Conservatism Defined By Glen

I have always considered myself to be a conservative. As early as I can remember, I was interested in politics. I was ten years old when Ronald Reagan was elected in a landslide. During my teen years, I was probably the only kid in my school that had a subscription to National Review. I became a huge fan of William F. Buckley and my favorite show was Crossfire, which featured Patrick Buchanan.

So what is my definition of the word conservative?
My definition of the word conservative is almost synonymous with the classical definition of the word liberal. As much as a I criticize people today who call themselves liberal, I actually consider myself to be one. Not only that, but I consider modern liberals to really not be that liberal at all. By calling myself conservative or libertarian (more on that word later), I am simply giving in to the fact that over the last century, certain words have taken on different meanings.

I believe in a small, less intrusive government. No I am not an anarchist. I believe that some government is necessary for any society. The role of government, as I see it, is to protect it's citizenry. Taxes should be collected for that simple purpose, as well as the day to day costs of government. When governments spend tax receipts on wealth redistribution and the subsidizing of farming and industry, government increases it's power and the individual loses power. That word individual, is very important to my definition of conservatism. I believe in individual rights as opposed to collectivism. Equality at the starting gate is one thing, but when a society seeks to achieve equality at the finish line, individualism and the incentive to produce is undermined.

My belief in individualism and personal liberty influence my belief that capitalism is the true manifestation of liberty. I have been accused of being an advocate of business, but that is not true. I am an advocate of free market capitalism. To only be an advocate of business, I would have to support tariffs and corporate subsidies. I do not and I do not believe that subsidizing business is in any way conservative. I believe in free markets and free trade with our neighbors, while still supporting the sovereignty of the United States of America.

As far as immigration is concerned, I believe that our economy can only benefit from increased immigration. If it were not for the welfare state, immigration would probably not even be an issue. We have an immigration problem in this country because we have a demand for immigrant and migrant workers. I am not for open immigration, but I do support making it much easier for immigrants to enter this country. We should liberalize our immigration laws and then increase our border security. Unlike most conservatives, I believe it is silly to try to deport all 20 million illegals. In fact it is logistically impossible. We should grant them amnesty, liberalize our immigration laws, put up a fence, and then start enforcing the new laws.

Foreign Policy, Libertarianism, and Neo-Libertarianism
If what I have written so far sounds like libertarianism, then that is fine. I am quite alright with the term libertarian. In fact, many people who call themselves social conservatives share very little in common with me. I do not believe that government should enforce morality and pass laws that protect people from themselves. I do not believe in outlawing sin, or forcing people to give to the poor. That doesn't mean that I think people should practice a sinful lifestyle or be selfish with their blessings. Government should only pass laws that keep order and protect individuals from violent acts. I realize though, that in a republic, representatives will inevitably pass those intrusive laws because it is the will of the people. Knowing this, I accept that we sometimes have to be pragmatic. I don't believe that politics is an all or nothing game. Sometimes you have to take what you can get. This doesn't mean that I have abandoned my principles though. Like Milton Friedman, I oppose the existence of the Fed, but I also realize that the Fed isn't going away. Some institutions, like the welfare state, are too embedded into our culture. To end them would cause a crisis for the dependent. The best we can really do is to stop their growth, rather than end them.

Although others have labeled me a neo-conservative on foreign policy, I disagree. If everybody that supported the Iraq War four years ago was a neo-con, then the majority of this country and British liberal Tony Blair would be neo-cons. I was at first puzzled about going into Iraq, but Colin Powell's presentation at the UN changed my mind. Maybe I was snookered and made into a fool, but it doesn't matter now. Maybe in a few years I will write about the mistake of going into Iraq, but I will never disagree with the idea of fixing that which we broke. Leaving now would be bad for America and bad for the world. We have to get the country on it's feet and then leave. Hopefully this will happen sooner, rather than later.

