What is a conservative?: Five necessary ingredients
“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'”
A government that is big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it all away.”
As we enter the twilight years of the American experiment–with a Republican Party in supreme power–a question comes to mind: What is a conservative?
It’s a matter of uncertainty whether we’ve had a conservative in the White House since the Nineteenth Century. There were no conservative Presidents in the last century who were Democrats. There were no obvious Republican conservatives in the Oval Office, either. Eisenhower certainly wasn’t a conservative. Nixon was openly socialistic.
Ronald Reagan wasn’t a conservative, either, at least in governance–although he espoused conservatism forcefully on a rhetorical level. Perhaps in that sense, we may define Reagan as a rightist philosopher, like Robert Taft or Barry Goldwater. Unfortunately Reagan’s beliefs did not transfer into presidential leadership–due in large part to the fact that Reagan was an anachronism, and he had already outlived the effective lifespan of conservatism itself.
Conservatism–in this day and age of flexible meanings for words–is mostly illusion. It retains a few free market platitudes, but for the most part, it is fakery. It has become a product label for an inferior substitute product, like the 80s label of “New Coke”. Faux conservatism rules America. It bears very little resemblance to the real thing. Real conservatism will never rise from the ashes until we at least grasp what it stands for.
Before we define what conservatism is, perhaps we should define what it is not.
* Fascism is not conservatism. It is left-wing socialism with bombs and machine guns. Communism is essentially the same thing. There is no ideological gulf separating Communism and Fascism, facades aside.
* Capitalism is not conservatism. It complements conservatism, but does not override its principles. Conservatism is a political and social concept. The corporation is not more important than the Constitution.
* A Theocracy is not conservatism. It is a bastard state. Christians who empower tyranny in the guise of doing God’s Will apparently never understood Christ’s admonition of “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”
* Neo-conservatism isn’t conservatism, either. (See “Fascism”, above.)
Inflammatory labels aside, I am not here to call George W. Bush dirty names. I am only attempting to clear up what is and is not a conservative. Apparently there is a great deal of misunderstanding of this concept, since conservatives have not held any real political power in our system for a long, long time.
Allow me to state what should, by now, be extremely obvious: GW Bush is not–by any definition–a conservative. Neither are Karl Rove, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Bennett, George Will, or a bunch of other people on Capitol Hill who apparently never guessed what their Oath of Office was supposed to represent. All these people are, at most, political moderates. And their President is a liberal.
Bush is a happy socialist who has yet to veto a single spending bill. He has maintained a massive post-Clinton bureaucracy without even giving lip service to reducing the size and scope of federal government. Bush has greatly expanded the government’s role in our lives. He has thrown tidal waves of money at education, medicare, and farm subsidies. He has monstrously inflated the government’s police powers, in complete contravention to the Bill of Rights. He has racked up the biggest deficit in American history. A small tax cut or two, perched decoratively atop a towering mountain of free spending and federal expansionism, does not make the mountain into a conservative one.
Even John Kerry, a Massachusetts liberal ideologue, figured out that Bush isn’t a conservative. People often allude to the fact that Bush and Kerry were both members of the conspiratorial fraternal organization “Skull & Bones”. Skull & Bones is trivia. Of much greater importance to us is the fact that the two candidates had no real ideological differences. The bitterly fought race for the White House in 2004 was a contest between two liberal socialists with minor variations in their personal rhetoric.
There is no “right wing” in our system at present–at least anywhere near the reins of power. The entire political spectrum is left-oriented, and we are now seeing a sort of angry tribal factionalism, like feuds between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
The artful pretense of GOP conservatism ended on 9-11-01. With a Great Cause to trumpet, Republicans were allowed to openly embrace federal power. Not too ironically, that was when most of the established news media stopped throwing brickbats at Republicans, and started tossing posies instead.
