The societies that humans have built and kept reproducing indefinitely so far all share one basic principle: inegality. The reasons for both the status quo and its continuation have always been provided ex postfacto and ad hoc; why the privileged deserve better than the underprivileged has always been argued for with sophisticated but untrue mental constructions bending reality to a predetermined scheme departing from which has been associated with chaos and the downfall of humankind. Explanations have been lazy and lame, unconvincing at best and ridiculous and insulting at worst. But then again, why would someone born into a privileged position care? Humans take that which they have for granted and will react to its loss as though a limb had been torn from their torso. The truth is that we own nothing: we come to this world naked and with nothing in our possession, and we leave it without anything. If we are buried with a ceremony, taking place for the sake of the living, of course, the body may have some clothes attached to it; yet come to think of it, it is just that, a body, not a person, that is buried. And thus we leave as we came, after all.
But rather than rendering the status quo irrelevant, it makes it all the more important. Conservatism appears to be a default position in many small communities, especially in tribal societies and even modern villages. There is this proverb appearing convincing, or at least having a point to it, that what isn’t broken doesn’t need fixing. What if, however, it is broken without your noticing? Also, that something is not broken does not mean that it is good the way it is. You may have a house consisting of wooden walls and no roof. It is not broken, but a house made of stone and with a roof would arguably protect you better nonetheless.
Change is the engine of improvement, and while things may change for the worse, this is by no means a logical necessity. Instead, history has proven time and again that change will occur at some point or other; if it is brought about controlled by science combined with reason and compassion, for the better; if it is repressed and met with all kinds of artificial obstacles, for the worse, for the result will be chaos and misery – that is to say, exactly that which conservatism seeks to avoid by preventing it from happening.
Conservatism is not only a concrete political conviction, it is an intrinsic part of everything humans do and think, if ever so slightly. Even those among us who consider themselves to be liberal and open-minded will, if entirely honest to themselves, at times catch themselves in the act of telling someone they cannot do something because it does not fit the bill or agenda they have in mind. Whereas we take our own freedom for granted and consider our own desires logical consequences of that which we deem best for everyone, we are way to eager to restrict everyone else’s freedom and dismiss their protest as ignorant, nonsensical, or ridiculous.
And thus it is that people who stand up for other people’s freedom, who come up with new and refreshing ideas the implementation of which would actually improve things for most people are shouted down and met with the most passionate resistance, insults, and ridicule, while dangerous demagogues like Donald Trump, to name just a recent case in point, who barely have any idea of that which they are talking about and wish to do get huge support.
The political and in general social elite, the wealthy and rich, keep playing the same old game to remain where they are: ‘Divide et impera’, this well-known imperative from antiquity and probably before there was any method of pinning the words down, applies today as much as it ever has. For if the majority of people keep arguing and fighting among themselves (dividere), they cannot stand united against the privileged to undo their rule (imperare).
Unfortunately, this is not where the story ends, as history has equally proven. Those overthrowing one rulership always appear eager to establish another not differing much from the one they undo. Is this simply a consequence of human nature, or is it rather the case that each time so far the wrong people have come to power?
Things are seldom as simple as we should like to think or portray them. We all know in principle that monocausal explanations are worthless, yet for the sake of simplicity and laziness and argument and excuse, we pretend them to actually serve a good purpose. They never do, and we never learn, it would seem.