- Politics and Social Issues
Why is America a Center Right Country?
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.