There are five ingredients necessary for conservatism. These are fundamentals:
-The first necessary ingredient for a conservative is a belief in smaller government. Particularly at the federal level. Statism is Leftism–an all-powerful, centralized government. Conservatives oppose this, embracing state’s rights and a smaller, less centralized federal government. This is the foundational cornerstone of conservatism.
-The second necessary ingredient for a conservative is a belief in national sovereignty and isolationism. Conservatives do not believe in foreign aid or foreign entanglements. They revere American sovereignty. Yes, conservatives do believe in a strong national defense–but national defense as mandated by the Constitution and the Monroe Doctrine. An invasive military empire is not mandated. Therein lies a crucial difference.
When Woodrow Wilson tried to get the US into the League of Nations, conservatives opposed him. When Franklin D. Roosevelt was aggressively lobbying to get the US into the Second World War, conservatives opposed him. Conservatives have scorned the UN. They are not practitioners of global military interventionism. Conservatives believe in defense of our national borders, not aggression—and real security based on not meddling in the affairs of other nations. Conservatives believe in “Fortress America”…not Pax Americana.
-The third necessary ingredient is a belief in the Rule of Law—beginning with the Constitution of the United States. The Bill of Rights is essentially sacrosanct. A conservative does not believe in a “living Constitution”.
The only way a conservative would ever alter the Constitution would be by constitutional amendment. He would never seek to override it with power-grabbing legislation. The passage of the USA-Patriot Act–an Orwellian abomination, all the way down to its namesake–established pretty firmly just how many conservatives are left in Washington DC.
-A fourth necessary ingredient to conservatism is a belief in traditional values. It is here that politics over such things as Roy Moore’s Ten Commandments come into play. However, traditional values, are, by their very nature, regressive. It is true that there is no constitutional separation of church and state, as commonly stated, but there is also Freedom of Worship, and a generalized restriction of government authority. Therefore no allowances exist for the federal government to dabble in the religion business one way or the other. Real conservatives, being strict constructionists, would protect the religious rights of the individual without exploiting Christianity for seizure of power.
-The fifth necessary ingredient to conservatism is adherence to principle. The stubborn instinct to stand firm on issues, rejecting political expediency, in other words. Conservatism cannot exist without an ideological backbone, because one of the most basic philosophies behind conservatism is preservation of tradition. Traditions cannot survive in the absence of principles.
The national leadership of the Republican Party has willfully broken from all the above.
We should do away with the terms “paleoconservative” and “Old Right”. These only tend to confuse things, lending passive legitimacy to ‘neo-conservatism’. A neo-conservative is no more a conservative than a bird is an amphibian. In the cold light of reality, there are no “paleocons” and “neo-cons”. There are only a handful of conservatives and a bunch of leftward-leaning Republicans who are fakes. Real conservatives, in power, are rarer than hen’s teeth these days.
We do have one shining example of a conservative left in this country.
No, it isn’t Patrick J. Buchanan, or any of his peerage. Pat is a very well-educated–but self-deceiving–mainstream Republican. He is apparently more interested in selling books than taking a coherent stand on issues. Intelligent, yes. Principled, no. (The same description also fits his mentor, Richard M. Nixon.)
The one prominent example of a conservative left in our system is a congressman by the name of Dr. Ron Paul. He appears to be our last surviving American statesman. Unlike GW Bush, Paul is a real Texan as well as a real conservative. He is also widely known in libertarian circles, and he once ran for President on the Libertarian Party ticket. Because he runs under the GOP banner, he is frequently referred to as a “libertarian hybrid”. Which is precisely to the point.
What is a conservative? A conservative is a libertarian who believes in traditional values.
That is not to suggest “libertarian” and “conservative” are completely synonymous. There is a large anarchist wing within the libertarian movement, and anarchists are incompatible with any constitutional state, because they oppose all forms of government. Hence, it cannot be said that all libertarians are conservatives.
But are all real conservatives libertarians? Yes.
“Published originally at EtherZone.com : republication allowed with this notice and hyperlink intact.”