There seems to be a widespread assumption that if only we can pick the correct political ideology to adopt then we will have found the magical answer that will ensure perpetual happiness. Unfortunately there is no evidence that this is so.
The trouble is that all political ideologies work remarkably well in theory. Communism works just dandy in theory. Everyone is equal, everything is fair and just. In practice it has always led to the creation of huge, inefficient, corrupt, self-serving and oppressive bureaucracies and brutal murderous totalitarianism. There is no reason to think this will ever change.
Libertarianism works equally well in theory. Everyone is motivated by enlightened rational self-interest and everyone is self-reliant and everyone enjoys the bliss of complete freedom. In practice self-interest is rarely enlightened or rational, not everyone can achieve complete self-reliance, and freedom tends to lead to chaos and viciousness.
The free market works just great in theory. In practice markets never really seem to turn out to be so free after all and corporations behave cynically and selfishly and without any regard for the future.
The welfare state is a terrific idea in theory. No-one need ever have to fear poverty. Unfortunately in practice it leads to the creation of those huge, inefficient, corrupt, self-serving and oppressive bureaucracies mentioned earlier and it leads to dependence and demoralisation.
The trouble is that in practice every political ideology runs into the same problem – people steadfastly refuse to behave the way the theory assumes they will behave. People are irrational and motivated largely by emotion and often behave in a depressingly short-sighted manner. If only we could dispense with people we could create such a wonderful perfect society.
It appears to me that the problem is that political ideologies on their own will never provide an answer unless they are underpinned by a moral framework that will lessen the natural human tendency towards short-sightedness, selfishness and self-indulgence.
A moral framework requires religion. In the past century we have seen many attempts to provide a moral framework without religion, with either the state or nature or some abstract ideal (like “social justice”) taking the place of God. They have all failed. Without religion morality inevitably degenerates into whatever you can get away with.
I personally have no very strong commitment to any political ideology. I think capitalism is the most effective engine for creating prosperity and while prosperity on its own is no guarantee of happiness it certainly helps.
Looking at the Australian experience (because being an Australia that’s what I have the most experience of) it seems to me that two of our more successful prime ministers have been Sir Robert Menzies and Bob Hawke. Both were, in practice, pragmatists who were prepared to accept a degree of compromise. Menzies was a conservative but he was prepared to tolerate the existence of a limited welfare state. Hawke was a socialist but he accepted the reality that capitalism is very good at increasing prosperity so he encouraged a free market, within limits. Australia did quite well under both Menzies and Hawke.
I identify as a conservative but my conservatism is mostly of the social conservative variety. I approve of capitalism but I’m suspicious of free markets in any absolutist terms. I think an almost entirely free market would work reasonably well without globalisation but within the context of globalisation I suspect that completely free markets will lead to economic chaos. Free marketeers are fond of talking about level playing fields but global markets (for either goods and services or labour) are playing fields that are about as far from being level as could possibly be imagined. My view is that given globalisation totally free markets are not going to work anywhere near as well as the theory says they will.
I have no problems with a welfare state as long as it’s kept within reasonable bounds. People were not created equal and therefore I feel that a limited welfare state is unavoidable.
For me social conservatism is the key. You have to have religion to provide a moral framework (and to satisfy the inescapable human need for religion). You have to have a respect for tradition, if only to discourage ill-considered attempts at social engineering. You need to place the family at the centre of society because the whole of human history tells us that family life is essential for human happiness. The family is also the best way to keep the welfare state within limits. Hedonism produces chaos and misery (the Weimar Republic being a fine example of that). Sexual perversion and sexual excess produces emptiness and loneliness.
If you have social conservatism, if you have religion, then it probably doesn’t matter too much which political ideology you opt for as long as you avoid unworkable nightmares like communism and as long as your political ideology is tempered with pragmatism.