A Prospect Theory Approach to Understanding Conservatism

Philosophia 45 (2):551-568 (2017)

Authors
Steve Clarke
Charles Sturt University
Abstract
There is widespread agreement about a combination of attributes that someone needs to possess if they are to be counted as a conservative. They need to lack definite political ideals, goals or ends, to prefer the political status quo to its alternatives, and to be risk averse. Why should these three highly distinct attributes, which are widely believed to be characteristic of adherents to a significant political position, cluster together? Here I draw on prospect theory to develop an explanation for the clustering of attributes that is characteristic of conservatives. I argue that a lack of political ideals is the underlying driver of conservatism. I will provide reason to believe that people who lack political ideals are disposed to prefer the political status quo to its alternatives; and reason to believe that people who prefer the political status quo to its alternatives are disposed to be risk averse, at least with respect to significantly many of the risks that arise in the social and political domain. I also consider and reject some other potential explanations for the clustering of attributes that is characteristic of conservatives and sketch some policy implications that follow from the explanation I develop.
Keywords Conservatism   Political ideals  Prospect theory   Reference point   Risk aversion   Status quo
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DOI 10.1007/s11406-017-9845-9
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