It seems that everywhere you turn there is another assault of some sort on the values we cherish. Values, such as marriage, balanced budgets, liberty, among others, are coming increasingly under attack. Seeing such assaults makes you wonder whether conservatism is dead. Where are today’s conservative leaders? We hear so much about the importance of conservative values, but why is that even important in today’s society?
Before we can answer the question, however, we must first define conservatism. A quick look at the term “conservatism” in the dictionary shows several definitions, but I prefer this definition in the context of our discussion.
a : disposition in politics to preserve what is established
b : a political philosophy based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions, and preferring gradual development to abrupt change; specifically : such a philosophy calling for lower taxes, limited government regulation of business and investing, a strong national defense, and individual financial responsibility for personal needs (as retirement income or health-care coverage)
Ask people what they mean by “conservative” and you are bound to get as many definitions as there are people. Even within the ranks of those called “conservative,” however, there has been confusion over what conservatism means. For example, was President George W. Bush’s spending spree at the end of his term something a “conservative” would do? While there may not be one specific definition of what conservatism means, there are core beliefs and principles that guide conservatives. I submit that these principles are simple to articulate and understand: Free markets, limited government, the rule of law as expressed in written documents and not from the legislating by judges, and the promotion of the values of the American Revolution. Such principles are summed up by “individual freedom.”
Today it seems that the power of the government over so many aspects of our lives continues to grow, while the freedom of the individual continues to shrink. The assault on individual freedom is both explicit and implicit. One example of the explicit assault is having a government requiring citizens to purchase certain types of health care. One example of the implicit assault is having a government on a spending spree and then print more money to cover the spending thereby devaluing the currency, and, by definition, the savings of millions of people. These are just two examples of where we see the erosion of individual freedom. Unfortunately, many Americans either don’t care or don’t recognize the subtle, but consistent, erosion of individual freedom. Which leads right back to the initial question of whether “conservatism is dead?”
In recent history, even those who call themselves “conservatives” tend to promote values that erode individual freedom. Take the already mentioned spending spree of President George W. Bush. Many labeled him as a conservative, yet the spending spree of the Obama Administration began with this “conservative” president. Likewise, we recently saw the more seasoned “conservative” Senators criticize Senator Rand Paul for filibustering the nomination of the CIA chief over the whole issue of whether the President of the United States can use drones to kill Americans. I submit that there is a battle for the soul of conservatism. There are those who are big government “conservatives” who are ok with governmental creep as long as it is the kind they like. Then, conversely, there is a groundswell of conservatives who are growing increasingly concerned about the growth of government, regardless of whether the growth comes from one political party or the other. With differing views, arguments and positions how can one expect the survival of conservatism? The answer is found in history.
King Solomon correctly advised us that “there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecc 1:9 It seems that we are repeating some of what occurred shortly before Ronald Reagan was elected. Let’s compare. In the 70’s anti-American sentiment was high. Inflation was soaring as was unemployment. Politicians (President Carter) were telling Americans they had to learn to cut back and get used to the “lack.” The “Great Society,” fostered by President Johnson, was still being held as the standard for government involvement in trying to fix societal problems. Americans felt very little hope. Many of the characteristics of that time period are repeating themselves. Then, Ronald Reagan hit the scene with a real answer. The answer was found in freedom. Freedom of the individual became a benchmark of his presidency. Freedom from the restraints of the state became his legacy.
Reagan stated, “Man is not free unless government is limited.” That bold statement carried him through his eight years as President and turned the tide of our nation. Today we find ourselves on the edge of history yet again. The same circumstances exist today. We see skyrocketing unemployment, feelings of hopelessness and the growth of a “nanny-state.” So when the question arises of whether conservatism is dead, I answer NO! I have hope in the fact that conservatism will once again rise and prevail. Now is not the time to tremble or retreat. We will not find solace in trying to water down or moderate our message. True freedom—real conservatism is the answer. While others proclaim conservatism is gasping for air, I declare that it is not a gasp but a second wind.
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same.” Ronald Reagan.
Until next time,
David A. Standridge