Your Lying Eyes

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12 September 2005

Just What Is a Conservative, Anyway?

Thanks to Jimbo for passing along this NYT article on the quandary many conservatives find themselves in in the wake of Iraq, Katrina, huge budget deficits, and other challenges. I have felt some of these discomforts myself, but I think I finally have it under control...Read more

So what does it mean to be a conservative? Like any movement/ideology, conservatism comes in many flavors, but there are essential principles to which any good conservative should adhere or at least grant lip service.
The cold war - the life-and-death struggle with Marxism - confused things alot. Marxism, which can be thought of as anti-conservativism - the goateed consevative if you will - drove much of the conservative agenda. And so, if a Soviet client state, such as North Vietnam, invaded one of our client states (South Vietnam), we intervened, and suddenly conservatives favored fighting long distance wars where there no was no imminent threat to our nation. Large corporations, being clearly enemies of communism, became icons of conservatism, despite the obvious socialistic organization of these specially legally protected institutions. Communist countries established the unprecedented practice of preventing their residents from leaving while virtually no outsiders ever wanted to come in. To highlight la difference, conservatives triumphed in admitting asylum seekers and reveled in the desperation so many showed in lining up to immigrate to our fair land. And communist countries proved so economically inept that they were mired in poverty while their neighbours right next door were performing economic miracles - and so we became infatuated with the miraculous transformative powers of the free market.
So flash forward to 2005 and we find conservatives supporting a $300 billion war to establish democracy in a semi-literate Islamic country half way across the world; defending obscene 9-digit severance packages to failed corporate CEO's; and promoting the invasion of millions of uneducated peasants from third world countries to slash labor costs - even while these immigrant groups show no significant upward mobility generation to generation.
A conservative believes in the primacy of tradition - a defender of the traditional. This would mean different things in different lands, but in America it means a dedication to Western Civilization, to the classical Greco-Roman culture that undergirds it, the canons of European art and literature, the Judeo-Christian morality that informs it, the Anglo-Saxon legal principles that protect it, particularly the protection of property rights and democratic institutions.
Conservatives thus insist on assimilation and adherence to the prevailing Western culture and reject the diversity myth. We revere the great artists, writers, and composers of our past and the objective measure of achievement and reject subjective assessment of work. We believe in the the meaning of doctrines and principles and reject the deconstructive trivialization of truth. We proclaim our belief in right and wrong and reject moral relativism. And we demand following the plain meaning of the law and reject novelistic interpretations.
But first and foremost, a conservative philosophy of government should, at a minimum, insist that the government behave - conservatively. This means not doing things that have a high probability of being costly and a low probability of success. It means not doing things that have a significant chance of negatively impacting our standard of living or way of life. It means not risking a bad day tomorrow for an uncertain benefit today.
So where does the "free market" - capitalism - fit in? Belief in the free market is not really a central tenet of conservatism. It is merely a by-product of the belief in the inherent fallibility in us all. Since we are fallible, our behavior is heavily influenced by incentives and disincentives. The free market is a way to encourage industriousness (a good thing for society) and discourage sloth (bad for society) - indeed it seems to be the most efficient way we have yet found. But this doesn't mean that every outcome of a free market is to be applauded or even tolerated.
We should be willing to fight - savagely if necessary - to defend our country and way of life when threatened. This does not mean that we should expend huge resources to change others to see things our way - much better to defend ourselves and let others live their own lives - however awful we may think it to be.
Similarly, we should be skeptical of the ability of others to adapt to our way of life even when living amongst us, particularly in a political climate where pro-American indoctrination is frowned upon.
To the extent that today's Republicans find themselves spending taxpayer money recklessly, mired in a foreign war, increasingly viewed as beholden to large corporate interests, and hostile to traditional notions of individual liberty, they can blame it on their failure to be true conservatives.

4 Comments:

Anonymous jimbo said...

Ziel, thanks for your views on what a true conservative is. I´ve never doubted your credentials considering that you are the first conservative I´ve known, aside from my folks that is.

Maybe it´s for this reason I get so frustrated with my mom (classic FDR hater like her father)and others who gives her/their blind allegiance to somebody like Bush who has so exploited and damaged the conservative cause.

Though a lifelong lib, I admire alot of what true conservatives stand for, much of which is based in concepts of representative democracy.

I don´t see much if any understanding, much less appreciation of and for that coming from the latest generation of fascist-style Bush/Cheney followers.

September 14, 2005 7:56 AM  
Anonymous JTH said...

Hail to Ziel. I am awed by your existence. Too bad Bush doesn't read, he could use your advice. His idea of a conservative is to be loyal and arrogant.

September 16, 2005 12:10 PM  
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