As a conservative, by definition, I am trying to conserve something. As conservatives globally, we are trying to conserve something, too. What is that something?
Each of us is likely going to answer that question in a different manner. We all have different priorities and different ways of looking at things, and therefore, we will all have at least slightly different answers. Nonetheless, I would be surprised if most of our answers include certain general themes and items.
Conservatism is hard to define, really, yet it is quite simple. As I mentioned above, conservatives seek to conserve something. How we seek to accomplish that and what we specifically want to accomplish complicate the question. Is conservatism dedicated to liberty and freedom? Or is it based in religion and honors principles of faith above all else? Is it logical, linear, and educated, or is it reactionary and angry towards progressive thinking? Is it none of these, or all of these?
I am not sure the answers, but I do think all have some truth in them. Conservatism seeks to conserve because it recognizes what works. This includes dedication to liberty and freedom, and really should put those concepts at the forefront. It should also recognize religious mores because those are based on concepts that should lead toward liberty and freedom. I think it is logical and linear, and that it requires a knowledge of our past and of philosophical constructs. These can lead to reactionary impulses, but the conservative should never act on those impulses without first considering what is being proposed, what it changes, and what alternatives exist.
I tend to think conservatives must to be aware. They are to consider the world around them deeply to avoid becoming single minded and regressive. They can become blind to certain realities of the world that do no one any good. Such situations lead to accusations of hatefulness and bigotry. And when those accusations come, conservatism is undermined.
What is undermined? What it is we seek to conserve is undermined, and it becomes easier to justify progressive thinking because no one wants to be hateful or bigoted. It becomes easier to throw logic and the obvious out because what difference does it make when people are suffering, at whatever level and for whatever reason. Alleviating suffering is an aim of progressive thinking.
Progressive thinking, if conservative is conserving, is moving forward and not conserving. To where, no one is exactly sure and no one can say exactly when we will get there or even if forward does not mean backwards. Part of that, though, is striving to end suffering.
In this vein, progressives look to those who are suffering as worthy of admiration because they are generally suffering because something is holding them back and hurting them. Therefore, those bonds holding the suffering down must be broken. They can blame these bonds on conservatives because of what they say conservatives want to hold onto.
However, their identification of what conservatives want to hold onto is misplaced. Sometimes, however, I cannot blame them for misplacing. All too often, conservatives are reactionary and come across as harsh. Conservatives lose what is their biggest strength: logic and dedication to true liberty.
So what is it conservatives want to conserve? I would answer true liberty. However vague this concept may be, I would like to explain it in more detail. True liberty honors the freedoms of all, and it does so from a personal level. True liberty recognizes that we all make decisions. It recognizes these decisions all have consequences that we must face. True liberty states that everyone is responsible for their decisions, and that those who make decisions that contribute more to society should be given preference to those whose decisions do not contribute to society.
True liberty is more than that, too. True liberty also recognizes inherent worth that we all have, regardless of the decisions and actions we take. This means that all people should be afforded equal protections under the law and that the law should be applied equally to everyone. However, the law should indeed be applied equally, regardless of wealth, standing, gender, or race. No one should be given any breaks for any reason. Any such derivation from that principle becomes favoritism, not liberty, and liberty and favoritism cannot go together because under favoritism, someone’s liberty is pushed back at the expense of the favored.
Nonetheless, true liberty rewards those who contribute more not because of favoritism but because of their contribution to society. At the risk of confusing economic and market principles with basic freedoms, let me state that I do not believe the two areas can be completely separated. This is a concept of conservatism, though: recognition of human nature.
It has been repeated throughout time, that humans will act selfishly and aggressively to amass wealth, possessions, and prestige. This is a part of human nature that cannot be extinguished. As such, in large societies that tend to suppress these tendencies we see the development of groups of people needed to enforce the suppression. In other words, we still see people rising over others and creating mechanisms to protect their standing. And when that happens, everyone else’s liberties are curtailed. This, too, is but one example of human nature.
True liberty recognizes this tendency in human nature, and true liberty has developed mechanisms to protect against it. Because another part of human nature, is for people to fall. This is as much economic as it is political or philosophical, so my discussion here necessarily includes both. Conservatism, then, recognizes that true liberty must include the ability of people to rise on their own and to fall on their own.
But this is not all about rising and falling that conservatives recognize. Rising and falling is about contributions, not about externalities such as sexual attractions and color of skin. It may be true that once upon a time certain groups were held back. It may even be true now, however the conservative must ask, “So what about color or sexual attraction? What do these have to do with someone’s ability to contribute?” The conservative must answer that these things have nothing to do with that ability, and as long as they are contributing, who cares what they look like or who they choose to chase.
This is true liberty, being able to allow others to act in ways they see fit, and a conservative recognizes that. Before this is taken as throwing away other principles, such as religious principles, let me restate a key point of conservatism: it recognizes what has worked in the past, hence the need to be aware and educated. As it pertains to religion, religion works. Religious people can be incorrect, too, but by and large, religion respects and values everyone, even when calling others sinful. Religion works because it is generally a system based on love and respect. And here is another place where progressives are able to manipulate the conservative message.
Religious people often apply their mores and standards to non believers. This is a mistake when it becomes judgmental. It is one thing to state standards and live by those standards, and even to expect everyone to abide in them. It is something different to condemn nonbelievers to those same standards. Breaking this down, religious people should be concerned with the health of everyone as it pertains to their standards, and they should show appropriate concern. However, when they come across as intolerant and judgmental, they move beyond what is concern to what becomes dictatorial. An example is when Christians condemn homosexuality as sinful but also say that no one should be gay and look down upon gays.
True liberty, which I think is found within the heart of Christianity, recognizes that people will be gay, and that’s OK. True liberty can say that homosexuality is a wrong choice, but will not condemn the gay person solely because he is gay. (Homosexuality and sin within the church or religious organization is a different matter. I am discussing the religious and contrasting with the non-religious.)
Conservatism, then, seeks to protect and conserve ideals of freedom and liberty. It may always be on the defensive, because of its very nature. However, conservatives must be wary of abandoning these concepts. The reality is that we share the world. This does not mean we abandon that which we hold true. To the contrary, we embrace it. We embrace liberty. We embrace freedom. We embrace those who disagree with us, even while we disagree.
Conservatives are an optimistic group, too. Contrary to the myth created by progressives, true conservatives see in everyone the ability to contribute. True conservatives allow contributions from everyone, and don’t discount what is said because someone does not look right. Everyone can succeed under conservatism.
However, as part of human nature, conservatives all too often mess it up when they become defensive or reactionary. This reaction only fuels progressives, and we face a harder struggle.
So, what are we protecting and conserving? I think at the end of the day, we seek to conserve freedom of thought and action. While progressives push to liberate oppressed peoples, they seek to shut down that which oppressed. Freedom and liberty are lost through that process. Conservatives, on the other hand, recognize that everyone can indeed think on their own, and that there will never be uniformity in the world.
Conservatives, then, seek to conserve a world where everyone has a chance and what matters is hard work and dedication. Conservatives recognize truly open minds without condemnation and that differences exist and that is OK. Conservatives recognize that true freedom is found when we can actually discuss issues and work through them, recognizing what has worked and why, while we seek to lift everyone up regardless of creed, color, or gender.