What is conservatism?

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FearAnIarthair.JPGI want to call your attention to an excellent essay on the excellent blog Fear an Iarthair (that's Irish for "Man of the West"), entitled "What is conservatism?"

This brief essay will not take you long to read -- five minutes or so -- but it is one you will want to re-read and ponder, possibly even memorize certain passages. The author says that it is "not quite done," the beginnings of a work in progress on the differences between conservatism and libertarianism, but it seems fully baked to me.

Some quotes to entice you to read the whole thing:

In the end, though, Conservatism is less a laundry-list of political points than an approach to life and to governance that presupposes certain truths, certain ideas....

Conservatism, you might say, is the practice, perhaps the reflexive practice, of prudence, the prudential working-out of some basic ideas about the Divine and Man....

Conservatives might differ on exactly what the role of government should be or what the rewards and perks of governing should be, but they never really doubt that government is a necessary, normal, inevitable, and even Divinely ordained facet of human existence....

If, then, Conservatives are generally people who believe in the Divine and divinely-ordained concepts of right and wrong, they necessarily believe, necessarily presuppose, that Man has certain inherent rights. They also think that if government is part of the Divine Order, then it must have a purpose and it must, too, have bounds....

Government is Divinely ordained, but so are limits to government's role in human life (and this is explained at great length in Lex, Rex). The Conservative abhors lawlessness, but despises tyranny, at the same time acknowledging that human nature being what it is and human limits being what they are, the perfect balance between too little and too much government will not be achieved in this world....

The Conservative approaches the prospect of changing long-established practice and custom, not with hubris, but with humility and respect. This does not mean that the Conservative reflexively opposes all change; he knows that a society must be capable of prudent changes to survive and thrive. Nevertheless, change must be thoughtful and prudent, not hasty, not emotional, not sweeping aside the whole of existing society. The Conservative knows, deep in his bones, that it is all too possible for the cure to be worse than the disease and it is probably better to put up with some small, bearable grievances than to risk catastrophe for the sake of quickly implementing wholesale change, the consequences of which are very hard, if not impossible, to foresee and manage....

The essayist notes that much of what he says in this essay is found in succinct form in the Declaration of Independence.

The essay offers links to more food for thought: Edmund Burke's writings on the American and French Revolutions, Samuel Rutherford's Lex Rex, and Russell Kirk's list of ten conservative principles.

His "about" page is worth reading, too, for its thoughts on Western Civilization, education, leadership, martial arts, and barbecue.

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Timothy Moser said:

Great article. And written by a genuine federalist (http://fearaniarthair.blogspot.com/search/label/federal%20government) who rightly believes that while the federal government and the state governments are each as important as the other, they have entirely different roles in our country: defend our country (federal), promote social justice and moral values (state), and protect life (federal and state). I myself tend to support social conservatives at the local and state level while supporting more libertarian candidates at the federal level (granted they acknowledge states' rights to pass social laws, unlike, say, Gary Johnson).

Incidentally, I find it somewhat surprising that you would recommend anything written by someone who has said that Ron Paul seems "far better informed, far more aware of the historical facts, more genuinely intelligent, and much closer to my own positions than any other potential Republican candidate" (http://fearaniarthair.blogspot.com/search/label/Ron%20Paul). Maybe not 100% of Paul's supporters are crazy, Muslim conspiracy theorists?

I was reluctant to post your comment, Tim, simply because I want to keep the focus in this entry on conservative principles, not get entangled in arguments for and against, specific candidates.

Note that he carefully qualified his statement about Ron Paul: "in general (I have to emphasize that; there are definitely places where the reality is otherwise) Dr. Paul seems...."

Timothy Moser said:

Yes, I decided after submitting the comment that it was probably unwise of me say things that might have the effect of hijacking the conversation. I apologize for that. "Iarthair" discusses and promotes conservatism on all levels and is very well informed, but he has kept the topics of his posts almost entirely away from this year's national elections, which I think further commends his site. I like discussion about ideas rather than individual persons, the latter of which are always inherently more controversial.

On that head, I highly appreciate this blogger's frequent reference to historical documents by our nation's founders, e.g. the Federalist Papers, which too few modern Americans even know about. I also think it is very encouraging to see a conservative publicly acknowledge that the Bible actually supports taxing citizens "for legitimate, God-ordained purposes". Using the Bible, the documents of the fathers of this country, and history itself as our textbooks, as the author suggests, is the right path to developing a truly conservative viewpoint on any subject.

Wow! First time I've been online in a few days, and what do I see but a bodacious shout-out? Thanks very much!

To clarify something for Mr. Moser, I have learned more about Dr. Paul over the last several months. There is much that was not revealed on his website. I am almost prepared to declare him a split personality. There ARE areas in which he excels, and for those I applaud him vigorously; there are also areas where I cannot help but think that he is so ideologically blinded that he cannot see. I perused his last book, for example, and I would read a page, and say, "That's excellent," another page, "That's very good," another page, "WHERE THE HECK DID THAT COME FROM?" For example, when writing on Islam, Dr. Paul characterized the Muslim occupation of Spain as centuries of Muslims, Christians, and Jews living peacefully side-by-side. That Christians and Jews were actually subjugated, second-class citizens suffering under dhimmitude seems to have entirely escaped his notice.

In sum, I suggest that Dr. Paul is worth listening to on some subjects and not on others. He is an Libertarian ideologue, not a Conservative, a welcome ally in some arenas but outright dangerous in others.

Thanks very much for the compliments; I am truly pleased that the post was enjoyable and I hope that you find the completed (and, some would say, drearily long) post worth your time as well. I should have it in another week or two.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on March 12, 2012 9:38 PM.

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