Tuesday, July 01, 2008
What is American Conservatism? a Beginning Outline of Ideas
The two questions I have tried to address in this outline are: 1) What is conservatism?; and, 2) What is the set of ideas that are at the heart of conservative thinking? This outline will in turn be a guide to further expansion of the topics identified in a systematic manner.It is apparent that each idea identified here is worthy of immense treatment, on the order of a book each, or more. Many such books have been published, some dating back to Aristotle, Plato and Socrates. Of special importance are the spiritual and logical connectivity between these ideas that, when integrated into a whole, lead to conservatism as a working political philosophy.
The major connectivity is through the religious and moral education that children receive, and their experiences in life that confirm the teachings of conservatism. It is also true that many of these ideas are part of the US Constitution, which is well known to most of our citizens, or are part of the Christian way of life that thoroughly permeates conservative thought.
A definition of American conservatism that I use is: The preservation of those principles, ideas, ethics, moralities, laws, traditions, customs, culture and institutions that are considered to be sound and sacred in the US, as proved over time, while recognizing that there is a need for change or evolution as inconsistencies and new problems surface.
This does not mean acceptance of the idea of our Constitution being a "living document", but rather, acceptance that changes are inevitable but infrequent, and should be evaluated carefully in a just process before opting for the change. A clear example of this being the adoption of prohibition in 1920 and its revocation later in 1933. A bad law was revoked after a terrible trial over 13 years.
So what are the ideas? The outline follows:
1. God, Transcendentalism
(Why does the Universe, Life and Man Exist At All? -C. S. Lewis)
( Basics born in the far past that are still valid)
a. Existence of Good, Sin and Evil, and the Imperfect Man
b. Tribalism (Ethnocentric, Kinship, Survival, Customs, Rules, Worship of their many Gods, Life Rhythms, Rituals, Conflicts...)(the rise of spirituality)(Language factor)
c. Simple, Practical Morality (Thou shalt not: murder; steal; commit adultery; covet; or lie)
d. Territorial Imperatives: the notion of property
e. Revelation of One God
f. Instruction of Children
g. Judeo-Christian Religion, Spirituality, Dogmas and Morality
h. Church Worship, Religious and Moral Instruction
i. Envy-Free Motivation
j. Virtue and its rewards
2. Natural Law and Rights
( Rights given by God to man, and confirmed in our founding documents, especially the Declaration of Independence)
a. Life, Survival
b. Freedom, Liberty
c. Pursuit of Happiness
d. Ensure Physical and Intellectual Property Rights Remain Inviolate
e. Equality of Opportunity
f. The Golden Rule
g. The Need for Order
h, The Need for Laws (that preserve a way of life)
i. Environmental Stewardship by All Men
3. Justice (Essentially the protection of man under both natural and civil law)
a. Freedom of Speech, Religion, Assembly, Press
b. Rule of Just and Principled Law
c. Equality Under the Law
d. Trial by Jury
e. Right of Self-Defense
f. Your Home is Your Castle
g. Penalties—Imprisonment, Death
h. Common Law, Codifying Social Institutions
i. Effective and Honest Law Enforcement
4. Principles, Institutions, Traditions and Customs (Mediating and educating principles, maxims, organizations, churches, and parties that support natural law and justice in the nation)
a. Top level principles
1. Realism, not Relativism*
2. Skepticism, not Progressivism *
3. Evolved Order, not Constructivism *
4. Federalism, not Statism*
5. Capitalism, not Collectivism *
6. Theism, not Secularism *
7. Sovereignty, not Internationalism
8. Personal Responsibility, not Central Solutions to All Problems
9. Moral Rectitude, not Hedonism
10. Rejection of liberalism, socialism, communism, and pacifism
11. Charity, not welfare, insofar as possible, but aid the truly needy
12. Proactive defense of the nation, not passive response
b. Mediating Structures
1. Marriage, Family, Education of Children
2. Church, Education of Followers and Children
3. Schools and Education of Children
4. Neighborhood, City, County, State
5. Individualism and individual responsibility
6. Existence of Inequality in Men
7. Responsibilities of Citizenship
8. Groups, Associations, Orders, Think Tanks
9. Particularly American Culture and Ways of Life
c. Organization of Government and Guidance
1. Tripartite Governments
2. Checks and Balances
3. Contracts, and giving one's word
4. Subsidiarity—make decisions at the lowest level
5. Simple and Fair Taxes
7. Laissez Faire Economics
8. Change when proved to be effective, not experimentation
9. A Written Constitution and Bill of Rights: original intent
10. The Declaration of Independence
11. Assimilation of Legal Immigrants
12. Firm Solutions to Illegal Immigration, including border control
13. Halting the Politics of Envy
14. Bringing Good Science to Global Warming
5. Freedom of Commerce and Intellectual Pursuits(Extending freedom and liberty to business and trade)
b. Free Markets
c. Research, Study, Experimentation Invention, Development
d. Protection of Rights: Patents and Copyrights
6. “Right-Sized” Federal Government(Let the business of government be Liberty, and let it remain minimal to that task.)
