Being both right-wing and being an atheist isn’t a popular combination. To many, it may seem unnatural or contradictory for someone to embrace both positions. But this is because of the prejudices of our age and not due to any inherent conflicts.
Atheism does not necessarily lead to left-wing or right-wing politics. In the modern West this seems like a strange claim to make, and for it to make sense we must understand what the actual origins of political belief are.
The most convincing attempt to explain the framework underlying people’s political views comes from Thomas Sowell. He so elegantly argues that the origin of left and right comes from the way the two groups see the world. It is basic, and sometimes unconscious, underlying beliefs about how the world works that has created “a conflict of visions.” I will try to summarize the two visions that make up the left and right from Sowell’s book A Conflict of Visions. If my summary seems odd or incomplete the fault is my own and not Sowell’s.
The Utopian Vision
The Utopian Vision of the world is the underlying world-view of the political left. In this vision human nature is optimistically changeable through reason. Our limitations are the product of our social environment, so tradition has no inherent value. There is a natural distrust of decentralized processes and a favor for planning. This view also holds that mankind can be, and should be, perfected and that government is the instrument of that perfection. Typically this vision also sees a small, elite, group of people as being those who have been given the ‘vision of the anointed’ to lead humanity to the better future. If only the right people can be in power then a better word can be created. This elite can take many forms, such as an intellectual or racial elite or philosopher kings.
The Tragic Vision
The Tragic Vision is the underlying world-view of the political right. This vision sees mankind as having a human nature that is both unchanging and flawed. The religious sometimes express this as “man’s fallen nature”. In this vision humans are basically self-interested if not outright selfish. While leaders may emerge among men, because of our deeply flawed nature there can be no natural elite. Human reason is valuable but limited, which makes central planning naturally repugnant. Limitations of human reason are why time-tested structures and processes are valued. These time-tested structures are the product accumulated evolved wisdom (traditions), and changing these structures is dangerous because of the limitations of human reason. The decentralized processes of accumulated evolved wisdom (tradition) and the free-market are trusted because of the limitations of human reason. Social decisions typically do not lead to solutions but rather to trade offs.
These two visions are not hard categories and any particular person can hold elements of each
As you should have figured out by now, neither of these visions requires a belief in a god or the supernatural. An atheist could easily believe in either of these visions of the world. Because it is these visions, not the belief in the supernatural, the give rise to the political Left and Right, then it should come as no surprise an atheist can be on the Right.
Both the Utopian Vision and the Tragic Vision each have some inherent appeal to them. Most of us can look at each vision an nod in agreement to at least some parts of each.
Are these simply to be two philosophies forever in debate with one another? Or can we find evidence in Nature that one view is closer to the truth than the other?
In a bit of historic irony, the emerging evidence in the study of both evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology has been tilting the scales in favor of the Tragic Vision. The historic irony is that those who hold the Tragic Vision, and thus are typically religious and hostile towards Darwinian evolution, are those who’s claims about how the world works are being supported by the evidence of evolution.
Not only that but those most religious, such as Duggar family with their 19 children, are showing the most Darwinian success because they are leaving the most children. Oh bitter irony that those who most disbelieve in Darwin are those with the most Darwinian fitness.
As Steven Pinker put it in his book The Blank Slate:
... the new sciences of human nature really do vindicate some version of the Tragic Vision and undermine the Utopian outlook that until recently dominated large segments of intellectual life.
It is because the Tragic Vision is basically correct, and thus man basically deeply flawed imperturbable being is why some form of a social conservative ethic is required.