Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Conservatives for Change

In the US, knowing how someone votes suggests something about their views on economics.

- Vote Republican: broadly support less government intervention in the market

- Vote Democrat: broadly support more government intervention in the market

This isn't true for Ireland because the two biggest parties have not traditionally been divided by a left/right wing economic affiliation. Over the course of its history the biggest party, Fianna Fáil, has swung from protectionism, even isolationism as they tried to make Ireland self-sufficient, to free(ish) trade and tax cuts to attract foreign investment. Fianna Fáil are a pragmatic populist party, rather than one tied closely to political or economic principles.

So in Ireland the word "conservative" is not tied closely to economic policy. The two main parties explored various policies that seemed useful or popular at the time.

The real struggle for conservatives in Ireland was over religious and social issues. In the early decades after independence there was widespread censorship of cinema and literature, influenced by strict interpretations of Catholicism. Contraceptives could be bought without prescription only after 1985. Homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993. Divorce was legalised in 1995. Abortion - never. This movement to social liberalism was bitterly contested by the religious conservatives.

So an Irish conservative was likely to desire a return to the old Catholic illiberal approach to sexuality. That same person could be economically anywhere, left or right.

Consistent conservatism
Apart from being socially conservative, early independent Ireland also followed protectionist economic policies, so a consistent Irish conservative would want things to go backward to isolationism, censorship, protectionism, nationalism and Catholic domination. Back to a safe, sealed-off monocultural world with a stagnant economy that would deter any immigrants. They would be happy there, because there would be little reason for change.

American right-wing conservatives are in an odd situation, however, because they want to reverse social changes but they like free trade, capitalism, which facilitates social change at an astonishing rate. How different life would be without cars, internet, aeroplanes, mobile phones - the technological products of broadly free market countries. (Improvements in modern medicine may even have caused the sexual revolution in the US and Western Europe.)

These economic policies are also the reason immigrants pour into the country, sometimes abandoning Communist countries like Cuba or Vietnam, and bringing all their alien culture with them.

Right-wing conservatives seem doomed to never achieve their goal. Their dream of economic liberty will always result in the rapid social change they want to avoid.


  1. Same in Turkey. "Conservatism" and "Liberalism" has never been about economics there. In Turkey, the former means a traditionalist, religious person and the latter means a progressive, modernist person. The Cold War student conflicts here was always projected as a religious vs atheist or nationalist vs internationalist struggle without any mention to economics i.e. Karl Marx point of view vs. Adam Smith point of view.

  2. Interesting Umut. I read that Franco managed to get some support from Morrocan Muslims during the Spanish Civil War by appealing to their common opposition to the godless Commies! ;)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.