e. Foreign Affairs
f. Regulation of Commerce
i. Nationwide Services (transportation, postal, roads, disease control, Border Patrol, etc.)
7. "Right-Sized" State, County, and Local Governments(States have Rights to be exercised instead of the Federal government. See the 10th Amendment. Extending freedom and liberty to the states and localities.)
e. Public Services
f. Regulation of Commerce
8. Charity (Charitable contributions should not increase the national debt. Welfare-ism has blunted the individual's obligation to perform charitable works. Part of the greatest virtue in Christianity--the real interpretation of charity is love)
a. Individual Contributions
b. Group and Church Contributions
c. Local Government and State Contributions
d. National and International Contributions
9. Changes. (Redirecting government to the conservative way)Far from being change-adverse, conservatives desperately want changes in a number of areas:
a. Congress---Rules, Terms, Committees, Earmarks, Ethics, Lobbying, .
b. Campaign Financing, Especially from Foreign Sources
c. Revise and Restrict Tort Law
d. Fix the Health System Without Destroying Market Freedom
e. Education System Needs to be Overhauled and Remove the Federal Government Entirely, except for block grants to states.
.f. Proscribe Unions and Strengthen Right-to-Work Laws
g. Tax System--Total Revamp, Flat or Fair Tax (but not both!)
h. Better and Larger Military Organization and Equipment
i. Drill and Pump! Energy Production (Oil, Coal, Nuclear, Wind, Tides, Hydrogen)
j. Consider National Service for All High School Graduates--two years of voluntary service.
k. Return Laws to the Original Intent of the Constitution
l. Prevent Justices from Legislating from the Bench (instead, they must interpret the law )
m. Reduce the National Debt
n. Reduce Overall Spending
o. Fix Social Security (Private Accounts, etc)
p. Departments--Revamp and Streamline all Government Departments, especially State, Labor, Agriculture, Intelligence, Homeland Security, and Interior.
q. Agencies, Boards, Committees, and Commissions--Revamp All 1,177, and force all of them to justify their existence, budget, and manpower.
r. Break the hold of government unions.
s. Rescind Roe vs Wade, and devolve abortion to State control (it is not a federal issue)
t. Define Marriage as being between a Man and a Woman and bar same-sex marriages.
u. Consider how best to qualify candidates for President and Congress (a Quality Test?) What must a candidate know before running for office?
v.Convene a Constitutional Convention to Clarify the Ideas of: absolutely no separation of state and religion; close loopholes that allow Justices to reinterpret the law; institute a single Fair Tax and prevent other forms to be legislated.
These elements of conservatism cannot be achieved in a short time, but they must stand as the real goals of the conservative movement, and should be brought to bear on all legislation, taxation, budgeting, and spending in our nation, year in and year out. Make these elements objectives to be met 5, 10, 20 or more years hence, depending on the level of difficulty there is in realizing them. Just never say never!
Those who do not believe that these changes can be realized have lost faith. There are many external movements in the world that could well lead us to rein in the laissez faire social policies of the present, simply because there may not be sufficient funds available to pay for the massive benefits being contemplated by some politicians.
One could cite China as a potential financial enemy, if only because they may lose faith in the US Dollar, and begin to sell off their trillions of banked dollars. Then too, there is the combination of Social Security and Medicare entitlements that will currently be exhausted by mid century without substantial repair. It is certain that we need changes, but they must be of the belt tightening variety, not profligate spending.
* Adapted from Brad Miner in The Concise Conservatism Encyclopedia, 1996