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Antique Blogs – Why A Liberal Turns Conservative

Back in 1979 I found myself becoming increasingly more conservative and wrote this. Actually, I think we all turn more conservative as we grow older; it’s probably a good thing for a kid to start liberal – not as a young Republican – or there’s no telling what he or she we’ll be after some aging.

Anyway, these are some of my generation’s reasons for moving to the right.  The references to Atom Man and the gasoline crisis and consequent gas lines date me and probably predate you but I haven’t changed my mind much.

Not so long ago, it seems like only a million years, I used to consider myself a liberal.  I was sure that anyone who attacked welfare was a stingy reactionary at best.  My first response to any injustice or inequality was to call for a new law or maybe even a government program.  I felt that crime was the result of the criminal’s environment.

But I changed my mind.  I think the welfare system is a disorganized mess.  My first response to new laws and particularly new government programs is that they are more likely to cause injustice and inequity than to cure them.  I feel crime is caused by criminals.

And I find that many of my friends have gone through a similar change in their thinking.  Why?  I hate to think that we changed because we passed the magic age of thirty and found our first grey hairs.

Partly we were changed by experience.  The government programs that we wanted became law.  We saw the great society become a pork barrel.  We saw the EDA use the wrong people to build the wrong building in the wrong place and justify themselves in the name of administrative inconvenience. We saw the splendid goal of racial equality under the law become the sordid spectacles of bussing and minority quotas.

We learned more about people as we grew older.  We saw that dependence breeds dependence.  We saw that a helping hand can become an indispensable crutch.  We saw that in our zeal to help we were robbing people of their pride.

We learned something about economics.  We saw inflation break the spirit of the elderly as it looted the nest eggs they had painfully saved.  We saw that the money to help those who wouldn’t work somehow always came from the pockets of those who work very hard and receive very little.  And we learned that unemployment is not helped by paying people not to work.

It’s true, we grew more conservative as our hair thinned and our beards got grey; but it is also true that the world changed and the assumptions that our philosophy was based on proved unsound.

We thought, way back in the fifties and sixties, that we lived on a world endowed with limitless resources of goods and energy.  Every year we could see more production with less and less human labor.  It was very clear that technology would soon let us all retire.

Since human labor would soon be obsolete and we would all be supported by the bounty of infinite resources unlocked by benign science, it made sense to distribute this largesse to all regardless of whether or not their help was needed in production.

But we were wrong.  The marvelous genies we counted on to do our work for us proved to be devils in disguise.  Our infinite resources have proven to be painfully limited.

The wonder chemicals that kill all the bugs in the fields turn out to kill birds and people too.  The promise of abundant cheap energy from nuclear power has turned out to be nightmare of unknowns and misinformation.  The waters where we dumped our wastes are coughing them back upon our shores.  That automobiles that gave us unprecedented freedom were all lined up one morning begging for enough fuel to get to the next gas station.

Science didn’t deliver the free lunch after all.  If our world is going to be a livable place, human energy is required and lots of it.  We still have to till the fields and kill the bugs.  It can’t all be done by one super aerial spray.  We still need to chop wood and mine coal and knit sweaters because atom man can’t deliver.  We need to process our wastes, rebuild public transportation, clean up our cities, and make a whole new set of fuel efficient homes and factories.  There is more work to do than there are people to do it.

So it doesn’t make any sense to pay people for not working.  There is no unearned bounty to distribute.  There is plenty of work to do and we need all the help we can get.

That is one reason why we are more conservative than in the age of plenty.


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» Aging Liberally from T R I C K S T E R !
Fred Wilson points to a great discussion on Tom Evslin's blog about people who turn more conservative politically as they age. Certainly such transmutations seem to occur frequently, but as the comments to Tom's post illustrate, there are many other [Read More]



You seem to focus on the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC or "welfare") as the seminal if not the only issue that differs the "liberal" from the "conservative." And you indicate that AFDC is shorthand for redistribution of wealth. But no one in America (except maybe a handful extremists) wants to "pay people not to work" or to redistribute wealth. So how does this make you conservative?


I don't agree at all. Born in '74 and living in Australia, I've watched Aus. make the same change. From a society that offered the dole (welfare payments) to one that offers "work for the dole" (work in dull meaningless jobs for subsistance wages).

We now have beggers on our streets, home invasions, drive-by shootings, and CEOs earning millions of dollars for leading our companies into failure.

I also have to mention that Communism has never existed. You can't have Communism and Chairman Mao or President Yeltsin. Countries calling themselves Communist are/were dictatorships.


There is still a third step.
The first being a Liberal, ( in Europe we would say a Communist) the second a Conservative and the third understanding that whatever you are, you are always yourself and between being a Communist or a Conservative there is just a little bit of time, some years, some delusions. Changing ideals means to believe something can still be done. What we did wrong can be redone and changed.
But in the third stage you understand that there is good and bad in whatever you think and do.
It is not right to be a Communist, but it is not right to be a Conservative.
Both have a good and a bad side.

In between there is the human being, who doesn't work unless he is obliged to, who is trying to improve his living standards in the right or the wrong way, who doesn't create the market incentives but is in a way a victim of them.

Life is not just a technological ladder.
The best intentions often fail and what is done today is undone tomorrow.

However we must do what everyday brings us, and do it as well as we can, and better, if possible, than anybody else.
Either as Communists or Conservatives.



Tom N

Funny Tom,

I've had about the opposite experience of yours, although, who knows, we might be currently at similar stages of "enlightenment".

I might have a couple of handfuls less years than you have, so there may have been some social influences...I imagine that it is natural for rather "gifted-precious-intellecuallycurios" kids to be drawn against societal excesses of any given time.

Hormones probably also play into the excesses....In 1972 that might have made you a teenage marxist while in 1982 I'd have been a radical Ayn Randian, and perhaps the 1992 kids became radical evangelicals ...

Without arguing social history here, you can read magazines like The New Yorker and Harpers and get some context on these things..

At any rate, without taking you point by point, let me say that I'm one heck of a free market dude, and still a republican, that doesn't think you've got your emotional focus quite on.

No crap? people need to work? Of course we need market incentives, and incentives of "situational self reliance" or "greed" if you'd put it that way.

We also need regulation of markets on health and safety standards, and food quality, and statutes of fraud which are widely interpreted, all of which give government some powers to ensure that people "finding a need and filling it" at a lower cost, arent' circumevented by people "finding a market, and owining it".

Well...Not going to debate the whole of economics.

We probably agree on most, but be careful not to overstep in the tenor or your remarks....You're welcome to remind me of the same, because I will sometimes error the same way.

Ben Casnocha

For well-off folks getting older, what about less idealism about solving the world's problems and more economic self-interest?

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