Over the past few years with the rise of the Tea Party movement, many of my friends have asked me ‘what is a Conservative’? Most of the time I am asked this question by my friends from the Libertarian persuasion who often give statements or quotes from certain founders, or Barry Goldwater that are often based in one form or another on ‘nonaggression’ trying to challenge me on what I refer to as ‘authentic Conservatism’. While a component of Conservatism has elements of nonaggression embedded in it, our founders, who gave us the basis of American Conservatism would quickly disagree with the absolute nonaggression.
Many on the Libertarian side of the spectrum would argue that the individual has supremacy over the state and with that being the case, cannot be compelled to act against their will. In ‘theory’ the supremacy of the individual over the state is correct on most issues however, it is not an absolute. For example, the founders never created a system of governance (whether at the federal level, state level, county level, or community level) that all laws must be passed with 100% unanimity and all elected officials must get 100% of the vote in order for them to have legitimacy. In fact, even the founding of the Republic in 1789 was not unanimous before it went into effect (two states North Carolina and Rhode Island didn’t ratify the Constitution until after Washington had already won the presidency and was already inaugurated) and Constitutional Amendments do not need to be ratified and approved by all the States. With that being the case I must dismiss absolutist ‘nonaggression’ as the primary root of legitimate authority. So if the government can compel an individual to comply, what prevents the State from becoming a tyrannical regime?
“Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” ~ George Washington
While I acknowledge that there is much in Conservatism that shares much with Libertarian philosophy, Conservatism goes the all important next step of viewing the effects of governments through the prism of thousands of years of human experience to come to a conclusion of an effective government that respects and recognizes both Natural and Moral Laws. I would like to go into depth on what defines Conservatism but a great man, with better communication skills than myself has already addressed this question 36 years ago, Ronaldus Magnus. Reagan begins by refuting those that claim Conservatives are seeking ‘ideological purity’ and goes on to refute that Conservatism is an ‘ideology’ at all, thus delineating between Libertarian ideology and American Conservatism. American Conservatism is based on guiding core principles as shaped and understood through human experience.
… I have always been puzzled by the inability of some political and media types to understand exactly what is meant by adherence to political principle. All too often in the press and the television evening news it is treated as a call for “ideological purity.” Whatever ideology may mean — and it seems to mean a variety of things, depending upon who is using it — it always conjures up in my mind a picture of a rigid, irrational clinging to abstract theory in the face of reality. We have to recognize that in this country “ideology” is a scare word. And for good reason. Marxist-Leninism is, to give but one example, an ideology. All the facts of the real world have to be fitted to the Procrustean bed of Marx and Lenin. If the facts don’t happen to fit the ideology, the facts are chopped off and discarded.
I consider this to be the complete opposite to principled conservatism. If there is any political viewpoint in this world which is free from slavish adherence to abstraction, it is American conservatism.
When a conservative states that the free market is the best mechanism ever devised by the mind of man to meet material needs, he is merely stating what a careful examination of the real world has told him is the truth.
When a conservative says that totalitarian Communism is an absolute enemy of human freedom he is not theorizing — he is reporting the ugly reality captured so unforgettably in the writings of Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
When a conservative says it is bad for the government to spend more than it takes in, he is simply showing the same common sense that tells him to come in out of the rain.
When a conservative says that busing does not work, he is not appealing to some theory of education — he is merely reporting what he has seen down at the local school.
When a conservative quotes Jefferson that government that is closest to the people is best, it is because he knows that Jefferson risked his life, his fortune and his sacred honor to make certain that what he and his fellow patriots learned from experience was not crushed by an ideology of empire.
Conservatism is the antithesis of the kind of ideological fanaticism that has brought so much horror and destruction to the world. The common sense and common decency of ordinary men and women, working out their own lives in their own way — this is the heart of American conservatism today. Conservative wisdom and principles are derived from willingness to learn, not just from what is going on now, but from what has happened before.
The principles of conservatism are sound because they are based on what men and women have discovered through experience in not just one generation or a dozen, but in all the combined experience of mankind. When we conservatives say that we know something about political affairs, and that we know can be stated as principles, we are saying that the principles we hold dear are those that have been found, through experience, to be ultimately beneficial for individuals, for families, for communities and for nations — found through the often bitter testing of pain, or sacrifice and sorrow.
President Reagan continues
The American new conservative majority (here Reagan is speaking of an alliance of Social Conservatives and Economic Conservatives) we represent is not based on abstract theorizing of the kind that turns off the American people, but on common sense, intelligence, reason, hard work, faith in God, and the guts to say: “Yes, there are things we do strongly believe in, that we are willing to live for, and yes, if necessary, to die for.” That is not “ideological purity.” It is simply what built this country and kept it great.
Let us lay to rest, once and for all, the myth of a small group of ideological purists trying to capture a majority. Replace it with the reality of a majority trying to assert its rights against the tyranny of powerful academics, fashionable left-revolutionaries, some economic illiterates who happen to hold elective office and the social engineers who dominate the dialogue and set the format in political and social affairs. If there is any ideological fanaticism in American political life, it is to be found among the enemies of freedom on the left or right — those who would sacrifice principle to theory, those who worship only the god of political, social and economic abstractions, ignoring the realities of everyday life. They are not conservatives.
Our first job is to get this message across to those who share most of our principles. If we allow ourselves to be portrayed as ideological shock troops without correcting this error we are doing ourselves and our cause a disservice. Wherever and whenever we can, we should gently but firmly correct our political and media friends who have been perpetuating the myth of conservatism as a narrow ideology. Whatever the word may have meant in the past, today conservatism means principles evolving from experience and a belief in change when necessary, but not just for the sake of change.
Once we have established this, the next question is: What will be the political vehicle by which the majority can assert its rights? …
This is an excerpt from Reagan’s ‘The New Republican Party’ speech (CPAC 1977), and THIS is Conservatism.
Read it, learn it, live it, and as Ric Flair said ‘Learn to LOVE IT! Because it’s the best thing going today — WOOOOO!”