Recently, I was challenged in the comment section of another article to define “conservative principles,” and I declined. Informing the inquisitor that it was far too complicated to do in that format, I suggesting I may write a future editorial to outline his question in detail. Truthfully, it will be pressing to do this in a 1600-word editorial, because conservatism is not an isolated ideology like liberalism or libertarianism. It is far more a pragmatic way of thinking and a philosophy regarding various issues and ideas as they arise, and there are almost as many variations of conservatism as there are conservatives. Nevertheless, what I will attempt to define, is what I believe has become American Conservatism, or the American Conservative movement of the 21st century.
It’s important to begin by noting, this brand of American Conservatism is not what the rest of the world commonly refers to as conservative, in fact, many would call it a form of liberalism or neoliberalism. In other parts of the world, a conservative is someone who opposes change, or in the case of a “reactionary” conservative, someone who seeks to regain what once was. While modern American Conservatism may have some of these attributes of commonality, it does not adequately define the conservative movement in America. Most Americans who identify as Conservative, realize that we live in a diverse society, which is constantly changing and evolving culturally. They may be more pragmatic and cautious about change, but they are very much tolerant of it. They tend to have a strong respect for the Constitution, which specifically outlines a process by which society can change and evolve through collective populism, or the will of the people.
Many of the modern American Conservative principles are epitomized in the policies of former president, Ronald Reagan. He single-handedly set the standard, and established what is now defined as “core conservative values” in the current amalgamation of American Conservatism. The principles include smaller limited government, pro-capitalism, low taxation, fiscal responsibility, less intrusive government regulation, free trade, entrepreneurial freedom, and respect for traditional moral social values like religious freedom, personal responsibility, and right to life. Aspects also include due reverence for the environment and confidence in private sector solutions as opposed to government imposed mandates and controls.
Contrary to popular myth, Reagan didn’t believe in government forcing social conservative moral values on all of society, but rather, the belief in mankind to govern himself in these matters, through ballot initiatives or elected representation. While he never forced religious views on anyone, he fully appreciated the role of God in the conservative philosophy. You see, for the conservative message to work, you simply have to recognize the existence of God. I know that may come as a shock to some Atheistic/Agnostic Libertarian-Conservative types, but this is why you guys can’t win more than 2% of the vote in national elections.
Conservatism without God fails, because there is no basis for the belief that we are endowed by our Creator, certain inalienable rights. It means, our rights can’t come from something that doesn’t exist, so they have to come from man, and this totally defeats the conservative ideology. Suddenly our rights can be determined by a Court body, a few judges in robes, a Congressional body, a group of politicians or voters. For true conservatism to work, we have to believe and understand that our rights are inalienable, given to us by God, and they can’t be granted or taken by any man. It’s cute and convenient to pontificate fiscal conservatism along with social liberalism, it just doesn’t work as a viable political philosophy. One depends upon the other, and together they form the core principles of conservatism. Faith in God and Man.
Once we accept that our rights can’t be alienated, we can have confidence in mankind to responsibly utilize those rights to better his lot in life. Every person in America has opportunity, and can be successful. Regardless of whatever adversity you may be born into, you have something that can’t be taken away by man. It is through this core belief and faith, that we can maintain hope for our future and the future generations to come. Without this faith, we can easily be transformed into victims of society, dependent upon some governmental authority to save us from failure or consequence. In essence, we essentially become conservative liberals.
By the same token, conservatives who are purely social conservative, are just as ideologically dangerous as liberal ideologues. They will use government to impose social moral values on all of society the same as the liberal will use government to impose immoral social values. Fiscal responsibility be damned, it becomes a game of enforcing one set of values over another, on all of society. This is not what the modern conservative movement is about at all. Reagan understood the delicate balance here, and how to incorporate both the social conservative traditional moral values, with the pragmatic fiscal responsibility, and forged a strong conservative message for the ages. Social conservatives may have strong opinions on how society should behave, but they must also have faith in their fellow man to utilize his inalienable rights, ultimately as God sees fit. To try and force-fit a social conservative agenda, is no different than what the liberals do.
