Opinion | Morgan Liddick: Conservatism, the political ideals of our Founders
On Your Right
Some of the most cringe-worthy moments this campaign season have come not from politicians descending to the sandbox to persuade us who among them is the biggest liar or charlatan — and there are some, do not doubt — but from career politicos flummoxed when asked to explain basic ideas.
Debbie Wassermann-Schultz, stumped by the difference between Democrats and Socialists, comes to mind. To spare others her embarrassment, what follows is a list, neither final nor comprehensive, of some of Conservatism’s basic elements — in case someone with a bad attitude, a sneer and a microphone asks.
First, a contrast. In Europe, “Conservatism” once meant preservation of the Ancièn Regime: aristocracy, monarchy, rigid class structure and the religious establishment. But here, we have no hereditary aristocracy — Kennedys, Clintons, Bushes and Trumps, notwithstanding. And no established religion. Instead, American conservatism defends the political ideals of our Founders and seeks to maintain a government that reflects them.
Our conservatism recognizes the primacy of the individual, not the dismal morass springing from the calculation of group and class grievances. Individuals — not groups — have rights, which are not given by governments or men but “endowed by their creator,” in the words of our Declaration of Independence. To conservatives, the principal role of government is to protect these rights from threats both foreign and domestic, including from itself — which is why the government our Founders designed is so difficult to maneuver. They did not consider a government that “gets things done” necessarily good because those “things” might be noxious to individual liberty.
They were particularly concerned about that threat because individual liberty is central to conservatism. This freedom is not only negative — protection from coercion by government — but positive: the ability to succeed to the furthest extent of one’s own abilities. Which success is laudable because it is one’s duty to support one’s self, if at all possible — a principle of self-reliance applying to all, from the general population to General Motors.
Conservatives recognize the importance of the law and of proper legal process. These are liberty’s outer defenses, and the only way civilized men should determine where one’s freedom to swing one’s arms ends and another’s nose begins. Constitutionalism, an appreciation for our founding document, is an integral part of this. Respect for what the document actually says, as opposed to what others might think it might mean today, given the fashion of our times, is especially vital. For example, the 10th Amendment still says that powers not specifically delegated to the Federal government by the U.S. Constitution are prohibited to it — despite the inconvenience this poses to certain Democrats’ lust for unlimited federal power.
Conservatives prize tradition not because innovation is bad, but because we regard “tested by time” as an important measure of success. Time’s passage winnows out, or at least redlines, the frivolous, the ephemeral, the unhelpful and dangerous — even when such ideas are new for the hundredth time.
Conservatives embrace the role of faith, both in public life and private. They see society and its government as functioning best when both have a shared moral basis; concomitantly, they see those working to drive religion from the public square as undermining an important foundation of the republic: Those who embrace Jefferson’s “wall of separation” but reject Adams’ comment that our government “was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other,” are doing mischief. Conservatives ask their Progressive counterparts to look hard at our society and ask themselves how decades of militant anti-religious activity have improved it. Are we now more humane? More giving? Understanding? Better spoken? More concerned for our neighbors? Polite? Or have we become more the opposite?
Conservatives appreciate reticence and forbearance in government, as in other areas of life. People should be left alone, and governments should take no action not compelled by direct threat to the few things they are instituted to protect, a list of which one can find in the preamble to the constitution. This reticence includes fiscal prudence: Spending money one does not have and building debt one cannot repay are the actions of a dissolute child, not a conservative. Are you listening, Bernie and Hillary? Enabling those who do this and leaving the bill for one’s children isn’t, either. How about it, Paul and Mitch?
Thus, some aspects of Conservatism; others may come to mind. May they move us all to do the necessary this coming March first and on the June 28 that follows.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily.
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