If you listened to the mainstream media enough, you'd get the idea that conservatives were all corporate executives, burning money in the fireplace for fun and praying for a new war to break out somewhere in the world. The truth is, that image is false. The image described above is a boogeyman tale designed to frighten and turn away young and impressionable minds from conservative principles. Think about it...if you have been on any college campuses in the last decade you've seen the left-leaning students and professors demonizing conservatives as oil-greedy, money-hungry warmongers who have little to no compassion for others. With that in mind, I felt it might be an interesting exercise in self-reflection to discuss the basic tenets of conservatism and maybe dispel some of the myths out there regarding conservatives. This will be a multi-part series as there are a number of the things to discuss. Please leave comments or feedback as I think this is an area that deserves some discussion. From an article by Russell Kirk from 21 years ago, some of the conservative values include:
1) Morals are important for a functioning society
Without getting into the aspects of religion, let me clearly state that yes, Virginia, there is a 'good' and 'evil' in the world. Morals encompass a citizen's capacity for both within a society and when those morals are done away with, people are left to an unclear world of ambiguity and vagueness that is dangerous. Morals ensure that there is a good to oppose an evil and without a set of moral ideals, shades of gray threaten to force us all down a slippery slope where one can't tell the difference between good and evil. Thus, conservatives begin with a simple belief in morality and adhering to a set of general customs and norms in society.
2) Continuity is okay
Is America really so bad? Of course we've made mistakes and what country hasn't? But the fact of the matter is, America really is a good country at heart and when we need to change (i.e. slavery, women's rights) we do. The fact is, our Founding Fathers created the system of government we have to ensure that change would be slow and tedious because rapid change is dangerous (see: Soviet Union, Cuba, North Korea for recent examples). That being the case, conservatives would prefer minimal, if any, changes to the country that exists today. Liberals would make the case that big changes are absolutely necessary but often fail to explain the realities of implementing those changes or the consequences. Conservatives believe in change but in constrained and controlled change that doesn't open the country up to radical elements that might prove to be negative in the long-run (again, see: Communism, Fascism, etc.).
3) Historical precedence is important
It is important to understand that when historical thinkers and philosophers espoused deep concepts and ideas, they often did it at a time when it was the norm to do so. Conservatives see these historical thinkers as critical starting points from which to begin debate or thought on heavy issues such as private property, liberty, etc. Citizens in America today are often hampered by lack of free time and daily life to the point where we look to our leaders for guidance. Conservatives look to people like Locke, Jefferson, and Adams for initial guidance by which to frame new ideas as their ideas are time-tested and sound. Should we abandon the theory and philosophy that established our great country because it's "old?" Of course not. But if you ask liberals you will see that many would prefer to abandon John Locke for Karl Marx or the basic tenets of capitalism for socialism. Just because it's historical doesn't make it irrelevant.
4) Prudence is essential
Conservatives have a cautious nature that is often misrepresented as obstinance. The truth is, prudence is a way to measure long-term consequences to actions and to act accordingly, as opposed to rapid-fire decision-making. Conservatives believe that actions need to be weighed before taking sudden action to ensure that there are no surprise side-effects of the action. Look at the recent economic bailouts for instance. Democrats swooped in and saved the day (with the help of some Republicans) for the various companies, but a conservative would have looked at the long-term consequences of handing out money to companies (i.e. more companies asking for more money). Rash decisions lead to disastrous consequences, and conservatives oppose rash decisions.
5) Human beings are imperfect
Conservatives see humanity as flawed and ultimately imperfectable. This is not a negative, glass-half empty view. This is a realistic perspective on human nature. With this in mind it is simple to see why conservatives do not accept the premise of a Utopian society; that a communist society will never work, although if you listen to some liberals, they would try to convince you that "if only it were applied by the right country, it might work." Human nature's history indicates otherwise (see: Cuba, China, North Korea). Liberals also complain that conservatives only support the wealthy. Well, nothing can be further from the truth. Conservatives accept the premise that there will be less fortunate people or groups in society and that no plan or concept will provide equal economic or social footing for everyone. Again, that isn't evil or cruel....it's realistic, and working from that point of view, people can work to help the less fortunate in the best way possible...and no, that doesn't mean a government handout.
That's all for now. Next time I will touch on more substantive issues such as abortion and taxation. And please keep in mind, these values are not always practiced by Republicans, which is why conservatives sometimes criticize Republicans as well.