The Digressor

Politics, Culture, Life, and Unusual Takes

OK.  I have been asking myself why I write.  Primarily, it helps me focus my thoughts and sort what I believe and why I believe it.  I tend to be quite conservative, but though I hate the term, I try to be a rational conservative.  I am not sure what camp I fall in to, to be honest, as conservatives come in many flavors.  I’m not inclined to go into depth on Burkean, for instance, conservatism, but rather lay out why I think I am a conservative here.

To start, let me define conservativism.  Conservatism is the philosophy that seeks to retain the norms and ideals of society that are rational and that work.  Conservatism is not opposed to change, if it finds an area that needs changing.  Conservatism is supports itself through rational argument, identifiable and real situations, and simple recognition in human nature and that some things just will never change.  Conservatism is not, then, emotional, irrational, or prone to engage in social experimentation to change perceived  faults in humanity.  In many ways, conservatism today follows yester years classical liberalism.

Why, then, am I a conservative?  The answer to that is that I find this mode of thinking is more honest and open to address the needs of society.  Conservative, by definition, is more honest in its assessment of the world around us.  It is not opposed to change, but is careful in following it.

The true conservative recognizes that there are things in society that have been created that work, and until it is proven not to work, those things should carry on.  These things will shift through time, yes, and that is part of the puzzle, really.  What ideas or practices are worthy of being carried through time?

To name one: true equality under the law and a recognition that we are all different and are Ok with the differences.  Interestingly, these are two things that present day liberals love to emphasize.  However, liberals define equal differently and I am not sure they are OK with the differences.  They certainly emphasize them, but anyone who points out the differences is often chastised.  This is not a recognition or celebration of differences at all, but rather a silencing of anyone who dares talk about them.  In other words, while conservatives are able to talk about and recognize differences, liberals are not, and to the contrary, liberals seek a sterilization of society that is neither diverse or open.

This does run contrary to what most are told about conservatives, and that is another reason why I write: to show that conservatives are not some mythical, evil creature that exists only under liberal children’s beds.  To be fair, there is a growing movement of people, often labeled as conservative, who are going over the edge and abandon the elements I laid out above.  They react and discard cogent argument in favor of shouting down the opposition, just like their liberal counterparts.  This does not help the conservative movement.

Which brings me to my final point regarding conservatism today: today, there seem to be a lot more people who are willing to engage in rational discussions who consider themselves conservatives than there are those who would label themselves liberal.  This is an interesting trend, and I am not sure what to make of it entirely, although it certainly signals to me that conservatism is indeed the more honest of the two main categories of political thought in the United States.



4 thoughts on “A Philosophical Digression

  1. BrianR says:

    This is simple for me: I’m an originalist conservative. That means I believe the Constitution means what it says in its simplest, most straightforward, originalist interpretation. The Constitution is my political Bible.


    1. MJP7200 says:

      Sure. I get that, and as an American, I think there is much wisdom in that. The Constitution works, and too many are trying to find ways to cheapen it or move around it. It was designed to cause one to pause before making laws, and it was designed to ensure three parts of government do their job and not co-mingle. The advance of the administrative state is a great example, wars without congressional approval, and a court that is free to make policy all demonstrate that statement.

      But I am curious, if the constitution did not exist, what your thoughts would be on how a government should conduct itself and how society should organize its priorities. To me, political theory and political philosophy must be able to address these general questions. After all, why is the Constitution important and should we seek to maintain it in its original form. If we can’t answer that, why should we care about it at all?


  2. BrianR says:

    “… if the constitution did not exist, what your thoughts would be on how a government should conduct itself and how society should organize its priorities.”

    Well, we have the historical record as well as plenty of literature, both fiction and non-fiction, to consider in answering that question. The record is rife with governments that range from republics (Greece, Rome) to tyrannies (Nazism, USSR) with everything in between. I think given the realities of human nature, our Constitution defines the most perfect achievable government that can succeed. Unfortunately, we no longer stick to the system it defines.

    I think Heinlein hit on something that can improve our system. He addressed it in “Starship Troopers”: people only achieve full citizenship and the franchise by spending at least some time in service. No universal suffrage. In fact, that was the original system under the Constitution, too. You had to actually have skin in the game in order to be able to vote. That requirement addresses the human nature aspect of voting for fiscal policies that burden other people, but not oneself. It’s something we see reflected in the Tytler Cycle:

    “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury.

    “From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising them the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.

    “The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence:

    “From bondage to spiritual faith;
    from spiritual faith to great courage;
    from courage to liberty;
    from liberty to abundance;
    from abundance to selfishness;
    from selfishness to apathy;
    from apathy to dependence;
    from dependency back again into bondage.”

    The Cycle merely is an expression of human nature, when you think about it, and any government that can survive has to be reflective of human nature, good bad or indifferent. Even tyrannies reflect aspects of human nature.

    Franklin realized this, too. After the Constitutional Convention, when asked what kind of government they’d created, he responded: “A republic, if you can keep it”. He realized the danger of failure, because it was — and still is — dependent on the integrity of the politicians who would put it in practice. In the long term, it appears that faith was misplaced.


    1. MJP7200 says:

      I am familiar with the cycle. I think it exists. But how do we protect against it? Is it silly to think we can do anything about it? I think societies tend to push towards a single, strong leader before that blows up, and we continue on.

      It has manifested itself many times the world over. So, what exactly does the conservative seek to conserve? Is it a form of government? An ideal?

      My answer is the conservative seeks to conserve freedom and liberty, and in that are the concepts of freedom of speech, conscience, and the ability seek the best opportunity for oneself. Our own preamble to our Constitution lists this concept as the freedom to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We ought to be able to voice our own opinions without reprisal, worship as we please, think as we please, and seek our best outcomes.

      But since we live together, I do believe a state is necessary to ensure these ideals are protected. However, any state must act only as a referee and not promote one side over another.

      And that is an area where our current state errs: it is trying to promote, and as it is promoting it is denying others these ideals.

      A conservative needs to recognize this and work to protect the ideals, which do work.


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