By N.S. Palmer
People sometimes accuse me of being a “liberal.”
There’s some truth in that accusation, because I advocate a few ideas that people identify as liberal: government help for the poor and sick, avoidance of war when possible, environmental protection, public education, and regulation of big business to protect the public good.
But neither liberalism nor conservatism is a clearly-defined viewpoint.
Ted Olson, a Republican lawyer who worked for the “conservative” Bush-Cheney regime, represented plaintiffs in a lawsuit to legalize gay marriage. That’s usually identified as a liberal issue.
Meanwhile, numerous “liberal” politicians and commentators see nothing wrong with warrantless wiretapping, imprisonment without charges, or murder by drone as long as it’s a Democratic president doing those things. Those activities are usually identified as things that conservatives support.
Human life and society are too complex and unpredictable to reduce to a few simple slogans, such as “support the free market” or “provide help to the needy.” One needs to look at the facts of each situation, consult the relevant moral principles and historical examples, then decide on a case-by-case basis.
Conservatives recognize that whether the current state of society is good or bad, millions of people have planned their lives on the assumption that things will remain pretty much as they are. That’s why real conservatives oppose change that is too rapid or too radical: it disrupts people’s lives, perhaps destroys their jobs, and thrusts them into a society they barely recognize as their own. Even if Social Security were a bad idea in the abstract (which it isn’t), real conservatives oppose cutting, privatizing, or abolishing it because millions of people planned their lives on the assumption that it would help them in retirement.
Conservatism means different things in different times and to different people. However, in his book The Conservative Mind, the influential thinker Russell Kirk identified six common tenets of conservative thought:
1. “Belief in a transcendent order.”
In other words, God exists, and He’s pissed as Hell.
2. “Affection for the proliferating variety of human existence.”
In other words, support for real diversity of belief, culture, and practice instead of fake diversity that has to be enforced by politically-correct censorship.
3. “Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes.”
In other words, all people are equal in dignity and in their basic human rights. All people are entitled to respectful and compassionate treatment. However, those are about the only ways in which they are equal.
4. Belief “that freedom and property are closely linked.”
In other words, a system based mainly on private property tends to maximize freedom and prosperity as long as it’s guided by a wise system of laws. If it’s not guided by a wise system of laws, then you get contemporary America or post-Soviet Russia.
5. Suspicion of plans to reconstruct society based on abstract ideology.
In other words, any goofball scheme can seem reasonable in the abstract, as long as it’s not evaluated against the lessons of human history. Turning society upside down in pursuit of abstract justice can cause a lot of real-life injustice.
6. Recognition that change is not necessarily a good thing.
In other words, as Dr. Kirk warns, “hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration rather than a torch of progress.”
I have a pretty similar list but would put it in more common-sense terms. I believe:
- If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it.
- If it is broke, then decide if it’s important enough to fix. Not everything is.
- If it’s broke and you decide to fix it, then fix it slowly and carefully so you don’t make it worse.
- Look at history to see what worked and what didn’t.
- Abstract ideological solutions are probably wrong.
- All people are equal in dignity and rights, but differ in most other respects.
- God exists, but He’s not pissed as Hell. He’s just very, very disappointed in you.
Copyright 2012 by N.S. Palmer. May be reproduced as long as byline, copyright notice, and URL (http://www.ashesblog.com) are included.