What is Conservatism?

March 29, 2017

by Devin

When I was younger, say, about 10 years younger or more, I used to read from and listen to media outlets on the left regularly. I found it to be a siren song sometimes, particularly NPR. Those NPR voices are the most soothing I’ve ever heard on radio. And the musical jingle they play for NPR News is so nerdy sounding, how could any self-described intellectual not love it? And, of course, NPR has some great programs. Who could resist listening to Dick Estell, the Radio Reader, if he or she has the time? The only person on NPR that ever irked me was Daniel Shore, who was the most overtly, egregiously, over-the-top left-wing-nutcase commentator ever to be heard over the NPR frequencies. He didn’t even try to hide his political leanings. And his analysis, well, it just plain sucked. Anyone with half a brain could see that. But there he was, every day, dropping great pearls of left-wing commentary and real jewels of political analysis on NPR’s listeners. I figured he must be there to make the rest of the news folks seem balanced, both politically, and psychologically. He passed away a few years ago, and I, well, I was still listening to NPR when it happened and I…, well, I have to admit, I thought to myself, I hope they don’t replace him with another nutcase just like him!

But in the end, I just quit listening to NPR entirely. I also quit listening to the few other left-wing talk radio shows that were still trying to survive, but were so horrible they didn’t make it. I also gave up watching the news on TV. For several years I had already given up watching anything but FOX, but then I realized FOX isn’t all that conservative, either. It just seems like it is because compared to the other television news media, it is. But the truth is, it doesn’t take much to be to the right of CNN, NBC, MSNBC, ABC, or CBS. Or even ESPN, although people don’t normally think of ESPN as a news channel. But if you watch it long enough, you may discover that ESPN is so loaded down with left-wing propaganda, it hardly seems like a sports channel anymore. So, I quit listening to non-conservative radio and I quit watching television altogether, and as for reading, well, I get all my news online these days. The Liberal bias in the media was really starting to annoy me in a big way. Mostly, I just never heard anything new or worth adopting.

About 10 years ago I starting educating myself on Conservatism (in America) because a liberal friend of mine challenged me to define it and I found that I couldn’t. You can imagine my consternation when I realized I had no good way to articulate my beliefs. Seriously. I couldn’t do it. I have since discovered that this is actually a real problem for people who refer to themselves as conservative. Go ask a politician to define it sometime. See what you get. And then there are the commentators, even Rush Limbaugh, who will tell you that it is easy to define Liberalism, but no one seems to be in agreement as to what is Conservatism.

So, for several years I kept trying to define Conservatism in terms of policy positions, but that was ridiculous. Trying to do that is like picking colors to paint your home without ever seeing your home. You have nothing on which to base your color selections. Just a bunch of feelings about how you think it should be. Of course, that is flawed because everyone has different feelings about what policy should be, depending upon the issue. It is my firm belief that the VAST majority of people who identify as conservative, do so because they realized at one point or another, that where they come down on policies is more closely aligned with those typically held by people who call themselves conservatives, or often just as Republicans, than with those held by liberals or Democrats.

The problem with going about it this way is that there are as many different combinations of policy positions as there are people who hold them. It’s a sort of circular logic. Many people who call themselves conservatives do so because they align with so-called conservatives, who call themselves conservatives because they, too, align with other so-called conservatives. What you get after enough time, with this way of defining Conservatism, is a mess!

That is when it hit me that policy positions are best defined as the emergent property of a set of values. The values themselves being something entirely separate. When I say, “best defined,” I do so because if they aren’t based on something besides personal feelings, on something concrete, separate, and well defined, then they are based on nothing to which anyone can point to and defend. So then I started trying to define conservative values, but that, too, I found to be ridiculous, because values, I realized, are the emergent property of an ideal. So then I started trying to identify such an ideal.

The ideal I found is the same ideal that our nation’s founders had. Freedom. Maximum possible individual freedom for all. Such freedom is only limited at the point where it infringes upon someone else’s freedom.

From this ideal flows all of my political values and from those values all of my political policy positions. Well, with one small caveat, I view freedom from a Christian point of view, just as most of our nation’s founders did. And those few who didn’t, still believed in God and had no problem with those who also believed in Jesus.

So, if you ask me what is Conservatism? I can easily tell you now that it is the belief in the exact same thing our nation’s founders believed, which was that humans were created to be free. And that governments are, most unfortunately, a necessary evil, that must be devised in such a way as to keep their power and interference in our lives to an absolute minimum. The Founders intended to create a federal government that served only the absolutely most essential functions necessary and no more. They were bent on writing a constitution that would accomplish this goal. It had never been done before. They had no past experience creating such a government to guide them. No ability to look back and see where the previous attempt went wrong. They did their best. They were tremendously successful, yet, they ultimately failed. What we have today, in America, is an utter failure in the eyes of our nation’s founders.

A true Conservative in this day and age is someone who wants to restore the original intent of America’s founders. Maximum possible freedom for all.

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