Conservatism is not Capitalism

Conservation is the tendency to preserve what is established.

Capitalism is that societal structure whose mechanism is capable of protecting all forms of private property completely.

The current confusion between conservatism and capitalism is not only nearly universal, but it is also a great danger to the development of a free capitalist civilization. So great is the confusion that most political conservatives sincerely think they believe in capitalism and most people who think they believe in capitalism are vigorously pursuing conservative political objectives, usually to the exclusion of other goals for which they find they have “no time.” This short article is intended to show that capitalisma and conservatism are two different things. It is true that there is an overlap but this is minor contrasted with the basically different objectives and means employed by the two philosophies.

From the definition of conservatism, it is evident that conservatism is a relative concept because what is established is dependent upon time, place, and circumstance. To be a conservative in mid-20th century America is not the same as to be a conservative in mid-20th century Russia or to be a conservative in late-18th century America. The first wishes to preserve the Republic as established in the 18th- century. The second wishes to preserve Marxism-Leninism. The third wished to preserve monarchy (decidedly, a different goal from the present American conservative’s goal to preserve the very Republic that once displaced monarchy). The reason it is easy to see why there is a confusion between present conservatism in America and capitalism is that the original Republic approximated a capitalist society better than any other society in history, and those who are satisfied that this is all there is to do to establish capitalism believe that “restoring the Republic” will do it. It is important to note, however, that only in the United States is it possible to associate even on such a superficial level conservatism with capitalism. Nowhere else is there anything worth preserving in terms of a capitalist heritage.

From the definition of capitalism (originally developed by the author in his Course F-100: Capitalism The Liberal Revolution, and first published by the author in “Thrust for Freedom No. 4” through this publishing company), it is evident that capitalism is an absolute concept. It does not depend upon time, place, and circumstance. It is the societal structure that produces freedom by ensuring that each individual is fully (100%) in control of his own property (property being individual man’s life and all non-procreative derivatives of his life). Either each individual controls his own life and all of its derivatives or he does not. If he does, capitalism is the societal structure that prevails by definition. There are no possibilities of this being compromised or misunderstood.

Thus, capitalism,an absolute, requires new ideas to bring it into existence. How do we know this? Because it doesn’t exist at this time anywhere on this planet. Furthermore, it has never existed to this date anywhere on this planet. Before you jump to the false conclusion that it is impossible, consider that the reason for this is not that it would violate any law of nature (the condition for impossibility), but that the social technology to establish it has not been known in the past. Thus, capitalism requires the constant search for new ideas, new theories, and new applications. It is, therefore, a progressive and liberal development because it requires forward-thinking and increased individual freedom (liberation from property interferences and controls). Capitalism’s only tie with the past is the American Revolution and its ideological antecedents.

It is in this domain that the tenuous connection with conservatism is sought. But remember that conservatism is preervative of the American Republic only in the United States. And also remember that the mechanism of restoration sought is the same one whereby we lost the original Republic of limited interference with the individual. We lost it through political action based upon majority rule whereby a small minority of politicians accumulated power by pretending “to promote the general welfare” by offering the people en masse gratuities and doles. Most people (not understanding the laws of nature) fervently seek the utopian and unattainable goal of “something for nothing.” So they favor those politicians who offer the most with the reward of being voted into the seats of state authority. Later, the politicians, in attempting to deliver on their promises, have to seize more and more of the property of the people thereby negating individual freedom. The people wishing something for nothing end up with nothing for something (something seized).

Those who abhor this trend have attempted to reverse it by “restoring the Republic.” Their goal is a commendable and worthy one. However, the means employed are not compatible with the end sought. Therefore, it cannot succeed. The error in the conservative approach is that innovation is not natural to it. This is because conservatism has its roots in the past only. The past did not produce freedom for a good reason: it was beyond the social technology of our predecessors. The conservative approach, in the end, always resorts to political action. This is because the conservative is not seeking new methods, and political action (rule of all by a few) is all that is known to him. The conservative believes that if more enlightened men are appointed or elected to high office and if the present restrictive laws are repealed then we will achieve freedom. What is wrong with this argument is that the trouble is not with men, but with a system that can do nothing but coerce. Regardless of who holds the reins of power, the individual is still at the mercy of the state authority. It is not true that good men will reform the state. It is true that the state will corrupt the best of men. No one, and this includes the most sincere and well-meaning conservative politicians, is immune to Acton’s disease. Acton first defined the symptoms of the world’s foremost political disease:

Power corrupts and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.

