Strange Bedfellows : Fiscal and Social Conservatives

Posted on March 1, 2009

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Since at least the Eighties there has been a paradoxical political allegiance between two groups of persons in the United States and Canada. I refer to the strange political allegiance between fiscal and social conservatives. The reason that the union between these two kinds of persons is paradoxical is because their political goals are diametrically opposed both in theory and in practice. Let me explain.

First, a fiscal conservative is a person who advocates limited government intervention into the exchange of goods and services between its citizens and those of other nations. A fiscal conservative also thinks government tax-funded expenditures should be minimized and focussed primarily on national defense and the operation of the justice system.

In contrast, a social conservative is a person who believes there are social roles, practices, and beliefs which all persons should adopt and that the roles, practices, and beliefs should remain more or less unchanged over time. Often, especially amongst North Americans, social conservatives will justify their claims with reference to a set of religious beliefs but this need not be the case. An atheist may, for example, think there is natural social ordering based on class, whereas a theist may demand social change based on the tenets of his or her faith.

The reason that the union between these two kinds of persons is paradoxical is because their political goals are diametrically opposed both in theory and in practice. There is no greater force for change in social roles, beliefs, and practice than allowing people to exchange goods and services as they see fit. Furthermore, as a matter of historical fact, the intervention of governments (or quasi-governmental institutions) into the exchange of goods and services between persons has been the most common means by which certain groups have tried to establish and perpetuate a certain set of social roles, beliefs, and practices.

Really, the only thing these two kinds of people have in common is the term “conservative” and the view that they share the same political enemy.

 

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