It is sometimes called “the second law of political conquest”: “Any organization which is not explicitly and constitutionally right will sooner or later become left”. I’ve been hearing this more and more lately, which makes me wonder if it’s really true. And if so, why ?
It is quite easy to find anecdotal evidence to support this. Many foundations born out of the fortunes of right-wing founders, such as Pew or Ford or Hewlett, have turned into left-wing institutions. I can’t think of a major foundation that came from a founder on the left and then moved to the right. In all of American history, universities have not been explicitly leftist, but they are today.
And the law is not necessarily limited to nonprofit institutions, which are vulnerable to capture by educated left elites. This does not explain the advent of “Woke Capital” – companies pushing for explicitly Democratic or leftist policies, such as voting reform in Georgia. America’s professional sports leagues have, to varying degrees, endorsed conceptions of racial politics closer to that of the Democratic Party.
Therein lies a clue as to the nature of the ideological change. These same sports leagues are not awake at all. Football, for example, remains a violent sport, inflicting injuries on many relatively disadvantaged young men, while the NBA allows itself to be harassed by China on human rights issues.
One possibility is that institutions respond to groups that stink the most about a given problem. On many political issues, the left cares more than the right, and these left preferences therefore end up imprinting not only on public-sensitive nonprofits, but also on companies maximizing their profits. . Yet, when it comes to statements about Hong Kong, China cares a lot and most Americans don’t, and so the NBA is responding to that pressure.
Additional forces strengthen the Second Law of Conquest. Educational polarization increasingly characterizes American politics, with more educated Americans more likely to vote Democratic. These same Americans are also likely to run nonprofits or large corporations, which would partly explain the ideological migration of these institutions.
There are, of course, many American institutions that have maintained or even extended a largely right-wing orientation, including many police forces, large parts of the military, and many Evangelical Protestant churches. These institutions tend to have lower educational requirements, and therefore they are not always as influential in the media, compared to many left-wing institutions.
Additionally, the military and police are expected to steer clear of politics, so their tilt to the right is less noticeable, though no less real. The left is simply more prominent in the mass media, so Conquest’s Second Law appears to be truer than it actually is. (Note that by definition, the law explicitly excludes right-wing media.)
Views on the left, at least on some issues, may have more of a “lowest common denominator” element than many views on the right. On average, the intellectual right is more likely to emphasize the biological differences between men and women, while the intellectual left is more likely to insist on equal ability. Whatever your perspective, the left-wing approach is easier to incorporate into mission statements, company slogans, and company human resources policies. Egalitarian slogans require less explanation, are less likely to bring an institution into conflict with the law, and are more compatible with the desire to attract a wide range of workers and clients.
So, as nonprofit institutions have grown larger and large corporations have grown in relative importance, these trends will also instantiate the law of conquest. As large organizations adopt a more egalitarian tone in their rhetoric, explicit right-wing views will tend to become less important in these organizations.
The common thread running through these explanations is that left-wing views are more likely to be won in the realms of reporting, speech, and rhetoric – and that these tendencies strengthen over time.
It follows that, if the second law of conquest is true, societies are more to the right than they appear. Moreover, it is the intelligentsia itself that is most likely to be deluded on this matter, living as it does in the world of declarations and proclamations. He is doomed to be surprised on several occasions by the degree of “barbarism” of American society.
There is also a significant stream of right-wing thinking, particularly in opposition to Marxism, which emphasizes the immutable realities of human nature, and according to which people change only a lot in response to their surroundings. So all this left-wing talk doesn’t have to end in an all-left society.
The Conservatives should therefore be able to console themselves with the Second Law of Conquest. They can sometimes find the speech overwhelming. But there is more to life than just talk – and that, for liberals and conservatives alike, should be seen as one of life’s saving graces.
Tyler Cowen is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is professor of economics at George Mason University and writes for the Marginal Revolution blog. His books include “Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero”.