It is a truism that we live in an age of accelerating change. Never has progress been as rapid, global or profound as it is today. If things are changing faster and faster, what accounts for the paradox of repeated conservative election victories in North America and elsewhere? How does one explain the apparent surge of conservative movements and the proliferation and success of conservative radio and television talk shows? Is there, as often suggested, a conservative trend or revolution and will it yield more victories in upcoming elections?
The fact is that there has not been a conservative trend in the United States or anywhere on the planet in years.
Webster’s defines conservatism as “a political philosophy based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions and preferring gradual development to abrupt change.”
It is absurd to talk of conservative trends or a conservative revolution at a time when traditions are daily discarded, when established institutions are everywhere crumbling and when gradual development has given way to rapid-fire change. There is nothing conservative about our age.
We live in revolutionary times and therefore everyone (and every society), willingly or unwillingly, is continually propelled forward. Today’s conservatives flaunt ideas and technologies dismissed as futuristic hardly five years ago.
Even the Christian right, bastion of conservative orthodoxy, is continually lurching forward. Several years ago, the Rev. John C. Bennett, president of the Union Theological Seminary of New York, highlighted “17 inhumane moral stances formerly espoused by Catholic and Protestant church leadership, now largely abandoned: white supremacy, male superiority, inherent sinfulness of sex, support for capital punishment.” Today, the influx of activist women and lay people is liberalizing the religious right even more profoundly.
Conservatives may win at the polls, but the underpinnings of 20th century conservative values and establishments continue to disassemble: the nuclear family, patriarchy, puritanism, militarism, the hard-work ethic, patriotism. Conservatives themselves often are unwittingly involved in helping phase out the old order. For example, conservatives emphasize the need to preserve “traditional values,” yet many are avid users of computers and the Internet, which, along with other smart machines, are accelerating the pace of change and reconfiguring traditional ways of doing things.
How illogical to talk of a conservative revolution in our times of profound evolutionary transformations. Are our current efforts to establish permanent colonies in space conservative? What about high-tech reproduction, ultrasmart machines and the longevity revolution? These and other perturbations are turning reality upside down, challenging everything: our age-old mating habits, the value of human labor, even the long-held premise of a limit to human life span.
In postindustrial societies, election results no longer indicate a nation’s ideological direction. Conservatives may win elections, but the world is no longer conservative. The erosion of traditions continues unabated, even during conservative administrations. For example, “consensus management,” “shareholder power” and the “voter revolt” all began to coalesce during the 1980s. In our increasingly decentralized environments, governments can no longer derail initiatives taken by a newly empowered populace or by new global forces.
The fact that everything is evolving rapidly is reason for hope. It proves the adaptability and dynamism of our species. The only “trend” today is fast-forward.
Published by the Los Angeles Time on December 18, 1995