Political dialog these days seems sometimes to consist almost entirely of simplistic labels and tribalist name calling. The words “conservative” and “liberal” especially are used as common epithets by one “side” against the other, often without even the attempt by the people using these labels to understand the actual viewpoints on the various issues of the myriad of individuals that they are painting with their broad brush.
We will solve that whole problem, at least with regard to the label “conservative,” right here on this page by outlining what it means to be a proper conservative in the context of the ideals of the American Dream.
And no, we are not engaging in the “no true Scotsman” fallacy because we are not claiming that people cannot use the label “conservative” for themselves if they disagree with some (or even all) of these points. But we definitely are asserting that the following points do define the stance of a proper conservative in the context of the ideals that are discussed in detail elsewhere on this site.
Furthermore, even though some of the following may conflict with how many “liberals” may have the common “conservative” stereotyped in their minds, you can rest assured that many, many conservatives do indeed hold these views, especially on those items that conflict with often held stereotypes.
First and most fundamentally, what a proper “conservative” wants to conserve is the liberal heritage of the American Dream and its ideals and the progress that our nation has made over the past several centuries toward realization of those ideals. What this means is:
A proper conservative believes in the sacred value of the individual human being.
A proper conservative believes that the value of each individual human being, and thus his or her rights as an individual free agent, derive from him or her being a member of humanity and are not bestowed by any outside earthly agency, government, or human authority. A proper conservative takes the phrase “all men are created equal” seriously. (A proper conservative also recognizes that the word “men” in that statement has a long history of being used without regard to gender with reference to all of mankind.)
A proper conservative is thus not only non-racist but is fundamentally and inherently anti-racist.
A proper conservative judges other individuals as individuals, by the content of their character.
A proper conservative, believing strongly in the freedom and rights of each individual, necessarily believes that severe limits should be put upon the powers that are delegated by society to governmental authorities that have the power of the use of force to coerce others.
A proper conservative believes in the sacred right of individuals to their privacy in situations that they wish to keep private as well in their right to express themselves both privately and publicly on any matter.
A proper conservative is fundamentally opposed to one individual forcing his or her will upon another individual in any situation either public or private.
A proper conservative is not only a not an extremist, but is inherently and necessarily anti-extremist in his or her fundamental character. This does not mean that a conservative does not advocate for change where it is needed. But one simply cannot wish to conserve the ideals of individual rights and responsibilities and at the same time be an advocate for any of what is normally referred to as “extremism,” which, by its nature, means advocating for forcing one’s views and will upon other people. If changes need to be made in the laws of our society, we have a process for that though our elected representatives in government.
A proper conservative is not opposed to progress, but is most definitely opposed to an attitude that labels as “good” all ideas that are considered “progressive” regardless of what end they are progressing toward. A proper conservative believes that conscious, rational deliberation is the key to progressing society in the right direction.
A proper conservative believes that the ideal form of government is a republic with democratically elected representatives, because that is the best way for a society of individual human beings to collectively decide upon laws for their governance.
A proper conservative recognizes that having a democratic republic as the form of government is not enough. Because “majority rule” does not guarantee the rights of individuals. Therefore, a proper conservative recognizes that a Constitution which clearly establishes individual rights and restricts those powers that are delegated from the people to the government is essential to maintaining an optimal society.
A proper conservative believes that the main concentration of authority in government properly resides in the legislature. The executive branch of the Federal Government of the United States has had delegated to it and has accumulated too much power. The United States is supposed to have a constitutional democratic republic for a government, not an elected emperor with vast bureaucracies of rule makers and enforcers. And a proper conservative recognizes that this has been a huge and growing problem which both parties have exacerbated and have used for their political advantage for well over a century.
Furthermore, a proper conservative believes that the United States is best run as a federation of sovereign states and knows that the historical and proper definition of the word “state” is, in effect the same as “country.” Note that the physical size, population, and diversity of each of the various states of the United States is equivalent to that of entire countries in many parts of the world.
A proper conservative believes that a democratically elected representative government can best suit the needs of its citizens when it is run at the level of the individual state instead of concentrating power in a faceless behemoth Federal Government bureaucracy. The Federal Government currently has too much power, which has been abused by both Republicans and Democrats. Its proper role, as outlined in the Constitution, is to provide coordination and standardization between and protection of the states of the federation and to assure the protection of the equal rights of citizens. Other power to tax and spend should largely be returned to the states where it belongs, where it originally and properly resided, and where that power can be more effectively overseen by the people.
A proper conservative believes in rational debate. People should be difficult to convince. But this should be because they adhere to their principles and not out of sheer stubborn allegiance to a tribe. A proper conservative is convinced by solidly founded evidence.
Regarding debate and most other human interaction, a proper conservative lives by what are often referred to as the “Christian” values of understanding & forgiveness. A proper conservative also recognizes that these values are not the sole property of a particular religion or dogma, but are universal principles of humane interaction between people.
A proper conservative realizes the need for progress in all areas: technical, scientific, economic and social. But one of the fundamental roles of a conservative is to caution against wild “progressivism.” Because that word is too often applied to the practice of taking advantage of opportunity to change for the sake of change. The aphorism, “in chaos there is opportunity” is a real thing — and a real danger to a free and open society. Taking advantage of chaos is an inherent trait of overly enthusiastic progressives. Even if they are — or claim to be — well-meaning. A proper conservative evaluates each change rationally.
