Conservative Socialism: A discourse with myself on the merits of democracy

On occasion, I find myself sympathetic to the core values of traditional conservatism. Marxism, my thinking goes, is in a sense a conservative theory insofar as it synthesises our anthropological heritage, maintaining philosophical currents which have stood the test of time.

This, then, leads me to appreciate to an extent the rationale behind the concept of ‘noblesse oblige’ — a class born to rule, free from democratic constraints. Rather than an aristocratic class, I think, surely there ought to be a deference to correct (as per the principles of falsificationism elucidated by Popper) ideals inherited from previous generations of thinkers, institutions and practices, guarded by an educated class. I am greatly sceptical of so-called Marxists who advocate for the annihilation of all that exists in the present order — the blind revolutionaries who see nothing worth preserving. There must surely be caution in the practice of revolution, for a total rejection of any order can lead — and throughout history, has led — to despotism. To prevent this, a class of educated men and women would be required to exercise caution in an otherwise democratic (and, at some point, revolutionary) society.

However, this line of thought enters into a crisis when one considers a post-revolution, post-capitalist society. This aversion to popular democracy and deference to a class of supposedly ‘higher’ revolutionaries ultimately leads to a defence of Stalinism. Following the degeneration of the Russian Revolution by the Man of Steel himself, a cult of personality prevailed (and developed further) leading to an orthodoxy riddled with contradictions, and the eventual collapse of the USSR when it could sustain them no longer. A prerequisite to the idealistic notion I described of an educated class above democratic constraints, preserving necessary traditions during and after revolution, is an infallibility of these people, and thereby no need for public accountability. This unattainable requirement causes the whole idea to collapse in on itself.

It is at this point in my thinking that I shrug and laugh at the idea of ‘conservative socialism’. Valuable traditions must be preserved not due to their intrinsic, idealistic ‘value’ but rather their attained value through withstanding the test of time and remaining useful for the masses. True democracy is not anarchic or anti-intellectual; maximum democracy leads to the education of the masses and the automatic conservation of all that is worth conserving. Both socialism and democracy (inseparable without considerable compromise of either) are essentially ‘conservative’ in the literal sense of the word, but not in the spirit of the ideology of ‘pragmatic traditionalism’.

Socialists who blanket-reject tradition and democrats who embrace and promote mediocrity are neither socialists nor democrats. The problems faced by democratic (here, I refer to democracy and socialism as one and the same) thought require an elevation of the masses to a level of ‘philosopher-kings’, rather than the creation of a benevolent-dictatorial class.

Democratic failures are healed by greater democracy, not less. This, I believe, is the lesson which history will validate.

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