I would be remiss if I did not address false assumptions made by the left, regarding modern conservatives. For instance, conservatives are not solely concerned with corporatists and capitalists running roughshod over the rights of the individual, stealing all the wealth, screwing people over, or anything remotely like this. Because we believe in people, and their inalienable rights, we see free market capitalism as the means by which the poor can become as wealthy as anyone else. We seek to implement policies to encourage wealth building, because that is how people without money, gain money. You simply can’t punish wealth acquisition and still expect people to escape poverty, it can’t happen. Nor can you invoke a “Robin Hood” strategy of taking from the rich to give to the poor, it just doesn’t work. What has to happen is, government has to allow all people to enjoy their inalienable rights to economically prosper and thrive, and in doing so, man will thrive and succeed. In a Conservative Utopia, every poor person would eventually become a millionaire, through entrepreneurial spirit and ambition. Now of course, we all know “Utopias” don’t exist, and not all men have the same drive and ambition, so there will never be a time or place where this happens.
So what do Conservatives want to do about the “underprivileged” in society? Well, let’s look at what the Liberal Progressives have done. We’ve poured about $17 trillion into the War on Poverty, and we have as many people living in poverty today as ever before. So this is obviously a failed plan. Reason being, there is no faith in man or God. It is assumed that poor people can’t ever get ahead in life, they are stuck being poor, and without the “good liberal” out there fighting for their share of the pie, they will continue to suffer. As we see, they have continued to suffer and languish in poverty, and it is because the root of the problem is ignored. The missing ingredient is ambition and motivation to succeed. That’s not saying they are “lazy” per say. Just that, with all the government programs and handouts, they are complacent and unmotivated, content with living within the limited means provided for them by society, and unwilling to take the initiative to do better. How do you fix that? Well, perhaps by doing some things to motivate them? Change our policies from “handouts” to opportunities. Liberals will scream this is harsh and cruel, and Conservatives just don’t care, but I think Conservatives care more about getting them out of their persistent situation than Liberals, who just want to keep enabling them. It doesn’t “help” someone to give them things for free, it enables and encourages dependency. Have faith this person can achieve success, if you give them opportunity to do so and the proper motivation.
Conservatives and Progressives see things in a different light. It’s not that Conservatives don’t care about those who are less fortunate, they care more than the Progressive, as a matter of fact. The Progressive advocates giving the alcoholic another bottle of booze, because they are suffering without it. The Conservative realizes this is not “helping” the alcoholic at all. Now it may seem harsh, but the bottom line is, the alcoholic can’t be helped until they are motivated to help themselves. We can give them opportunity, we can show them the way, we can point them in the right direction, and we can have faith in them, and God. giving in to their demands for another bottle of booze, is not “helping” them. It may make us feel good for the moment, and they will certainly respond favorably, but it’s only exacerbating the problem.
I will predict, the immediate Liberal Progressive response to my editorial, will be to raise the point of how Republicans have done this or that, or how Republican policies are contradictory to what I have said, but the important thing to remember is, Republicans are not always Conservative. In fact, most of our current GOP is highly Progressive. There has never been an actual time in American history, where true Conservatives have controlled the House, Senate and White House. Now, some will say, this must mean we are mostly Liberal Progressive, since Conservatives have never totally ran the show, but this is an incorrect assumption. It’s for the same reason you don’t see any Baptist Popes. Liberal Progressives believe in Big Government, and governmental solutions and policies to fix our problems, while Conservatives believe in people and individualism and not governmental policy solutions. Naturally, government is more inclined to attract those who seek to make it all-important, like the Liberal Progressive. If we stripped away all the labels and connotations perpetrated by the politicos, most Americans identify with the principles of Conservatism.