Henry Ford once said people could buy a Model T in any color … as long as it was black.
That assembly-line standardization proved efficient and effective for a few years, but if Ford hadn’t eventually yielded to other colors would his company have survived long enough to crowd our highways with all of these F-150s?
No, because the automobile market thrives on variety, as do all markets, be they comprised of goods or services … or even of people, their lifestyles, and especially their ideas.
Conservatives have long known this, and we have seen this principle of variety successfully at work in the economy – from finance to industry to agriculture – and in education, the arts, certainly in politics, and even in war.
The late historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote that because of our adherance to the principle of variety, conservatives remain “cognizant that proliferating variety is the mark of a healthful society.”
This is the essence of diversity.
Progressives, however, often see the condition of variety as inherently unfair, unjust, perhaps immoral, because with variety comes inequality; someone will always have a good or service – and definitely an idea – that’s better or worse than what someone else has.
On that last point, conservative thinker Russell Kirk agreed.
“For the preservation of a healthy diversity in any civilization, there must survive orders and classes, differences in material condition, and many sorts of inequality” Kirk wrote, adding that the only true equality comes before a just court of law and, of course, the Last Judgment. “All other attempts at leveling must lead, at best, to social stagnation.”
One could say that was sad, but it’s true. People are different. Some work harder than others. Some are smarter than others. Some are born strong or weak, with great personalities, or with wit and humor. Some people are beautiful on the outside, while others shine inside. Some are born with resources; others have to climb from the bottom. All of these can be advantages or disadvantages, depending upon one’s point of view, but they will all produce different results.
But no matter how often their efforts lead to stagnation, inequality of outcome causes the progressive to swerve into policies that favor, often demand, centralization and uniformity. Everyone will have access to the same good or service, especially if it’s defined as an entitlement to demand of the state, or better yet, a human right that’s to be guaranteed as much as life and liberty.
We were not only created equal, we shall remain that way.
This is the essence of conformity, from a group that prides itself as creative and eclectic.
Schlesinger saw this, too, and wrote that liberalism was making its way “toward a society devoid of reverence, variety and the higher imagination, in which everyone belongs to everyone else, in which there is collectivism without community, equality without love.”
These may sound like irrelevant distinctions to some, but they are among the primary drivers behind many of our most profound disagreements.
For instance, the principle of variety is at the core of our healthcare debate.
Conservatives believe we need to deregulate the industry to some degree and free the marketplace to experiment with many different ways of delivering not only health insurance, but also healthcare itself. Some products will be better than others, sure, but at least we’ll have a choice and eventually the cream will rise to the top.
Progressives want to create a single nationwide, uniform system that consumes both healthcare insurers and healthcare providers, known popularly as “single payer.” This is nothing more than a government-controlled monopoly and it’ll end as all others, in higher prices and lower quality.
But at least everyone will be equally overcharged and equally underserved.
Fundamentally, embracing the principle of variety and all its favors and faults – choice, inequality, risk – is something that every conservative must do. Sometimes it ends in failure and pain, but on the whole it improves the quality of life for everyone.
Meanwhile, we must remain suspicious of those who promise progress by eliminating variety, for despite their best intentions, they usually just end up creating new and often worse forms of inequality in the process.