Saturday, January 3, 2009

What is Conservatism?

In the Corner on National Review, Iain Murray writes of his correspondence with a leading Brit Conservative, who has posted a short list of what he believes modern Conservatism is. I have reprinted it below, with some comments following.

1. No insignificant person has ever been born.
2. Economic liberalism needs social conservatism (and, 5pm addition, Iain Murray emails me to say and vice versa)
3. The presumption should always be in favour of life
4. Government should be as small as possible but as large as necessary
5. Multilateral organisations transfer power from people to politicians
6. Private choices have public consequences/ Policymakers have an interest in 'private choices', at least so long as they have consequences for taxpayers
7. Conservatism is a creative coalition between security, economic and cultural conservatives
8. A welfare state that feeds-and-forgets isn't compassionate
9. Politics is less important than ideas, culture and religion
10. Free enterprise and big business are not the same
11. Taxation has dynamic effects
12. Pre-emption is the best response to many of today's security threats
13. There is such thing as society, it's just not the state
14. Man is a fallen creature
15. Decision-making powers should be as close as possible to those affected by those decisions
16. Private ownership is nearly always preferable to common ownership
17. A strong society is built upon the vigorous virtues of courage, ambition, creativity, self-sufficiency and enterprise.
18. Love of country is fundamental to all conservatism.
19. Social liberalism can be destructive of social justice.
20. Conservative reform is usually preferable to radical revolution. Conservatism must deal with its own enemies within.

I'll take them in order, where I have something to say:

7. Right on. This means that over time, one or more element of the coalition will be ascendant. For a while, it was cultural conservatives. I hope that day is now over.
10. Absolutely! Unholy alliances between state and business are fascism, and when they are wrapped in the mantle of "free enterprise", they are particularly pernicious.
17. Perfect. This doesn't mean there is no room for "compassion, justice"--you just don't build a strong society on them.


Dan said...

A couple of quotes from Ronald Reagan that also sum-up views of what Conservatism is, and what it is not:

"Here's my strategy on the Cold War: We win, they lose."

"The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help."

"The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they're ignorant; it's just that they know so much that isn't so."

"Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because the U.S. was too strong."

"I have wondered at times about what the Ten Commandments would have looked like if Moses had run them through the U.S. Congress."

"The taxpayer: That's someone who works for the federal government but doesn't have to take the civil service examination."

"Government is like a baby: An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other."

"The nearest thing to eternal life we will ever see on this earth is a government program."

"It has been said that politics is the second oldest profession. I have learned that it bears a striking resemblance to the first."

"Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it."

"Politics is not a bad profession. If you succeed, there are many rewards; if you disgrace yourself, you can always write a book."

"No arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is as formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women."

"If we ever forget that we're one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under."

Mudge said...

I miss that finest President of my lifetime.

Anonymous said...

Let’s talk about the long term effects of the great communicator, who by the way i voted for. He vowed to put America's economic house in order. He said "You and I, as individuals, can, by borrowing, live beyond our means, but only for a limited period of time. Why then should we think collectively, as a nation, we're not bound by that same limitation?" Reagan reiterated an oft-made promise "to check and reverse the growth of government." And as Bacevich tells us "he would do none of these things. In each case, he did just the reverse. During the Carter years, the federal deficit averaged $54.5 billion annually. During the Reagan era, deficits skyrocketed, averaging $210.6 billion over the course of his two terms in office. Overall Fed spending nearly doubled from $590B to 1.14T. The Fed government did not shrink. It grew the bureaucracy swelling nearly 5% while Reagan occupied the WH." Additionally, Bacevich does a good job of mitigating the often cited conservative argument of the positive effects of the positive GDP growth during this period. We’ve mortgaged our future, now I hope we can pay for it…

I liked Reagan as a person, much like I admire GW Bush, however I contend that neither served the long term interests of this country well. I strongly believe that many historians are starting to identify Reagan as one of the primary culprits of our current woes. Although terribly sad about some aspects and conditions of our country i am strongly starting to believe our current economic condition, which i liken to a house of cards started with Reagan's explosion of federal deficits and thus his fiscal irresponsibility.

It is often said in democracies, people get the government they deserve – well I am hopeful that a sobering effect occurs and both sides of the political aisle start working together to make tough economic decisions. (in this respect both parties have failed miserably during the past 8 years) Perhaps it is time to honor candidate Reagan’s inference that government, like its citizens should live within its means.

I am grateful for the opportunities that I have been afforded and hopeful that our elected leadership can right the direction of this ship. JPM

Anonymous said...

I forgot to question number 12 -- since when is conservatism linked to preemption? Preemption is the trade mark of pseudorealist hawks. Not historical practices of the likes of conservative giants such as Eisenhower, Goldwater and Nitze. In fact the latter specifically rejected preventive war in NSC 68. JPH

Newer Post Older Post Home