I’m a conservative, not the conservative
I’d like to begin by thanking the Summit Daily News for the opportunity to comment on topics of the day. I hope this column provokes thoughtful conversation of the kind marking the best meaning of the term “citizen.” In other words, more light than heat. To begin, full disclosure: I’m a conservative. The term deserves some explanation in the interests of precision, due to a definitional question: What is American conservatism meant to conserve? Conservatism’s European roots had to do with the preservation of the perquisites and position of monarchy and aristocracy, but in America we never much went in for that sort of thing. So I tend to agree with George Will, who regards our conservatism as protective of the 18th Century liberal values of our Founding Fathers. Breathtaking, huh? Liberal values. Evidently, meanings change over time. And a caveat: Conservatism in the United States is no more unified than modern liberalism. There are all species of Conservative – social, economic, paleo, neo and so forth. Thus, the ideas I express will be “a” not “the” conservative vision. That said, following are six 18th Century liberal values that I think bear conserving.Individualism. We are a nation of, and a government by and for, individuals. Nothing in our Founders’ vision is clearer than their commitment to individual liberty and personal freedom. They viewed individuals as being “… endowed by their Creator…” with rights. The current idea that groups or classes possess rights or have grievances is antithetical to this view, so this is an important difference between most of us and modern liberals, who embrace the idea that some Americans have claims against other Americans because they belong to a group which had suffered in the past at the hands of another group – which is now liable for these depredations.Equality. We are all equal – sort of. When John Adams, James Madison and George Mason used the word “equality” in political discussion, what they meant was political equality. They made no claim about social, economic or any other “equality” which is nowadays assumed by many to be present in the Declaration of Independence or Constitution. These men knew better: I cannot be the physical equal of Lance Armstrong, nor the intellectual equal of John Hall (University of Colorado, Nobel Prize in Physics, 2005). Because of his alchemic mixture of ability, desire, intelligence and luck, I can never hope to equal Bill Gates’ wealth. But I have the right to speak, to vote, to run for and gain office, as do they. And that is a vital equality.Effort. The Founders enumerated a God-given right not to achieve happiness, but to pursue it. You don’t have the right to be happy, nor are others responsible for your happiness. This is anathema to those who think they have a right to empty the public purse to keep themselves in the style to which they feel entitled; this applies equally to those who drop out of high school and expect to be catered to for life, and to overpaid CEOs who lobby for government subsidies to preserve their uncompetitive businesses. Lawfulness. Laws are important. They govern relations between individuals and moderate behavior. Without rules, there is anarchy and Hobbesian life in a state of nature: “The terrible War of all against all …” With them, a well-tempered society is possible, since the law makes relations between both persons and businesses predictable and based on something other than brute force. Paradoxically, laws enhance and nurture our freedoms. Precision of thought. Words have meaning; precision of speech and shared understanding are necessary for a useful discussion of any topic. The semantic corruption that has eaten away at American English for decades with howlers like “equal opportunity,” “enemy combatants,” and “fairness” makes our necessary public discourse much more difficult. After all, if you are against “fairness,” what sort of person are you? Unless, of course, “fairness” means giving up half of everything you own simply because someone else wants it (see ‘groups’ and ‘grievances’ above)…Civic duty. The other side of our rights is our responsibilities; if one claims the former, one must discharge the latter. If the past is any guide, few among us will be called on to make a sacrifice in blood to assure that our country survives in this covetous and turbulent world, so every day we should remember with thanks those who have done thus. We should also honor them by pledging ourselves to our civic duties, without shirking or reservation.In the interests of space I will paraphrase the Ninth Amendment, stating that other important values have not appeared here. They will become evident over time, so do persevere in reading. I do look forward to our conversations. God bless you all, and these United States.Starting today, Summit County resident Morgan Liddick will a bi-weekly column to run on Tuesdays. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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