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Why is America a Center Right Country?

Updated on April 30, 2014
Tea Party protestor
Tea Party protestor

Conservatism in America

The United States is conservative as modern rich countries go. America has resisted the postwar staunch leftist drift seen in other industrialized democracies.

The social safety net is not as comprehensive as other countries. It is the only developed country that allows the death penalty. Media censorship is stricter. Gun laws are looser, taxes are lighter (especially for the very wealthy), and regulations on labor, hiring and firing are not as restrictive. On foreign policy, it is more hawkish and interventionist than other countries, and relies more on military action.

Why is this? Why is the US so often right of center where similarly developed societies are left?


Individual vs. Community

America has a greater emphasis on the individual than other western countries. In other countries the individual has the responsibility to contribute to the community, and also has the right to have the community support them.

American individualism, independence and self-reliance is also related to weaker community in general in the US. There is no American ethnicity, and the US is one of the most diverse countries in the rich world ethnically, culturally, ideologically and religiously. Although Americans often feel connection to their ethnic, subculture or religious groups, in general the ties on a national scale are weaker than elsewhere. This emphasis on the individual is supportive of center right politics and beliefs, from gun rights to low taxes.



Religious freedom is present in all rich western countries. But it is embraced with particular dedication in America. Religious freedom was one of the main reasons for the creation of this country, and a primary motivation for immigrants fleeing religious oppression in Europe. Many Protestant groups came to the US because their unusual, often more rigorous beliefs, were not welcome in their European homes.

The moral and political attitudes of these conservative religious communities affected American culture. And they continue to affect the culture in a way not seen in relatively more liberal (and center left) European societies. The "free market" environment of American religion has created space for religious fervor and revival for over 200 years. A disproportionate number of modern religions have their origins in the US, from Mormonism and Adventism to Jehovah's Witness and Scientology.

The religions of America, from old world to new world, are forces for cultural conservatism. Religion is declining in America, but its cultural and community aspects remain relatively influential, for a rich country. By contrast, religion is all but dead in much of the industrialized world. The centralized and state-dominated nature of religion in Europe (the Church of England, the Lutheran Church of Sweden, direct state funding to religious organizations and schools in many countries) is a force for restraint on religious dynamism and growth. This in turn means that religion has almost no meaningful influence over people's politics.


The American Dream, opportunity and class mobility

A final reason is the "American Dream," the example of successful individuals and class mobility. America has more examples of very successful people than any other country. A large portion of the wealthiest Americans were not born into privilege.

This cannot be said of Europe, where most wealthy and influential individuals benefit from a long heritage of social and economic dominance. Their families and clans enjoy entrenched power, often stretching back into the Middle Ages. This is tied to a more rigid class structure in European countries, contrasting with the looser dynamic of American society.

A more rigid social hierarchy provides a very fertile environment for the development of left-wing politics (including among the rich). In the absence of a real possibility for interclass mobility, people must use strikes, revolutions or general civil discord to open up opportunities for a better life. Because one's place in society is basically fixed, regulatory and redistributive measures are the primary means of achieving growth in economic well being.

With America's heritage of social mobility, this has been less of an issue and rightist policies and attitudes are more viable. However, it bears mentioning that in recent years, the US has seen a decline in class mobility and a hardening of class structures. There has developed what is essentially a permanent underclass, encompassing between one fifth and one fourth of America. This is a historical shift with the potential to significantly shift the political attitudes of millions of Americans leftward in the years to come.


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    • secularist10 profile image

      secularist10 6 years ago from New York City


      Thanks for coming. Individuals can swing one way or another, but overall, there are clearly identifiable beliefs and trends. As developed countries go, the US is definitely center-right, while societies like the Netherlands or Germany are clearly center-left.

      Even Democrats in the US are traditionally more conservative than what passes for the mainstream left in western Europe.

      But I do think America has become steadily more liberal over time, just not to the degree that other rich countries have.

    • secularist10 profile image

      secularist10 6 years ago from New York City

      GNelson, thanks for coming. I think conservatism and liberalism are still useful terms. Although some people do buck the trend, there are real characteristics that can be identified generally. Listening to conservative thinkers and leaders talk, and then listening to liberal ones, it's clear the two camps have very different visions for how America should be.

    • secularist10 profile image

      secularist10 6 years ago from New York City

      Joe, you raise some good points. The massive power that the elite classes have over government policy out of all proportion to their numbers is unquestionably a weight on democracy.

    • secularist10 profile image

      secularist10 6 years ago from New York City

      Thanks a lot, Krystal. The class issue is definitely momentous, and very few seem aware of it or interested in it.

    • Tante Gretchen profile image

      Tante Gretchen 6 years ago from Northern Illinois

      Excellent overview. I agree with the commenter that labels are tough, but I guess that just reaffirms the idea that in America individuals are not locked into any particular place at any given time.

    • Abecedarian profile image

      Abecedarian 6 years ago from These United States, Texas

      Actually it isn't. If you look at the votes, they are pretty much split down the middle. It just appears so because the Tea Party has given the right a more visual and vocal picture in the media. I have friends in both parties that are actually uncomfortable talking about their political leanings because of backlash from either side. Some of my Republican friends have some of the same values and ideas as I do, but they call themselves Republicans and I call my self a Democrat because most of the time I vote that way, but I have been known on several occasion not to. Depends on the individual.

    • GNelson profile image

      GNelson 6 years ago from Florida

      The terms liberal and conservative have been twisted so much by the media that they mean very little any more. For instances I know liberals who will die before they give up their guns and conservatives that would not own a gun. The country was founded on religious freedom yet since 9/11 we are becoming religious intolerant. The media has more influence on the public opinion than government or religion, which gives those who own the media a whole bunch of power. It cost so much to get elected, if you don’t suck up to those with money, you can’t afford to run for high office.

      America is a country where money is king. The more money you have the more respected you are. We may or may not be center right but we have lost our way

    • profile image

      joe scalise 6 years ago

      America shifted to the right as the common good was ignored in favor of special interests. Now legislation is not a constitutional enforcement but a highest bidder reward. This is leading to a near royalty super upperclass and a multilevel working class. Religion has always been a tool for controlling the masses and siphoning wealth from believers. In America they got on the constituency band wagon and have been attempting to have their morals legislated. I place religion in the top three evils with government and corporations. The American Dream is in intensive care with little hope of survival.

    • KrystalD profile image

      KrystalD 6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Excellent, informative hub. It is the near permanent underclass that concerns me the most about the direction of America. Voting up!