Thursday, August 04, 2005

Conservatism Through My Eyes

I write this post as a preliminary of many thoughts to come. Writing another post on Mike Pence interests me, yet I would like to talk about a few things in general first.

You have seen me use this word "conservatism" several times and you may be wondering what gives. What do I mean by that? Perhaps even what does conservatism mean to the average American. What is a conservative?

A conservative, many would have us believe, is nothing more than your average, ignorant hick. That's why they're conservative. A more thoughtful person would pull out the common dictionary definition. A conservative is someone who attempts to keep the government and social structure as it is now rather than employing radical changes. Someone who believes in moral absolutes at least to the point where they realize that government is fallible. Another idea is that a conservative attempts to make America what it was when it was founded. That is to say, a conservative tries to draw the country back to an outdated, horse and buggy system of government.

Each one of these views leaves out important aspects of conservatism. Each one lacks essence.

Take the first, if conservatives are merely hicks than what would you call Clarence Thomas? Numerous examples of educated, city dwelling conservatives exist. This argument is so lame as to make it nearly unaddressable.

The second argument leaves a vast amount of information to be understood. Conservatives seek to maintain the traditional government. They desire to keep the government from expanding its power too much. Government has flaws because it is made up of people and people are misguided by human nature. This is all true. Yet there are many different types of conservatives. They all approach the subject of government a little differently. Naturally, confusion reigns when you try to describe and explain each of the ten different types of conservatives, and the next person you ask may only have six different types of conservatives stereotyped. As a result, a discussion of the differing appproaches would not be helpful. Suffice it to say the second argument is an overall approach to the topic. One that seeks only information and not persuasion.

The third argument then, may be the most useful. A conservative attempts to make America what it was at its founding. In all seriousness I say, "What a shortsighted individual!" So much has happened since America's founding that no person ever born can make the United States what it was then. The Civil War carried with it the weight of nationhood. It descended upon a young country and sent the structure of a republic toward its doom. Following that came the progressives. They constructed the administrative state and guided the nation into modernity. The administrative state added an economic welfare state, which then gave way to another kind of welfare state. Through all of this various philosophies of government contended. The idea of making America what it was at its founding is shortsighted only because it leaves aside many facts that have shaped the nation I live in today.

I regret to say that a true conservative must remember the new traditions that have arisen from the progressive and administrative age. Reconciling these things with the vision of conservatism is one of the toughest tasks of today. The road stretches ahead and generations to come will travel its paths. When I look at the government as it is I agree that it has taken too much power from the people. It is no longer "government of the people, by the people and for the people." But much of that power cannot be taken back. How do you give power to people who have forgotten that they once wielded the power to rule themselves? The true reform of government may not be to change the actual institutions or redo the structure. After all, Reagan vowed that he would abolish the Department of Education and it remains.

The founders started our government on a path of tension. Tension between structure and human nature. Most of them recognized that human nature is fallible, government is made up of humans and, therefore, government is fallible. Most of them realized that power is corruptible, government claims power, therefore, government is easily corrupted. They sought a balance within government to keep power struggling against itself so that no one part of the government could rule over the rest. Their actions were admirable and made a lot of sense. Yet that balance has been upset many times from various sides. Restoring government to its original structure would ignore those upsets. Even during the early years the power swung like a pendulum out of wack. Many times the country almost collapsed upon itself. And many times it struggled up again. Each time new traditions arose and new questions stormed in. With these new traditions the general public increasingly lost interest in government. Today most people do not pay attention to government except at tax time or elections. The fact is, Tocqueville was right about the democratic man. The democratic person retreats within himself or herself, until he or she is nearly alone among all the other democratic citizens.

If the government is to change to a more conservative way then people must realize that it is their burden to change it. No one will change it for us. Conservatives must do this. In agreeing to help with the grassroots movement I have joined I understand that it is not the government's mind which must be changed, it is the mind of the general public. It is the attention of orinary, American citizens that must be sought. Their hearts and minds alone will turn the way our country goes.

Conservatism is thus a leaning toward limited government, and a true perspective on human nature. It takes into account the founders' points about good government. Yet it recognizes the truth of all the changes that have befell this country. And in the end it knows that those who can implement change are not those who live in the bubble that is government. They are the nameless, faceless, voting public.


MaxiSmeg said...

I think if people didn't so readily accept stereotypes, we would have a lot less problems in the world.

Excellent post.

Foolio_Displasius said...

Wow. That is amazingly insightful!

I'm tired, but you've made me think. Americans have been giving power over to the government since our country's inception. With that said, we're still "free." We believe the government is safeguarding our freedom, and gladly give up lesser freedoms to satisfy the government.

The problem is, this process is quite gradual, and it makes the people happy. As a nation, we may not notice when we've given up too much in the government's name. Only when the people are unhappy with the status quo will they take action--and they may not start feeling unhappy until the vast bulk of our freedoms are gone.

Grassroots conservatism, then, is all about rousing the love of freedom in us. It is about averting pain and tyranny, oppression and revolution. If we rally lovers of freedom now, we may delay--or avert--the downfall of this nation.

Or something like that. Did I mention I was tired? :-)

HuskerFoley7 said...

I have to agree with you about oh, 96% on this one. I've realized the more and more I get into to politics, the more and more I think I lean Libertarian. I know, I know, what has Hillsdale done to me? I agree with the above comment to, that our rights are being taken away gradually by the government because "they want to help us". Much like the patriot act. Where do we draw the line between giving up rights and being safe? It's a hard call to make, but I'd prefere the rights over the saftey. I think terrorists are accomplishing a lot of what they set out to do. They are changing the face of America for the worse. Slowly but surely since 9/11 we are losing privacy and rights. I agree with you that we've got to get out to the people and make them care and make them realize the bad changes in the government. And yes, people are born into a sinful nature. There are scores of Senators, Governors, Presidents, etc... who would rather further their own agenda than do what is right for this nation. But, there are also those who want to make this country freer and better. Let's get the world out. Give the general population a good UnBrainwashing.

Travis J. Hankins said...

You are exactly right Esther! We can't just sit back and wait for the government to change the governement because they are the government. They're not trying to lose their job by creating smaller government. And that's exactly why we have to do the grassroots and change the hearts and minds of the American people. And prayerfully people will wake up and quit depending on government and start governing themselves. Thanks for the post Esther, I shooting this around to my friends. Take care and God Bless!

Travis J. Hankins said...

*I'm shooting (sorry about that)

Esther said...

Travis, I am honored. I did not think the post came off quite the way I wanted it to.

little-cicero said...

Wow! I think I'm in love
However, you seem to respond moreso to libertarian principles than mainstream conservatism. Social conservatives who make up the mainstream see conservatism not solely as a preventative of government omnipotence, but also of overspending, leading to irresponsibility among the populace and high taxation leading to economic stagnation. I'm impressed at your writing abilities- come on over to my blog-