Do conservatives like democracy? That may seem like an unfair question. And for many conservatives it may be. Bur it seems there are many who don’t, and they are very much in the news these days.
As the premier example, I offer those American Republicans that have rejected the 2024 presidential election. If you don’t accept elections when you lose, then you aren’t accepting democracy because elections are its most fundamental expression.
On January 6th, a subset of American conservatives went completely off the rails in their Trumpist enthusiasm and attempted to keep their man in power by staging an insurrection. We saw a pale shadow of this with our own ultra-right wingers doing their “fuck Trudeau” routine in Ottawa.
This misbehaviour is described as polarization, as if progressives and conservatives had begun to mutually head further apart in their respective directions.
That is not, however, what is happening. Progressives in the U.S. haven’t tried to overthrow a presidential election and progressives in this country haven’t held our capital city hostage. These are the shenanigans of conservative extremists whose moderate colleagues are not keeping on a leash. They have allowed them to veer dangerously close to fascist territory while pulling their entire party in that direction.
Progressives—liberals and social democrats—on the other hand, have essentially stayed in their lane, respecting the norms of democratic process.
Some conservatives have recognized the wayward ways of their political brothers and sisters. Former PM Brian Mulroney warned Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre that he would have to “set aside” some of the things he campaigned on, e.g. threatening to fire the governor of the Bank of Canada, supporting the trucker protests, and promoting cryptocurrency. Republican Senator Mitt Romney recently commented to a journalist that “A very large portion of my party really doesn’t believe in the Constitution.”
A large cohort of conservatives seems to be saying that if democracy doesn’t give them what they want, then they don’t want democracy. In the U.S. they don’t want Biden; in Canada they don’t want Trudeau. Both were elected by democratic process, so democracy by their measure doesn’t work.
This petulant and one-sided repudiation of democracy is what has become known as polarization. What it is, in fact, is the extreme right wing of the political spectrum going rogue.
But what about the general run of conservatives, do they support democracy? I believe they do, but I also believe they have a certain reluctance. They tend to be strong on freedom but democracy—political equality—perhaps not so much.
They tend, for example, to dislike labour unions, the only element of democracy in the workplace. The boss is the boss is the boss. And over the generations they have opposed the emancipation of the lower classes and women. Social progress could almost be defined as overcoming conservatism.
In any case, they have an opportunity to prove their commitment to democracy now. It is under threat from the populist wing of their movement. They must control it before it leads them, and possibly us, into fascism.