So what is my foreign policy philosophy? As far as I am concerned, I am just a standard realist. I am not an isolationist and I do not believe in aggression. I dislike war. Perhaps you think that entering Iraq was an act of aggression, an example of preemptive war. I disagree. If you have ever been in a fight on a playground, then you know that the fight starts long before the first punch is thrown. When you are standing there staring at each other, you better hit first if you expect to win. Of course you can still win by waiting for him to hit you, but why would you want the black eye when the fight was inevitable anyway? In hindsight, Iraq obviously wasn't much of a threat. But at that time, we didn't have the luxury of hindsight. This experience has taught me to be much more cautious in the future. Still though, regardless of whether I support future intervention or not, I do think we should always adhere to the pottery barn rule.

This is what I consider conservatism to be. I am very interested in finding out what others think. I am sure that many disagree. I am going to ask Nathan McIntyre, Bob Krumm and Roger Abramson, Patrick Joubert, Nick, Daddio, Jay Bush, John Norris Brown, Katherine Coble, Mark Rose, Nathan and Sarah Moore, MCO, Blake Wylie, Right Truth, T-Man, Terry Frank, Rob Huddleston, AC Kleinheider, Clark Stooksbury, Bill Hobbs, and Nate to maybe tell me what they consider conservatism to be. I realize that many of you completely disagree with my definition. I am just interested in some good discussion. If you weren't mentioned above, but would like to respond, please go ahead. I apologize for leaving you out.


Tman said...

I would list my own definition of the main conservative values that I lean towards the most, but PJ O'Rourke has done it for me in a far more eloquent way than I could so I'll list this essay first-


The main points about conservatism from the above essay that hit home for me is the idea that these values treat others in a way that belies maturity and responsibility. This is the most fundamental aspect of conservatism that I relate to. If you don't read the above essay, these two stanzas are important-

"The Bill of Rights tries to protect our freedom not only from bad people and bad laws but also from the vast nets and gooey webs of rules and regulations that even the best governments produce. The Constitution attempts to leave as much of life as possibl e to common sense, or at least to local option. The Ninth Amendment states: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." Continues the 10th Amendment, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

It is these suit-yourself, you're-a-big-boy-now, it's-a-free-country powers that conservatism seeks to conserve."


"When government quits being something we use only in an emergency and becomes the principal source of aid and assistance in our society, then the size, expense and power of government are greatly increased. The decision that politicians are wiser, kinder and more honest than we are and that they, not we, should control the dispensation of eleemosynary goods and services is, in itself, a diminishment of the individual and proof that we're jerks."

RGD said...

Good stuff Tman. I would at some time like to discuss the 9th amendment in a little more detail. Thanks.

Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

Just excellent. Can I publish your post and pretend that it's mine? :)

I will definitely accept your invitation and post my version and link to yours.

RGD said...

Thanks Patrick. Look forward to your post.

Chance said...

I don't know much about the history of the word, but I have considered a major part of conservatism to be a belief in the government to preserve traditional values.

I would consider you a solid, little 'l' (as you have said before) libertarian. I know many have accused you of not being a "pure" libertarian, but I think you are pretty consistent. You disagree with many of them on the Iraq War, but I see that as an application of principles, not a foundation.

Ironically, I think libertarianism, not conservatism, has the answer in many cases, when it comes to traditional values. Look at the schooling system. To be fair, many conservatives support school choice, but many support fighting the culture wars in the battlefield of the "one size fits all" school system, but it simply won't work. Libertarians realize that the best way for families to preserve their values, traditional or liberal, is through less government control or more control to the parents.

Terry Frank said...

Glen--I'll try to get to this. You're right, it's a good discussion. It might take me a bit of time though.

RGD said...

"a belief in the government to preserve traditional values."

Maybe you are right Chance. I just never thought of it that way. Traditional values are definitely a part of conservatism, but when the govt. is used to preserve those values, I guess it just stops being conservatism to me. I guess my definition has always been more "libertarian".

Terry, I look forward to reading your thoughts on this. Thanks.