Understanding Conservatism

010Dr. George Panichas, in his essay, Is Conservatism at the Mercy of Hollow Men?, writes that “Restoring the meaning of Conservatism becomes even greater as the debate continues between traditional conservatives and ambitious usurpers. True conservatism must be defended against present day pretenders who mask their ambitions under the rubric of conservatism.”

We live in an age that has wantonly abandoned standards of authority and tradition in search of a new Babylon made to the specifications of ideologues in their campaign to supplant the conservative spirit. Ours is now fast transposing into an age of idolatry that goes beyond the relativistic and nihilistic vices, one in which the conservative idea is ripped from its roots, in effect, alienated from the moral sense and the moral imagination.

We have allowed the meaning of conservatism to be annexed by a disordered intellectual and cultural era which traditional conservatives have been battling since the end of World War II. In the past the primary traits of this culture have been Marxist-Leninist in character; today it is possessed by idolatrous forms of a continuing debasement that seeks to eradicate the need for roots and the roots of order.

It is in this ever-changing, ever-threatening climate, where everything is tolerated, that committed conservative believers must struggle to hold on to the content of their faith in the face of armed doctrines and violent heresies.   American conservatism is at the crossroads of its destiny as it labors to preserve its vision and soul.

Conservatism is not an ideology in the sense that liberalism, or the various forms of radicalism are.   Conservatism is not a philosophy that seeks to enlist its adherents in an historical vanguard, it does not have a party line nor is it focused on the issue of what kind of people embrace it. It is possible for conservatives to question most positions held by other conservatives, including the notion that they are not conservatives at all, especially those that embrace the leveling aspirations of contemporary liberalism or the utopian agendas of the socialist left.

Post-Communist conservatism began with the principle that was summed up by Friedrich Hayek in The Constitution of Liberty. “It is just not true that human beings are born equal. . .If we treat them equally, the result must be inequality in their actual position;. . .the only way to place them in an equal position would be to treat them differently. Equality before the law and material equality are, therefore, not only different but are actually in conflict with each other.”

But, while opposing the destructive chimera of social justice, conservatives do not indulge a utopianism of their own. The conservative vision does not exclude compromise; nor should it condemn every attempt, however moderate, to square the circle of political liberty and social welfare. In other words, conservatism does not require that all aspects of the Welfare State be rejected in favor of free market principles. Some economic redistribution [entitlements] may be compassionate and necessary, even though as Hayek has shown, it can never be just.

It is in the constitutional founding that American conservatism finds its true philosophical ground, first as conservers of the constitutional framework, and an appreciation of the limits as the foundation of rights, a system of ordered constraints as the basis of freedom.   In the constitutional philosophy, the possibilities of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are attainable only through a framework of neutral restraints, in economics, the discipline of the market, in politics, popular consent and the rule of law.

For conservatives, the Constitution is not a convenient discourse, but a repository of pragmatic and durable truths about liberty and prosperity in a social order. The truths embodies in the principles of the Constitution were validated for the funders by the experience of previously existing states. They have been confirmed by the end-results of the two-hundred-plus-year war of the left against the philosophical and political framework of “bourgeois” freedoms, against the idea of negative liberties and the practice of limited government; and by the left‘s establishment of societies based on its own radical principles of positive freedoms, which include affirmative “rights” to food, shelter, clothing, employment and equality; and by the catastrophes they created.

Conservatives are the heirs to Locke, Burke, and Madison who faced similar challenges from the left of their time. Conservatives are the reformers demanding a universalist standard of one right, one law, one nation for all; they are the champions of tolerance; they are the opponents of group privilege and of communal division; they are the proponents of a common ground that is color-blind, gender-equitable and ethnically inclusive, a government of laws that is neutral between its citizens, and limited in scope; they are the defenders of the free market against the destructive claims of the socialist agenda; and they are the preservers of the constitutional covenant against the forces of modern tyranny and the guardian state.

“Historically, the core of conservatism has always been a suspicion of government power and intervention – and conservatives therefore accept only the minimum amount of government that seems needed for a civil society to function. So it is no wonder that there is no authoritarian version of conservative ideology. If it were authoritarian, it could not be conservative. Leftism, on the other hand, is intrinsically authoritarian and power-loving and will always therefore tend in the direction of government domination.” John Jay Ray

Source: A Conservative Hope by David Horowitz, 1993

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *