Conservatives are common in our society. As Smash Mouth Politics observed from a Gallup poll (here), we tend to get more Conservative as we grow older. Why do we get more Conservative as we get older? Smash Mouth Politics offered the following in explanation.
If a man is not a liberal at twenty, he has no heart. If a man is not conservative by the time he is forty, he has no brain.
Why would younger citizens be more inclined to be Liberal and older citizens more inclined to be Conservative? Is it strictly a matter of experience? Perhaps, but this observation leaves two unanswered questions and a contrary observation.
- Question #1: What is Conservatism?
- Question #2: Why does experience make one more Conservative?
- Contrary observation: Conservatism is not the dominant ideology amongst our ruling elite.
What is Conservatism?
Political labels tend to be poorly defined. Because politics is warfare with words, even the terms of debate become a source of contention.
An ordinary dictionary would define conservatism this way.
The cynic’s dictionary would define conservatism this way.
While the above definitions may seem either innocuous or amusing, in the hands of the devious, they can be problematic. For example, some will make use of the fact that societies vary considerably. During the time of Mikhail Gorbachev, such vague definitions allowed Liberal journalists to refer to Russian Communists as Conservatives (For examples, see here, here, and here.). Yet in the United States, Conservatism obviously has nothing to do with Communism or the investment of Czarist-like powers in the hands of one man or a small group. Instead of informing Americans about Russian Communists, Liberal journalists apparently intended to misinform the American public about American Conservatives.
So what is Conservatism? In the United States, Conservatism is what Liberalism was two hundred years ago. Microsoft’s encarta suggests as much. However, as you might expect, Microsoft’s commentary on Conservatism is not exactly favorable.
Unlike England and the European continent, the main currents of American political thought converged throughout the 19th century into a broad consensus that incorporated economic individualism and constitutional democracy with powerful restraints on the government. This had little in common with the conservative doctrines of Edmund Burke; it was in fact closer to liberalism, with the principles of individual freedom and equality taken as self-evident. Thus, the major characteristics of American conservatism emerged as economic individualism, social Darwinism, and nationalism. (from here)
Conservatives are for Social Darwinism? Nationalism? Of course not. In practice, Conservatism is about limited government. Consider what the Founders observed in the Declaration of Independence.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. (from here)
The Founders believed government exists to protect our rights — that in order for the rights of individuals to be protected, we must have some form of government. This was the revolution in the American Revolution. For most of human history, the governing elite has enslaved the individuals who make up the mass of humanity. Instead of protecting the rights of the individual, government has served as the primary tool of enslavement. America is an exception to this rule. Thus modern American Conservatism is principally about preserving and fortifying the hard won gains that allow Americans to call themselves a free people.
Through the rule of Law, our Constitution elevates the rights of individual over those of the government. To preserve our liberties, Conservatives believe we must support and defend constitutional law.
In particular, Conservatism is about protecting religious freedom. Conservatives understand that our individual liberties are the byproduct of our Christian religious heritage. That is why we have a secular government. To protect religious freedom, the Founders created a secular government. Thus Conservatives oppose using the secular nature of our government as an excuse to impose Secular Humanism upon the whole of society. Conservatives believe it is not the role of government either to establish or nullify religious belief.
To be continued.
This is the first of a three part essay. Its purpose is to answer a question: why do human beings have so much trouble practicing Conservatism? Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3.