Conservatism is easily held to political ridicule by its opponents. Because of their anchorage in the past, conservatives are usually accused of “facing backwards,” of being opposed to the mainstream of America, of marching into the Dark Ages, of feudalism of retrogression. The capitalist, being the only true liberal and true progressive of history, is not burdened with this image. Conservatives tend to harm their own cause by calling collectivists and socialists by names such as liberal, radical, progressive. They usually are content with talking about the “good old days” and the “wisdom of the past ages.” But to most people the old days were days without TV, without washing machines and automobiles, days of hard manual toil for low wages and personal low standard of living. They don’t want to return to these things.

By contrast, a true capitalist does not seek to emulate the past. He is content to learn from it. Capitalism does have a conservative component but no more than a component. The capitalist studies the past to find out what errors were made and what progress was accomplished. Then he strives to avoid making the same errors and to learn from the progress what it takes to continue it and improve it. The capitalist does not look to the past, but to the future. He wishes to preserve only as much of the past as was creative, and then he endeavors to build a progressively better and durable world.

The conservative, by resorting to political means, actually attempts to convert the majority to his cause. He can do this only by trying to compromise the very principles he holds dear. The conservative, by political means, gradually becomes indistinguishable from his collectivist opponent. He seeks the same state authority that the collectivist does. He does this in the vain hope that he can run the apparatus of coercion more justly and more efficiently. But an apparatus of coercion can do nothing but coerce. And the conservative in this predicament becomes gradually increasingly coercive. This leads to charges of fascism and nazism. Actually, this is resident not in the conservative goals, but in the usage of collectivist means to eliminate collectivist ends. Thus, the conservative in politics (the only approach he knows) finds himself embedded in a self-defeating mechanism. If he loses his political prize, he becomes frustrated and the next time tries more frantically and more hysterically to convert the majority to his side. To do this, he must compromise still more of his original principles. If on the other hand, he wins his political prize (a rare event, but it does happen occasionally), then he tries to convert the coercive apparatus of the state to his own set of rules and thereby causes the same political errors in the long run that his opponents were making.

The conservative has a party line as rigid and as disciplinarian as any other political dogmatist. He tolerates no individualism in his political goals. The conservative will challenge his opponents, but once in power, he disfavors challenge to his authority with the same vigor as any other political overlord.

Moreover, conservatives worship tradition. Capitalists, on the other hand, honor the knowledge of the past, but believe themselves capable of improving upon it and do not succumb to self-derogation by assuming they can do nothing but repeat the processes of the past. The conservatives who concern themselves most with the rituals of the past traditions and their codification into a party line become the major conservative politicians. The capitalists who concern themselves most with improvements and progress become the major innovators and entrepreneurs. Conservatism is concerned with codifying past controls of property, the improvement of property, the protection of property, and the moral utilization of property.

The final point to be emphasized is that capitalism is not a political concept and that the purpose of capitalism is to construct a society wherein man is free by controlling all of his own property all of the time. Because property does not have a political origin (but oftentimes it has a political destruction), capitalism does not concern itself with improving the state or any of the political apparatuses employed either to run the state or to exchange the administration of the state. Politics, at best, is a game which never ends. First, the “ins” and “outs” play until the “outs” get “in.” Then they switch sides and play it again. And so on, until man loses all his property and ends up enslaved. Capitalism is the vehicle of progress and the builder of civilization through property sanctity. Freedom is its attainable goal. Freedom is not a game. Freedom is a man’s loftiest goal and the prerequisite for all his other permanent goals.

And when it is finally achieved, freedom is forever!