Sunday, June 05, 2022

"Economically Liberal, Socially Conservative" Will Always Decay into Fascism

It's one of the great paradoxes of modern politics. The "economically liberal, socially conservative" quadrant of the political map, which most polls say is quite well-populated amongst voting-aged Americans, also has the least obvious political representation. Many pundits have long suggested that Democrats should try to move into this space -- retreat on "cultural war" issues while talking up bread-and-butter economic interventions that will help working Americans.

I'm skeptical this strategy will work, for one simple reason: the "economically liberal, socially conservative" quadrant is an inherently unstable position that will inevitably decay into fascism.

Terms like "economically liberal" are always kind of fuzzy, but I tend to think of it as meaning tolerance for government spending and intervention in the economic realm; as compared to the more hands-off, laissez-faire approach of economic conservativism. If you're socially liberal and committed to norms of equality and aid for the disadvantaged, that spending and intervention naturally is going to be directed towards either the public, broadly, or the least well off, specifically.

But shorn of those social liberal commitments, economic "liberalism" need not be tied to either a Rawlsian aid for the disadvantaged nor an egalitarian conception of the common good. A socially conservative economic "liberal" is perfectly happy to see government intervene to direct resources into his own pocket while leaving members of outgroups and the underclass to rot. Remember Paul Ryan's famous Obamacare replacement plan?

Yeah, it's like that. The right-wing "hur hur hur 'Nazi' stands for national socialist guess it's a left-wing ideology" was always exceptionally dumb, but the tiniest grain of truth there is that if you take "socialist" ideas of public support but violently demand they be provided solely to the favored and dominant in-groups, well, yeah, then you have a fusion of "nationalism" and "socialism". The problem is that the creeping fascism of the GOP is at best already adjacent to that position (what do you all think "America first" means?). 

The GOP does not now have, if it ever did, any commitment to free markets. That was already well known from such Republican-favored boondoggles as infinite subsidies to fossil fuel manufacturers or favored treatment for capital gains. Nowadays, Ron DeSantis more or less openly favors distributing government boons and penalties on the basis of political loyalty. The "economic liberal/social conservative" voter is probably delighted. So long as he gets his, what does he care that the distribution of government cheese is governed by corrupt criteria? If anything, that's a benefit! Democrats can't occupy this quadrant because the whole point of being economically liberal and socially conservative is that it matters to you that the economic distributions support a social hierarchy where your group is at the top and outsiders are punished for their foreign race, religion, nationality, or values, and that's a political space where Republicans will always carry an insurmountable advantage.

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