6.2.4.5 Reactionary Conservatism

Some people who are discontented with the status quo, and who feel that the past was somehow better, want to ‘turn the clock back’.  There are several factors which might contribute to these feelings:

  • Older voters might be personally nostalgic, remembering when they were young and vigorous.
  • They might feel nostalgia for a past time when their country had more status and influence.
  • They might not welcome recent cultural changes, some of which might be associated with immigrants living nearby.
  • They might feel uncomfortable with emerging liberal attitudes in matters of gender and human rights – seeing them as unfamiliar and as threats to their own values.
  • Terrorism might make them fearful for their security, remembering the past as being safer.

Another group of people who might want to turn the clock back are those of working age who are experiencing financial hardship or insecurity because of major economic and social changes:

  • Their employment might be threatened by globalisation and technical advances (3.5.4.4), or by measures taken to combat climate change (3.5.7.4).
  • They might experience status anxiety (4.3.2.3), becoming fearful and resentful.
  • They might see recent immigrants as competing for jobs or driving down wages.
  • They might resent perceived unfairness, if others are prospering while they aren’t.

Reactionary conservatives might oppose changes which would foster economic growth – an attitude which sets them against the interests of younger people who are looking for new opportunities and who welcome modernity.  An Economist article, Boris Johnson needs to focus on boosting Britain’s economy, described how older voters “have less of a stake in the future than young people and are more averse to the changes—spoiled views, building work, more immigrants—that go with growth”.  Economic growth though, whilst desirable, should be regulated to avoid harming people’s lives – it is a question of economic legitimacy, as discussed earlier in this book (3.5.9).

In practice, people have a tendency to remember a few good things about a past time whilst forgetting its drawbacks – as mocked in the SKZ cartoon Good Old Days.  Another problem is that the past is irrecoverable.  The world has changed and it isn’t possible to wind everything and everybody else back to a favoured point in time but, as discussed later, that doesn’t stop unscrupulous politicians in democracies from promising to do so – by adopting a populist stance (6.3.2.5).

There is a great need for a coherent political and economic response, to prevent pain and hardship for people who have been adversely affected by recent changes in society.  It is one of the major issues of the 21st century and is discussed later in this chapter (6.7.8).  A populist attempt to reverse the changes is not a viable solution.

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This is a current page, updated since publication of Patterns of Power Edition 3a.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/6245d.htm