by Brad Nelson 4/15/14
In regards to conservatism, there is much ignorance about what that means, particularly among many libertarians (not to mention the willful ignorance of many of today’s Republicans and their establishment mouthpieces). With the help of the StubbornThing’s brain trust, let me reiterate the main points as I see them:
What is American conservatism?
1) Reverence for the wisdom of the Founders, for the thoughts that went into the making of the Constitution, and for Western Civilization itself
2) A belief in limited government as the best guarantor of liberty
3) A belief that there are objective principles in regards to politics, society, human nature, and man’s relationship to the Eternal
4) Utopia is not an option
5) All harm cannot be ameliorated, nor should it be — it is inherent to living a life worth living that man must struggle and often fail
6) All governance should be done at the most local level possible
7) Belief in a pluralistic society that is organized under some general philosophies of life and a generally shared identity (aka “E Pluribus Unum”)
8) The private sector is the lifeblood of any good society — we are a people who have a government, and not the other way around
9) Only a moral people can hold onto freedom
10) Freedom, not equality, is what we are about
11) The law of unintended consequences must be respected
12) All things have costs — everything is a matter of making trade-offs
14) Private property is the basis of a good, fair, and productive society
15) We are to be ruled by laws, not the arbitrary dictates of men or unelected bureaucracies, and such laws should be clear and made without undue haste or zealousness
16) What Nik Said
17) In order to avoid tyranny, there should be a diffusion of power, including a diffusion into an executive, legislative, and judicial branches where each branch will not usurp the purview of the other
18) Man is more than just another animal and owes a duty to a Good above himself that is neither egotistical nor fascist in nature
19) The common touch: A conservative understands that we all put our pants on one leg at a time. Better-than-thou elitism has no place.
Where would libertarianism disagree? Note that most of the above are general principles of governance (restrictions on governance and/or general guides for governance, not grand purposes for governance). It is therefore assumed by conservatives that most people are fit to run their own lives, and should. Government is not viewed as the lifeblood of society. Government is necessary but should be carefully leashed. Man is a corrupt being and his corruption is easily amplified via the powers of government. This is a conservative truth.
Also, I did not delineate the basic moral codes of Western Civilization, including articulating the Ten Commandments (such as “Thou shall not steal”). But we can no longer take this basic moral code for granted and it should be articulated. Libertarians seem to think they have found an amazing new principle when they reiterate “thou shall not steal.” And it’s nice that they agree with that point, but what of all the others?
The Left is completely contrary to every one of the points above. And very often this is simply their desire to be contrary, to crash existing mores and institutions in order to increment their own power. This is the Lucifer element: There are many who would rather rule in hell than serve in heaven.
But there is also an entirely different worldview that lies at the base of these two views. And it really is a simple as the difference between seeing humanity as a mainly optimistic moral agent who must generally make his own way in the world in order to express his humanity and the gift of life — vs. the pessimistic view which is that man can’t possibly make it on his own and needs to subsume himself inside an authoritarian collectivism, substituting his moral and intellectual independence for that of the state which will presumably protect him.
Libertarians, at least on paper, do reject collectivism. But instead of seeing their lives in some larger context, this rejection seems to have more to do with unalloyed egotism than anything else….getting back to one of the fundamental points above: Is man nothing more than just another animal? Is his primary purpose in life little more than to scratch every itch as it comes up? If this is so, then libertarianism, as I suspect it is, is an atomizing force in society and therefore cannot ever be the grounding for a stable and good society.
So perhaps we conservatives are a bit like the Left in that we believe in a purpose other than just getting stoned. As I’ve said about the Left before, they are evil but at least they believe in something. It’s the wrong thing, but man must have noble ambitions or he rots.
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