A well informed conservative remembers that the promotion of racist eugenics and the federal prohibition of alcohol were famous “progressive” measures of what is often even referred to as the “Progressive Era.”
Regarding those two particular subjects, a proper conservative considers decisions regarding with whom one is to breed or otherwise associate and temperance regarding the consumption of alcohol (or anything else) are best left as personal matters of the individual. To invite the power of the government to get involved in them is invite disaster.
A proper conservative believes that free market “capitalism” is the best environment in which to both promote the rights and the free expression of the potential of the individual Human Spirit and to achieve the greatest economic success for the greatest number of people in society.
However, “free market capitalism” is not a synonym for anarchy.
The establishment and enforcement of laws, and particularly the enforcement of contract law, is essential to an orderly free market economy. A proper conservative recognizes that not everyone is either proper or honest. There must be a reasonable set of rules in society to protect innocent people from those who would take advantage of them.
One of the realms requiring protection is the natural environment. Responsible environmental conservation is a core conservative value. The United States of America is a place of great natural beauty that is shared by hundreds of millions of our citizens. In the industrial age, humans have grown sufficiently powerful that we can wreak industrial scale damage upon that beauty, and thus, upon the lives of the citizens. Environmental regulations need to be moderated so that they are not fanatical and overly restrictive where they need not be. But they are a necessary part of our societal and economic organization.
A proper conservative understands that taxation is a valid mechanism for funding the operation of a government, which is, in turn, a valid mechanism for people to voluntarily organize their collective resources and society through their elected representatives.
Taxation is not, per se, by definition, “theft.”
This is because, in a properly run society, it is established and executed by the collective will of the people through their elected representatives.
But taxation, like all delegation of power to the government, requires constant oversight by the people in order for it to be used efficiently and in order for that power to not be abused. And again, that power is most readily subject to proper oversight at the level of the state and local governments.
The Federal Government was not established for the purpose of growing to be a leviathan.
A proper conservative believes that the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution of the United States was meant to refer to actual interstate commerce and was not meant to be interpreted to allow all manner of Federal Government intervention in everything.
A proper conservative is not an isolationist.
Because of the remarkable explosion of technology and innovation and industry over the past two centuries, driven by amazing human ingenuity and enabled by the wide ranging establishment of free market capitalistic principles, the world is a global economy. And, to a large extent, those same technological innovations have made the world a global society, at least in terms of freedom of communication between diverse peoples. For the most part, this is a good thing. It has resulted in an expansion of wealth for the majority of the people of Earth that could not have been imagined even two centuries ago.
A proper conservative is a nationalist.
But word “nationalist,” by itself, does not mean what many people think it means. It does not mean jingoist, warmonger, racist, or even isolationist. And it certainly does not mean one who promotes the interference by one country in the business of other countries. Another word would properly apply to one who called himself a “nationalist” and also promoted undue interference in other countries, and that is “hypocrite.”
The word “nationalist” does mean patriot. But it also means one who subscribes to the principle of nationalism throughout the world. This means recognizing that our global society, with its global economy, consists of numerous independent sovereign nations. And just as our local societies are made up of individual human beings with their own freedoms and rights, the proper relationship between the individual governments of the various countries of the world is for each to recognize the national sovereignty of the others, with the right to govern derived from the collective authority of its own people. The United Nations might be a fine place for representatives of nations to get together and talk. But such a global institution must not be recognized as having any legal authority over sovereign nations.
A proper conservative is in favor of a strong military.
But a proper conservative is opposed to military intervention as an attempted solution to most international problems.
The world is a historically violent place. Throughout much of its history, various nations of Europe have been embroiled in multiple devastating wars during the majority of each century of the past millennium. The histories of Asia, Africa, and even the indigenous peoples of the pre-Columbian American continents have been filled with bloody tribal, national, and regional conquests.
As a contingency for a potential outbreak of war between nations, the United States military should have the capacity to triumph over the combined militaries of the next two or three most powerful nations in the world, without resorting to the use of nuclear weapons.
Since freedom of trade among nations is essential to a global free market economy, the United States has a role in assuring the freedom of trade routes on the high seas.
But a proper conservative recognizes that the purpose of the military is not to wreak havoc on the internal affairs of sovereign nations. Destabilization of especially the Middle East has caused the rise of fanatic and destructive revolutionaries. Democracy and freedom cannot be installed in a nation through outside military intervention. Social progress must evolve within nations organically.
Regardless of popular labels, George W. Bush was not a proper conservative. Especially with regard to international affairs. Many conservatives consider George W. Bush to not be a real conservative at all.
And a proper conservative recognizes the need for a “social safety net” for temporarily disadvantaged or permanently disabled individuals. But such programs need to be actual safety nets and not constant and unrestricted flows of monies. They should be accompanied by both incentives and training as well as local oversight to assure that, where possible, people who use them are able to become productive and achieve their potential as creative, contributing members of society.
In short, a proper conservative believes in and supports a society which allows for the fullest and most creative expression of the potential of each individual human being in our nation and the world.