What Does it Mean to Be A Conservative?
In my last article, I went over a few things that I thought to be root societal issues that needed to be fixed if we were to have a society that could progress itself in a positive manner. In short, I discussed that we, and by we I mean all Americans, must realize that conservatism and liberalism are not superior to each other and must keep that in mind when looking for solutions for societal problems.
I also discussed how a large portion of Americans get caught up “in the issues” so to speak and, because of that, they often overlook people with differing ideals as individuals with different life experiences and more often than not will identify them solely as part of a group with stances opposite of their own. More so, they allow those issues to define for them what conservatism and liberalism is and as a result, it creates this fictional depiction for them of the type of people that conservatives or liberals are. This keeps them from truly understanding other people and from truly looking at the beliefs and principles that matter.
However, I also recognize that this could be due and is very often due to the fact that people don’t actually know what it means to be truly a conservative or liberal and, in many cases, people learn their ideology based upon issues. While they may know the principles tied to those issues, do they truly understand those principles. This is most especially true amongst the youth of America today. I believe that, due to the attempts of some institutions, they have a misguided view of conservatism and only a partial view of liberalism. Because of this, I will start by talking about conservatism with a focus on conservative principles and will discuss liberalism in a later article.
So what does it mean to be a conservative? Better yet, what does it mean to be a modern conservative? I say modern conservative because the origins of conservatism can actually be traced back to before the 1600’s. Also, there are different types of conservatism, which I will individually discuss in the future. For now, I will focus on briefly describing what it means first to be a conservative according to its traditional definition. Then, I will describe American Conservatism from the 1900’s to present time. However, before I do, I want to challenge you. Ask yourself, “what does it mean to be a conservative?” If you can, write it down before you continue to read. Then you can compare and see just how much you know or do not know.
Conservatism is a political and social philosophy that respects traditional, social, institutions in the context of a culture and civilization. Conservatism focuses on tradition from nationally defined beliefs and customs, interdependency between people’s roles in society. It focuses on individual initiative and reflection, the value in individual dignity, work ethic, authority, property rights and equality of opportunity. Everything that a conservative seeks to preserve does so with an aim of making important the social stability and continuity of society. They believe in a social cohesion based upon the interdependence that arises between people from the specialization of work and complementarianism. Although individuals perform different tasks and can have different values and interests, the order and very solidarity of society depends on their reliance on each other to perform their specified tasks.
A conservative does not reject change. They are just critical of a change especially in the form of radical or social change. They believe that the attempt to modify the institutions that form society for the sake of some doctrine or theory, will result in unintended consequences. The most traditional of conservatives hold views that favor a return to a previous political state that hold possessed characteristics that are non-existent or lacking in their present time. One thing that people may not realize is that conservatism is always changing. This is because conservatism depends on what is considered to be traditional at any given time and place by any given person. Because of this, believe it or not, conservatism can be actually quite flexible. While doing some research I came across a quote from Quinton Hog, chairman of the British Conservative Party in 1959, and I love it. He says that "conservatism is not so much a philosophy as an attitude, a constant force, performing a timeless function in the development of a free society, and corresponding to a deep and permanent requirement of human nature itself".
Now, when it comes to American conservatism, in reality, not much is different. The only thing that is different is that the mindset of conservatives is influenced by not conservative principles but by American principles. They then just have a conservative view of those principles. I say this because American principles are more important than conservative or liberal principles. They are human principles. And if anything, they are a result of both conservative and liberal thinking. Because of conservatives' stress on tradition, in the case of Americans and American tradition, American conservatives can actually be some of the most rational and understanding people which is important to note in a time where conservatives are often viewed by some as sanctimonious and self-serving.
Today, there are two types of the general American conservatives in the scope of true conservatism. There is the pre-Trump conservative and the post-Trump conservative. The latter is not too different from the first but there is enough to be discussed that I will have to do so in the future and will discuss how that relates to the current change in conservatism which, as I said earlier, is flexible and constantly, but slowly, changing much in the way conservatives view change actually but I slightly digress. Anyways, the American conservative has much respect for American principles: principles defined by the bill of rights, defined in a way by the constitution, and defined by the experiences of those who came before us. They hold the ideas of liberty, and inalienable rights as central values and they believe in the legitimacy of the people as the source of all authority in law. They believe in a limited government. They believe that there is a system of ethics that is universal and that it applies to all people regardless of culture, race, sexual orientation, religion, nationality or any other characterization. They believe that, as a result of human nature, there is a moral order and that there are moral truths that will never change. It is that moral order that, if respected, will result in a good society morally speaking.
The American Conservative:
● Believes in the principle of prudence. In the case of public policy, everything should be judged and or made with probable long-term consequences in mind.
● They believe in variety. There must be some sort of a class structure and with it naturally comes some inequality. They believe if people are to be allowed to live differently, then inequality is inevitable. In fact the only form of equality that should be pursued is equality before a just court of law and under the law of the land. Any other attempt for equality would lead to social stagnation.
● They are against utopianism. They understand that even just the pursuit of such a society would result in anarchy eventually in a world filled with imperfect people. It is usually acceptable to them that there will be some evils that exist from time to time and that is just how the world works.
● They believe that private property is connected to freedom. More so, it is the foundation of private property that allows society to grow.
● They believe in strong individual communities. They believe that a community will be healthy as long as the decisions that most directly affect the people of the community are made locally, voluntarily and agreed upon by the majority of those affected. In turn, the sum of those healthy communities create a healthy society.
● They believe in the restrictions of political power. This goes a bit deeper than belief in a limited government but it is still related. This stems from the recognition of both good and evil in humans and that, from time to time, people can be tempted to overstep the bounds of power in an unjust manner. They want to limit and balance political power so that anarchy and tyranny won’t arise. However at the same time, they believe in a healthy balance between liberty and the claims of authority.
● Lastly, they believe in permanence and change. They recognize that the permanence of a society depends on the interests and convictions that give society stability and continuity. Without it, society will fall into anarchy. Change in a society is motivated by the spirit of the people and relies on the talents of various factions to push society to prudent reform and improvement. They believe in reasoned and tempered progress, and incremental change over time. Also, not everything that is new is superior to everything that is old.
● They are against political and government activism. They reject the idea that people can be morally changed through political or social change.
In short, this is American conservatism. Now I know that this may not have seemed brief but in the scope of how much there is to discuss about this subject, it was. Also I’m sure you have noticed that I have also said nothing about religion and did not mention any issues such as being pro-life for example. This is because they either influence American conservative principles, like religion, or they are a result of these principles. However, they do not define conservatism and as far as religion is concerned, while very important, it is not the sole basis of conservative principles and that is what I wanted to focus on, purely the principles at face value. Now that I have done so, I believe we should reflect upon how conservatism is taught currently and change it to better reflect these principles and while not all of them, they are the root principles that everything else stems from whether we are conscious of it or not. I don’t want you to just take me at my word. While I will be continuing to talk about this subject. I encourage you, whether you’re conservative or not, to go and read more on these principles. That way, when you read my next few articles, you will have a deeper insight of conservatism, more to think about, and more to challenge yourself and/or others. By doing so, we all will truly be learning what it means to be a conservative together.
Article by Tyler Sanders