Opinion Column

Conservatism’s core is revealing itself

By Garth Mullins, The Duel

The French National Assembly is illuminated with the colors of the French national flag in tribute to the victims of the November 13 Paris terror attacks in Paris on Nov. 18, 2015. (Stephane de Sakutin/Getty Images)

The French National Assembly is illuminated with the colors of the French national flag in tribute to the victims of the November 13 Paris terror attacks in Paris on Nov. 18, 2015. (Stephane de Sakutin/Getty Images)

Question: Is conservatism reactionary?

Many on the right believe that Marxists are taking over, jail awaits those who misuse gender pronouns, Sharia law is coming and white genocide is close behind.

Hounded by this imaginary future, they yearn for a mythical past where people bowed to the authority of family, country, church, state, boss, leader and father. White men were in charge and everybody else knew their place. But for the majority, those good old days were mostly bad.

Today’s uber-conservatism was born as reaction against multiculturalism, same-sex marriage, immigration, abortion, public health care and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Sound exaggerated? Just check out last spring’s federal Tory leadership debates. Or any American news. Or Twitter. Conservatism’s white-hot, reactionary core is more and more revealing itself.

Read Brent Stafford's column here.

A “reactionary” is someone who wants things the way they used to be. It comes from the French Revolution, describing an aristocratic longing to return to a time when the monarchy and the church ran France -- before the revolution and its liberté, égalité and fraternité.

The term “conservative” also comes from this time. Nobles sought to “conserve” the ancien régime – the old order. They wanted to Make France Great Again.

Aristocrats sat on the right side of the French National Assembly and the commoners sat on the left. That’s where the political labels “right wing” and “left wing” come from. Though buried under layers of obfuscation and history, contemporary politics is still defined by left versus right -- the people versus the powerful.

Upheavals like The French Revolution were sweeping the West, overthrowing feudalism and enabling capitalism’s rise. Nobles and serfs gave way to bosses and workers. An improvement, but surely not the end of history.

Yet Brent dislikes the French Revolution, despite championing the free enterprise system it helped birth.

But in some ways, Brent is right. Conservatives have been so successful at cutting social programs, freeing corporations from regulation and breaking the power of unions that the left has been forced into retreat. We defend the tattered remains of what was won by past generations. For almost three decades of conservative ascendance, the left has been forced to react.

Globally, conservative ideas and the free market dominate. Why then does the right seek a safe space from antiquated political jargon? Perhaps because it reveals a truth. Just as Brent says, conservatives oppose progress towards an egalitarian society. They dream of a time where most of us wouldn’t have rights.