The Psychology of Conservatism


I have long wondered what drives the right-wing conservatives. And, though I haven’t been able to nail it down, I think I have developed some understanding of their mindset. Extreme conservatism contains aspects of a number of personality disorders, including narcissism. And it is all based upon fear. Thus, a conservative is overly protective of their beliefs and far less amiable to seeking information that may challenge their beliefs. Egocentrism is common where the level of self-obsession leads them to see the world as largely revolving around themselves. And this, in turn, means that they are almost incapable of the ability to empathise with others. Thus they may also exhibit symptoms of narcissism. Narcissistic defences are those processes whereby the idealised aspects of the self are preserved, and its limitations denied. They tend to be rigid and totalistic. And they are often driven by feelings of shame and guilt, conscious or unconscious.

I believe they are also afraid of intimacy. Very few, if any, far-right conservatives are tactile in any way. Love is a real struggle, and giving feels like a weakness. A recent stdy by psychologists found a link between conservatism and a lack of empathy. They see life as being a battle, a competition between individuals where only the strong are deserving of what they see as being life's rewards. They rationalise that everybody in this world is given equal opportunity to achieve, and those that don't have only themselves to blame. And they see women as a threat to their inherant right to be part of the elite supoerior class. To them, women should be subservient. Class and gender structure is important to them. Greens leader, Richard Di Natale recently noted, the coalition benches are filled with sexist males. Misogynists are typically afraid of women, what they possess, how they think, and the power of emotions. And they are particularly scared of change. They would rather spend their time defending their world view than seeking information that may challenge that view. I was particularly struck by a piece of news that came out of the US last week. For the first time, all Republican senators backed a motion to finally declare that climate change was real. But there was a caveat.  They voted down (almost unanimously) the acknowledgement that mankind was in any way responsible. “Climate is changing and climate has always changed and always will,” a spokesman told the Senate. “The hoax is that there are some people who are so arrogant to think they are so powerful they can change climate. Man can’t change climate.” Unless Senators are prepared to acknowledge the causes of climate change, it is likely they will remain unable and unwilling to do anything about it.

I know you can see where I’m going with this. Guilt is the one thing that conservatives refuse to acknowledge. And that may well be because, at a subconscious level, they are racked with guilt. Those of us who acknowledge the flaws in the capitalistic model by which we live, the damage it is doing to our environment, the threat it is to the future of the planet, and its  unsustainability are not nearly as fearful as actually accepting some responsibility. They take such responsibity as a personal attack and denial is their constant shield.Conservatives look to the past for their inspiration. They crave the ordered structure of yesteryear, where the hierarchical structure of society was far less fluid than it is today. It’s in their DNA to crave the discipline of fixed structure where roles are clearly defined. They crusade to have one of life’s inevitabilities, change, to be minimised. To them, change is abhorrent and threatening their way of life. To them we are “communists” and their natural enemy. It’s such a pity, because conservatives are so often driven to protect themselves by aspiring to positions of power and influence. And in doing so, our need to adapt in order to merely survive as a species is inhibited.

“The key to change… – is to let go of fear” - Rosanne Cash

Geoff Mooney