Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Treatise on Conservatism

Real Conservatism

I was told recently by a political operative in SC that Republicans can’t run as conservative as they would like because the depth of understanding required to negotiate the issues in the time frame allotted for election is lost on most voters. Let us see if he is right.

This election cycle has collided with my becoming keenly self-aware of my political virtues. In doing so, I have been motivated to explore what a “Conservative” really is. Let me start by telling what a True Conservative is not.

-Rush Limbaugh
Rush, the de facto flag bearer of our current movement, is not truly and completely conservative because he lets personal convictions, which do not track with tenets of conservatism, inform his opinions on Abortion and Gay Marriage.

-For a Constitutional Amendment on Abortion
The principles that I am about to lay out will show that Conservatives will find a dissonance between the ideas of personal rights, less government interference, Federalism and wanting a federal ban on abortion.

-For a Constitutional Amendment on Gay Marriage
For similar reasons as stated above being the movement of less government and more personal responsibility does not work in concert with the idea of a federal test for what marriage is or is not.

-Protectionist in Trade or Security
Libertarians parading as Conservatives like Ron Paul and SC candidate for Senate Mark McBride try to pass off populist messages about taking care of our own first at home before we worry about the world as some kind of conservative virtue. I assure you, disengagement abroad is the furthest thing from a conservative principle that there is.

So, what is True Conservatism?
First let us look at the domestic component of Conservatism. True Conservatism is actually “Classical Liberalism.” Classical Liberalism is a doctrine emphasizing individual responsibility and limited government. More specifically free markets, personal property rights, natural rights and the protection of civil liberties make up the “bread and butter” of Classic Liberal virtue. It is the finger in the eye of Tyranny. It was not until Franklin Roosevelt that the term “Liberal” became associated with Big Government, the Nanny State and the Welfare State.

Chief among these pieces of Conservatism/Classical Liberalism is that of individual freedom or the more descriptive ‘individual sovereignty.” The idea that a person possesses the sole moral or natural right to control his or her own body and life and by extension his personal property is to my eyes the alpha-and-omega of every other conservative principle. If we must have a government its only purpose is to promote and protect our individual sovereignty (rights).

If we did not have a government to promote and protect our individual freedoms and rights we would be left each of us individually to do so. We would exist in a “State of Nature” or an every-man-for-himself free-for-all. Survival of the fittest. To avoid this chaos we employ governments to protect and promote our individual rights and we give up some rights and power to the government so it can skillfully and fairly adjudicate any discrepancies between the individuals and protect us via the rule of law.

Most political movements and theories more-or-less accept these principles as I have laid them out. Where Conservatism shines alone is True Conservatives understand that these governments that we put in place to protect us have a natural and predictable inertia to grow and restrict and take more freedom and more liberty and more property. Both Machiavelli and Jean Jacques Rousseau have skillfully chronicled this escalation in power (though from very different approaches). The Conservative knows of this growth, fights this growth and prepares for this growth. This inertial growth is facilitated often out of ignorance but also by crafty design by the modern Liberal left in the form of Socialized education, health care, welfare and a litany of other entitlement programs. Programs and policies designed to protect us from ourselves to such a degree as to rob us of our individual sovereignty. When you facilitate, coax, or advocate for this unnecessary movement against “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Property” you are something other than a Conservative.

What is the best system for a government to protect our rights? A True Conservative can look honestly at history and its chronicles for the answer. Collectively Locke, Rousseau, Hobbes, Jefferson and Paine have promised that the best form of government is a representative democracy most likely in the form of a Republic with a system of checks on the balance of power so that the before mentioned inertia does not lead to either a Tyrannical Despot or the Tyranny of the Majority.

Our Classically Liberal Founding Fathers framed a system that checked the inertial power of government by not only playing the Judicial, Legislative and Executive against each other but also by setting as sovereign the States of the Union. Our founders knew that as governments grow the harder it is for them to skillfully and fairly govern. Therefore the smaller more nimble States and the Individual were to retain all powers not expressly listed in the Constitution. How many checks and balances do we therefore have?
Executive v. Judicial v. Legislative
Federal v. State v. Individual
It is the Federal versus State versus Individual system of checks and balances that has borne the most neglect and suffered the worst assaults. A Federal system was envisioned by our Founders. Unfortunately, because of necessity we have moved away from this Federalist system that was supposed to keep the government from becoming the massive Leviathan that it is today.

“The Chicago Tribune showed that the federal government is now the ‘biggest land owner, property manager, renter, mover and hauler, medical clinician, lender, insurer, mortgage broker, employer, debtor, taxer and spender in all history.’”

