"...victimhood has been a talking point of the right ever since Burke decried the mob’s treatment of Marie Antoinette. The conservative, to be sure, speaks for a special type of victim: one who has lost something of value, as opposed to the wretched of the earth, whose chief complaint is that they never had anything to lose... This brand of victimhood endows the conservative complaint with a more universal significance. It connects his disinheritance to an experience we all share—loss—and weaves that experience into an ideology promising that what is lost can be restored.
People on the left often fail to realize this, but conservatism does indeed speak to and for people who have lost something. The loss may be as material as a portion of one’s income or as ethereal as a sense of standing. It may be of something that was never legitimately owned in the first place. Even so, nothing is ever so cherished as that which we no longer possess. It used to be one of the great virtues of the left that it alone understood the zero-sum nature of politics, wherein the gains of one class necessarily entail the losses of another. But as that sense of conflict diminishes on the left, it has fallen to the right to remind voters that there really are losers in politics and that it is they—and only they—who speak for them. Conservatism is not the Party of Order, as Mill and others have claimed, but the Party of Loss.
The chief aim of the loser is not preservation or protection but recovery and restoration, and that is the secret of conservatism’s success. Because his losses are recent, the conservative can credibly claim that his goals are practical and achievable. He merely seeks to regain what is his; the fact that he once had it suggests he is capable of possessing it again. Whereas the left’s program of redistribution raises the question of whether its beneficiaries are truly prepared to wield the powers they seek, the conservative project of restoration suffers from no such challenge. Unlike the revolutionary, moreover, who faces the nearly impossible task of empowering the powerless, the conservative asks his followers to do more of what they have always done. As a result, his counterrevolution will not require the same violence and disruption that the revolution has visited on the country. “Four or five persons, perhaps,” writes Maistre, “will give France a king.”
14 March 2012
The power of the "sense of loss"
From an essay by Corey Robion in the December 2010 issue of Harper's Magazine: