Tuesday, May 17, 2016

What Sort of Conservative?

What is the good of words if they aren't important enough to quarrel over? Why do we choose one word more than another if there isn't any difference between them? If you called a woman a chimpanzee instead of an angel, wouldn't there be a quarrel about a word? If you're not going to argue about words, what are you going to argue about? Are you going to convey your meaning to me by moving your ears? The Church and the heresies always used to fight about words, because they are the only things worth fighting about.
- GK Chesterton

(As there are many Democrats who read this blog, many whom are dear and respected friends of mine, I am not writing to argue with or persuade you to change your mind. If you choose to read this, think of it as something that may offer some insights as to how to converse or debate with conservatives, as well as how to tell what sort of conservative you are encountering.)

Fear Based Conservatives

Fear of change These people’s fears are not so much a dread of future consequences based on principles, but simply a mindless loyalty to “how things have always worked.” Any change, for these people, is perceived as a threat to the foundations of their way of life.

Fear of Loss These men and women see their earning power dwindling, the cost of onerous regulations forcing them to charge more for their products or services, and the omen of higher taxes, and, “Dammit, this needs to end.” The problem is, however understandable, that this is a fear based gut reaction, not a principled belief in justice.

And why does this matter?

Because each of these fears belies a sense-based or sentimental conservatism that rarely has any intellectual foundation.  While you may applaud their voting for your preferred candidate or cause, such “conservatism” is ephemeral: tomorrow, they will support whoever buys off their fears with impossible promises. Remember: Fearful people vote their fears not their principles. (Note to liberals: these people are low-hanging fruit!)

Politically Ideological Conservatives

These True Believers have turned conservatism into a Political Religion - with dogmas and anathemas thrown in for free! These people are like Roger Williams (the Puritan, not the singer), whose demand for purity led him to refuse to eat the Lord’s Supper with sinners, which, at the end of his life, left him eating alone.

Conservatism is not a religion. This mindset is something that any principled conservative - from Edmund Burk to Russell Kirk – would vehemently oppose. Frankly, properly understood, it is not even an ideology. Conservatism is a mindset, a particular kind of character and approach to life, and the quest to discover and live by and for the “permanent things.” (TS Eliot) While a conservative mindset affects how one engages within the sphere of politics and political economics, it is about far more than politics.  

Instinctual Conservatives

These people’s hearts resonate with conservative principles. However, as they have yet to spend time reading and reflecting, they have no intellectual basis upon which to stand or from which to debate. Quite often this leaves them as “reeds in the wind,” not to mention lousy debaters.  (Note to liberals: higher hanging fruit but ripe with possibility.)

Principled Conservatism

Conservatism is about reverence for the permanent things: those values, precedents, and traditions that have been winnowed and sifted throughout history, where God has revealed His purposes for our existence and how societies can best live and function in harmony.

Conservatives believe in a constitutional limited government, not in populism or in “despotic democracy.” (Tocqueville)

Conservatives see an inexorable link between respect for private property and freedom.

Conservatism has a deep regard for what will make humans truly happy: virtue, not net-worth. Trust me here: if you meet a professing conservative who places no value on virtue, the public’s or his own, his conservatism is dying or already is dead, if it ever existed. (Note to {some} liberals: seize the day!)

Conservatives believe that tragedy will always be a part of human existence. While its effects can be ameliorated by the charitable acts of others, it cannot be eradicated. There are no utopias in our future.

Conservatives believe in the equality of worth of all humans before God, as well as equality before the courts. They do not believe, however, that equality of character and abilities exists, so do not advocate legislating an equality of results from demonstrably unequal people. Such equality has never existed and no matter what is legislated never will.

Conservatives believe in individuality but not individualism. Individuality is about respecting the diversity, variety, and uniqueness of all people. (This is one of the reasons for the Bill of Right’s Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Association, Freedom of Religion, and etc.) Individualism is about self-glorification (or deification) with no regard for living in community, societal harmony, or of permanent things.

Conservatives are averse to alterations of long standing norms, traditions, customs and institutions. I do not say that they are “against” change, only that they believe it should be organic - the culmination of a long and deliberative national conversation, rather than legislated by the fiat word of the Powers That Be.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2016

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