Culture Wars/Current Controversies

WHY CONSERVATIVES ATTACKED THE US CAPITOL: DECLINE AND RADICALIZATION

Years ago, I predicted that the mainstream of the US culture war would eventually be a matter not of left vs right but of the far left vs center and center-left. That seems to be happening at present. Much of the pushback against wokeism is actually coming from centrists and moderate liberals rather than conservatives. Meanwhile, I also predicted conservatives would split in two opposite directions. Some would move toward the center and become more liberal or libertarian, which is what is happening with “barstool” conservatism. And others would move further rightward, become more militant, and increasingly embrace revolutionary,  insurrectionary, separatist, or secessionist views. That seems to be happening as well.

By Andrew H. Kydd Political Violence at a Glance

The conservative attack on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021 was an unprecedented effort to overturn a presidential election in the United States through violence. What were its causes and what can we expect in the future? Despite claims of American exceptionalism, the root cause of the violence—the decline and radicalization of the US conservative movement along demographic and ethnic lines—make the US similar to many countries that have experienced ethnic-related violence. This development will remain a potent cause of violence in the future.

Ever since Thucydides argued that the real cause of the Peloponnesian War was the rise of Athens and the fear that this caused in Sparta, scholars have pointed to relative decline as a cause of conflict. When one country is declining relative to another, it looks to the future with concern. It can defend itself now, but in the future—when it is weaker—it may be subject to extortion or predation from the newly risen power. The same logic applies to ethnic or other identity groups within a country. When majority groups fear decline, they start to consider extreme measures against rising minorities.

Conservatism is almost by definition concerned about decline. Whereas liberals and progressives tend to envision the future as better than the past, conservatives see the past as better than the present and the future as still worse. As William F. Buckley Jr. famously put it, conservatism “stands athwart history, yelling Stop.” It is no accident that Trump’s slogan was “Make America Great Again.”

The decline conservatives fear most is generational and demographic. Youth are perpetually being wooed away by the siren song of liberalism. Polling data show the extent of the ideological generation gap: white millennials support Democrats 52 to 41 percent. Among millennial women the figure is an astonishing 70 to 23 percent. Conservatives also fear demographic decline. The conservative base is ruralChristian and white, and all three characteristics are in decline. Of most concern to conservatives, over the past 40 years, immigration from Latin America has been so great that the percent of foreign-born Americans is near an all-time high. Some states along the southern border are already majority-minority, and whites in the country as a whole may find themselves in the minority within a few decades. Opposition to immigration has therefore become a bedrock of conservatism.

Radicalization is also a potent cause of violence, both in the US and around the world. Radicalization leads to conflict by magnifying the stakes of the struggle for power, thereby justifying extreme measures. If the opponent is perceived as hostile, traitorous, and evil, then every election is vital and power must be seized, or retained, by any means necessary. This can lead to democratic breakdown, and eventually political violence.

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