economic news because both liberals and conservatives have complete unwavering faith in it.
And this means that they cannot criticize neo-liberalism, even though neo-liberalism is responsible for decimating entire economies, compromising the lives of hundreds of millions of people, and the mass kidnapping/murder of critics in many countries (for more on this, see The Shock Doctrine). Liberals oppose neo-liberalist policies at home (while having no clear alternatives), but they don’t mind inflicting them on innocent people elsewhere.
- They both believe in equality of opportunities.
- They both believe that radicalism is a crime, is evil in nature, and is inevitably violent. We see this in their support of the neo-liberalist murderous suppression of criticism; in their rationale for war, where the pro-democracy agenda justifies the deaths of innocent people and opponents alike; and in the way liberal and conservative governments violently deal with, and talk about, opponents of democracy and capitalism in their own country.
- They both believe that children are not full human beings.
- They both define freedom as the absence of coercion. As I argue in “Free will as an ideological weapon…”, the dichotomy between coercion and conditioning is illusory and leads to the acceptance of tyranny as long as it’s not openly violent. This probably explains how Americans can describe their country as “the free world,” while living in a society which has the greatest inequality and penal population in the first world, as well as one of the most conformist and anti-individualist. To call this delusional would be generous.
- They both believe in the “middle class.” Sustaining the “middle class” serves the (implicit or explicit) role of suppressing discontent or rebellion against the government by creating an entire segment of society that buys into the economic and social games and has a lot to lose.
Positive and negative self-interest are clearly powerful factors in fostering consent. Nonetheless, at any given time, it is likely that there will be a number of people who are seriously disaffected with the current structure- most obviously the bottom 20 percent who have almost nothing to lose by change. Given that the middle 60 percent are receiving less than their equal share, it is likely that their consent will be unstable as well, at least insofar as it arises from rational or calculated self-interest alone.
The Culture of Conformism, p58
The last part is key, especially since this is a whole book that seeks to explain why people conform. We do not act our of calculated self-interest alone, and there are a host of reasons that explain why we do not rebel. One of them is the absence of class consciousness, as George Carlin succinctly expresses:
That’s the way the ruling class operates in any society. They try to divide the rest of the people. They keep the lower and the middle classes fighting with each other so that they, the rich, can run off with all the fucking money!… Anything different–that’s what they’re gonna talk about–race, religion, ethnic and national background, jobs, income, education, social status, sexuality, anything they can do to keep us fighting with each other, so that they can keep going to the bank! You know how I define the economic and social classes in this country? The upper class keeps all of the money, pays none of the taxes. The middle class pays all of the taxes, does all of the work. The poor are there just to scare the shit out of the middle class. Keep ‘em showing up at those jobs.
A great deal more could be said about this, but I think you get the idea.
- They both believe that human life is basically worthless. Their policy discussions, whether it is on welfare, war, “reproductive rights” or the economy, treats individuals as means to an end, instead of beings with rights and dignity.
Any issue will do as an example, so let’s take immigration. Conservatives believe that “immigrants” “steal jobs” from documented citizens and that “immigrants” weaken the national culture, while liberals believe that most “immigrants” are hard workers who deserve to join “the economy.” In all cases, we are treated with rhetoric which, in addition to being racist, treats “immigrants” as means to an end. The values, desires or needs of “immigrants” are irrelevant.
We can also use the war on drugs as another example (using drugs as disturbing the social order v making drugs legal and taxing them to get more money). In fact, you can do this for every issue that concerns liberals and conservatives.
These are, I think, the fundamental similarities between liberals and conservatives (in general, not only in the United States). Post in the comments if you think I missed something.