In The Anatomy of Inequality, author Per Molander describes one of the ways conservatives defend the status quo, a tactic called knowledge skepticism. By saying we can’t know a thing for certain, over the years conservatism has attempted to undermine egalitarian theories from advancing an alternative to the status quo. In human history, the status quo has been conditions of great inequality—an exception being the period after World War II to the 70s and on to present day in the Nordic countries. But in the United States, beginning in the early 70s with the Powell Memo, a concerted campaign by the right has been advanced to dismantle the social welfare state and, asserting the small government rhetoric now familiar to us, has succeeded in cementing rule by wealthy and corporate interests effectively crafting policy for their benefit without regard to the public.
A recent application of knowledge skepticism has been to create doubt in commonly understood science—probably the most extreme case is denying the Holocaust. Obviously knowledge skepticism is applied selectively in conservative rhetoric. When it is convenient to defend one’s interests with absolute certainty in the knowledge that one is right, conservatives can be unequivocal. Moral relativism is another way to defend the status quo, and Molander mentions its use as a bulwark against Enlightenment thinkers asserting the natural rights of all human beings.
The inability of humanity to take a valid course of right action could suggest there is an awareness of right action that people have no access to—due to self-interest or eternal ignorance—or that no right action exists for the world because humanity embodies natural forces that we have no ability to direct. Biological drives, instincts, and desires take their expression through humanity. And seen this way, we are expressions of a force of nature that is beyond our control. There is no right or wrong way about it: we are a force of nature. But Western Civilization is nothing if not an attempt to subdue nature, to have dominion over nature, and so long as civilization exists it will attempt to control human nature. Continue reading