Re: “Some Open Questions for Conservatives”

Paula at It’s Only Words has a post looking for some feedback. From the post:

My question was, and is, how many conservative positions must one hold on the issues in order to be considered a conservative? The person who started the controversy contends that you must hold the conservative position on every issue, “with some minor variations.”

I left a rambling comment later in the thread that didn’t answer the question:

One thing that I think important that I’m not seeing in these comments: Is it possible to get a definition of “conservative” that doesn’t reduce “liberal” to stereotypes?

I think we have to start with the notion that conservatism and liberalism are ideologies and necessarily imperfect. An ideology by definition is not a search for wisdom: it already assumes it knows everything in order to move people’s passions. This can more easily explain why extremes on the Right and Left are both prone to embracing New World Order conspiracy theories where “Obama = Bush” and all that junk. Now of course, the crucial point is that when someone does that, they become apolitical – no less than Aristotle says that a democracy that is too much a democracy ceases to be a democracy.

It also would be very prudent to distinguish American conservatism from European strands. In some ways, American conservatism is becoming more like European, where fascism is a genuine threat. Just because the Obama administration will label anyone the worst enemy of mankind ever doesn’t mean that things aren’t getting ugly over here: I’ve run into way too many militias and openly white supremacist groups talking about things like Glenn Beck to find common ground with more reasonable people. There’s a lot on the line when one attempts to define conservatism, and one has to be very careful with even the most innocuous sounding rhetoric. While there are exceptions, the main reason why anyone brings up “states’ rights” is to say that the Civil War was inherently unjust. I’m sorry, but I’ll take big government over slavery any day. And our institutions work, as evidenced by the fact that just winning an election can make the opposition think twice.

I hope you’ll comment there and help her get some quality answers to her question.


  1. >Is it possible to get a definition of “conservative” that doesn’t reduce “liberal” to stereotypes?

    Both sides stereotype the other. The reality is I think most people have beliefs that align with at least something from both sides.
    .-= Ned Carey´s last blog ..Economic Stimulus =-.

  2. It appears to me that the libertarian movement which is quite small is beginning to see that calling itself “conservative” is more feasible in challenging the two party strong hold. People like Glen Beck and the other major radio hosts are labeling themselves as conservatives and defining it as believers in the constitution and the ideologies of the founding fathers. I think we are eventually going to see a third party because the Democrat vs Republican fight is looking more counter-productive each day. Americans are in a tight spot right now and they are looking for real change, not the substance-less “change we can believe in” which hasn’t arrived, nearly a year into this administration.

  3. I think I have to disagree a bit with the prediction that the libertarian movement will gain momentum. That isn’t to say that it hasn’t become much more noticeable than it was in the past; it certainly has. But still, I see it as a sort of semi-serious party which really has no skin in the game — the party hasn’t ever experienced the harsh reality of actual governance on a very large scale. As such, they can sort of mouth of platitudes from the sidelines and do some back-patting, but beyond that…

    I guess my real disdain for them comes from the fact that they seem like the party of purely unadulterated self-interest. Now, I know that many Republicans can (and should) be criticized in the same vein, but it seems like a sort of mantra or way of life for the libertarians. The fact of the matter is that the ‘self-interest so long as it harms no one,’ ‘do as you please’ attitude isn’t sustainable. There has to be some latitude, exactly because human beings aren’t perfect judges of things like ‘merit,’ ‘hard work,’ etc.

    I think generally, conservatives need to remind people that they aren’t made of cotton candy: people are generally tough and can literally govern themselves. More than anything, it is a sort of spirit that has to be instilled into every generation which I think is quickly eroding. People slip through the cracks, yes, but you don’t build a politics on the extreme cases; there are ways to make exceptions without making the exception the rule.

    Long story short, I guess I really do understand what ‘compassionate conservatism’ was all about. It is a recognition that self-interest alone is not enough, and that is what I liked about it. I dunno, it is too bad that Bush is generally loathed because that project had some real potential. To get to the point, anyone who sticks to the party lines probably has never thought twice about their particular ideology, which Ashok is quite right in pointing out as a sort of fast-food or Wal-Mart brand of wisdom that isn’t really wisdom. Its rather sort of like Kierkegaard’s portrayal of ‘objective Christianity.’

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