Fancy a guess as to the decade the Tribune is referring? This quote is from the book “The Conscience of a Conservative” by Barry M. Goldwater initially published in 1960. In his book Goldwater laments that the federal government was about to pass the $100 Billion mark in terms of the federal budget. It is now $3,100,000,000,000.00. That is $3.10 Trillion dollars. Is George Bush, under whom the US budget grew by 1 Trillion, a conservative? NO! Is this what the Founders had in mind??? NO!

If the necessities of ending Slavery and the New Deal had never happened we might not be in this situation. But it did. And we are. If we are to ever “break the rules” ending Slavery was as good a reason to do so as there ever was and it points out the fact that there is no perfect system of government. But in order to form a “more perfect Union” our Founding Fathers created the most perfect system that has ever been envisioned. A system that gave States and Individuals far more rights, duties and responsibilities than we are currently legally able to exercise.

Next, International Relations. As stated before, the beginning and end of everything a government does should be the protection and promotion of my and your individual rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of property. The best way to protect and promote is to be keenly engaged abroad so that our interests at home are considered by allies and enemies alike. The opposite of this is to behave as protectionists or isolationists. To suggest protectionism in good conscience one must assume economic self-sufficiency and the ability to defend effectively from our own shores and borders. This assumption is not backed up by any historical fact or even by common sense. Security threats are best handled at the source OUTSIDE our own borders and economic realities dictate trade with other nations. Not to mention the pursuit of happiness and property is no where limited to only within the borders of ones own nation.

Conservatives see engagement abroad for the benefit of the individual as axiomatic. Security and economic alliances are a must. The projection of power is a must. Conservatives also understand that because there is no world governing body that can skillfully and fairly adjudicate discrepancies in economics or security and enforce judgments it is incumbent on every nation to behave as though in a State of Nature. Every nation for itself. International Relations exist in a system of anarchy up to and until a nation or group of nations provide leadership and either coerce or attract other nations into agreement. This leadership is based on strength and benevolence. Or Hard Power and Soft Power. Being a part of an alliance should only be undertaken if an individual’s right to life, liberty and property is forwarded. It is this NeoRealist notion that has taken the United States from a fledgling nation vulnerable to attacks of conquest to the world Hyper-Power that it is, with no equal in history. Not the Socialist vision of the American Liberal Left.

Before, you make the mistake of seeing this as merely cold and self-serving please consider this. When are you in your best position to be helpful to others? When you are at your strongest or weakest? Can you help your neighbor best when you are fighting tooth and nail to survive on your own or when you have achieved a level of comfort and affluence, allowing you to attend to other matters? It is precisely US success and leadership that allows us to be the benevolent nation that we are, out-giving other nations by orders of magnitude, providing the order and predictability necessary for International Relations to occur. Conservatives understand this concept rooted in individualism and promote it as policy.

Other nations, Socialist and Communist nations, are based not on individualism but rather on collectivism. They believe that the collective consciousness is the truest direction. That individual efforts should be combined with other individuals in an egalitarian manner. This sounds good, Utopian even, such is the attraction of Marxism and lesser forms of Socialism. Brilliant men and women have been wooed by the Siren’s Song of Socialism for years. In reality this goes against all psychological norms and is thus doomed to failure. Every person’s first duty is to him or herself, not to the community. To suggest otherwise is to go against human nature. Conservatives recognize this truth and promote it as policy.

Rather than telling the farmer to grow only corn or wheat, we tell the farmer nothing and he is free to grow what makes money. Rather than tell the farmer that he will only be paid for corn by the State apparatus and only at the State price, we let the market (less and less so every year) dictate prices. Rather than provide socialized health care with price floors, ceilings and fixes we try (sometimes unsuccessfully) to let the market dictate price and by extension promote innovation and development of resources that happens naturally in a competitive market. Individual competition is good. This competition gives us a market that rewards risk and research & development. Research and Development that has given us many of health care’s greatest advances, advances that would likely not be possible under a system with no free market -a system reliant on ONE source for R&D, the Socialist government.

In closing, True Conservatives believes that governments will always try to grow, even beyond what is healthy and useful. Conservatives believe that it is our duty to constantly keep this natural inertia in check by promoting the separation of powers and the promotion of individualism. Conservatives believe that the most basic idea of Individual Sovereignty is the cornerstone of all Conservative principles and that the best way to protect this sovereignty is with as small a government as is generally useful. Conservatives believe that there is no moral issue that takes precedence over limited government and individual sovereignty. Conservatives believe in engagement abroad and that true peace only comes from strength and when provoked, clear victory. True Conservatism rewards a moral and virtuous life but provides NO religious tests and promotes no moral belief system above another save the innate morality of Conservatism itself.

What is Conservatism? It is the political movement of individual rights, the basis of our founding, the key to our past success, and a moral imperative for our future.

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