What is a Conservative?
Updated: Jan 7
Political speech by politicians and journalists nowadays consists of levying labels, accusations, and slogans, and not much more. I’ve asked many people why they believe what they do about various political candidates or policies, and most don’t know why. This is greatly concerning because it means that all that is needed to win political support is to repeat enough claims without ever having to provide an explanation.
To demonstrate how the public can be convinced of something that isn’t true, I will make a statement that you will disagree with. But I believe that by the time you finish reading this post, you’ll change your mind. It’s this kind of dialogue that’s absent from nearly all political discourse.
Here’s my statement:
The modern conservative movement
is in line with the
liberal movement of the 1960s.
How can this be?
Social Issues raised in the 1960s
Below is a summary of the social issues raised during the 1960s by the political liberals of the day:
Civil rights for all; anti-segregation
Equal rights (race and gender)
Anti-poverty and unemployment
What is surprising to most people is every one of these issues is a conservative position.
The following is a summary of the Sharon Statement, considered to be one of the most seminal statements describing modern conservative thought, originally published on September 11, 1960, by M. Stanton Evans, in Sharon, Connecticut.
Belief in the protection of free will from arbitrary force.
Belief that political freedom cannot exist without economic freedom.
Belief that the purpose of government is to protect those freedoms through the fair administration of justice, and the provision of national defense.
That the Constitution of the United States is the best arrangement yet devised for empowering government to fulfill its proper role and restraining it from the concentration and abuse of power.
That the unrestrained market economy that allocates resources by supply and demand is the most productive supplier of human needs and is most compatible with personal freedom.
That American foreign policy must be judged by how it serves the just interests of the United States.
Notice that none of these positions have anything to do with gender, race, age, religion, or sexual orientation. This should be surprising to most people considering what has been broadcast by the news and published by the press over the past sixty years.
Conservativism espouses that the size and power of the government should be minimized, that it should be “conservatively sized.”
Conservativism has nothing to do with time (old vs. new),
but has everything to do with size.
If you are the average U.S. citizen, then I have already given you more information about political conservativism than you have heard in your lifetime. This, to me, is a tragedy that exists by design by the opponents of conservativism.
The real battle
The central conflict in the United States today isn’t between Right and Left, or Republican and Democrat. These titles are no longer useful because, for example:
Many Republican politicians are Statists
Many traditional liberal causes are today’s conservative causes.
People will often say, “I’m not a conservative because I disagree with Senator So-And-So,” when chances are high that Senator So-And-So isn’t conservative.
The real political battle today in the United States is between Conservativism and Statism.
What is Statism? Here is one definition:
Statism is a political system in which the state has
substantial centralized control over social and economic affairs,
often extending to government ownership of industry.
To me, this sounds like the exact opposite of what the 60s movement was about. Wasn't one of their notions to "question authority?" That doesn't mix well with Statists.
For illustration, the following table highlights the differences between Conservativism and Statism:
Level of speech determined by Group membership
Market controlled by government
Liberty determined by Group membership
Rights decided by State
Managed outcome determined by Group membership
Freedom of religion
Freedom of religion determined by Group membership
Taxes levided equally
Taxes determined by Group membership
Laws enforced equally
Law enforcement determined by Group membership
Strong national defense
Weak national defense
Look to self for guidance
Look to state for guidance
Oppose long-term welfare
Embrace long-term welfare
Bulk of responsibility: citizen
Bulk of responsibility: State
Emphasis on private property
Emphasis on public property
Separation into groups
“What groups?” you ask.
Even a strong, centralized, Statist government cannot pretend to manage the needs and affairs of 328 million individuals. However, a centralized government can—so it believes—manage the needs and affairs of a small number of groups into which the entirety of its population is placed. Group status is determined by race, financial status, religion, and any other identifier the government chooses. So long as the members within each group behave in a predictable manner, a minimum level of order can be maintained.
If you think the United States government would never manage its citizens by groups, review the following examples.
Anyone caught, tried, and convicted of any crime should be punished regardless of race, financial status, religion, and so on. If burglary, theft, or vandalism has sentence X, then sentence X should be applied to the guilty party regardless of their status in life. However, currently in the United States, if the very same crime is committed against a person or persons of a certain Group within the population, the convict receives a greater sentence via Hate Crime legislation.
Another example is the progressive tax system in the United States. Richer citizens pay a much higher percentage of taxes than poorer citizens. (See source.)
Top 1% of earners pay 40% of all U.S. income tax revenue
Top 90% to 99% of earners pay 31% of all U.S. income tax revenue
Top 50% to 89% of earners pay 26% of all U.S. income tax revenue
Lower 50% pay 3% of all U.S. income tax revenue
Tell the closest ten people around you that the top one percent of earners in this country pay 40% of all U.S. income tax revenue and they will likely be surprised.
Members of Congress in Washington D.C. pass laws for themselves that don’t apply to regular U.S. citizens. This should disturb every person who lives in the United States. Yet, well over ninety percent of congressional leaders are voted back in every term.
So long as members of congress believe they are untouchable, they will continue to behave as they wish.
The 1985 U.S. Supreme Court case Wayte v. United States 470 U.S. 598, ruled that the Government retains broad discretion as to whom to prosecute. In other words, if those currently running the government at the time believe that the case conflicts with the Government’s current enforcement policies, the case is dismissed.
There are strong forces in government trying to write “reconciliation” laws to help Black Americans recover from the effects of slavery in the 1800s. While this may seem like a noble idea, it requires that people be divided into Groups. Who is going to pay for reconciliation, and who is going to receive it? Will anyone in either group have any choice in the matter?
Moreover, enacting reconciliation laws does nothing toward reducing racism. Shouldn’t reducing racism be a primary goal of government?
You may agree or disagree with these kinds of laws, but this isn’t my point. My point is that they exist.
An ideologue is someone who believes they know how people will think or feel based on how they look.
Restriction of free will
There is effectively a reduction of free will anytime we place ourselves into a group. This happens to all of us routinely throughout our lives and without harm, so long as we do it voluntarily.
Employees in a company must abide by the company’s rules regarding verbal and written communications to people outside the company.
People in the legal and medical industries must abide by strict communication limitations.
These restrictions are voluntary because if the employee disagrees with the policies, the employee can find another career.
It’s when the government assigns people into Groups without their consent and then expects them to think, feel, and act in a certain way, when true liberty is restricted.
Succeeding—becoming famous—or whatever the goal—without the aid of the assigned Group’s help gets people in trouble with the Group. People doing so are called “sellouts.” Idealogues don’t allow success by any means outside the Group. This is a severe restriction of freedom.
My son is running his own photography business (www.nathanaeltphotography.com). I’m learning how to become a successful author. Neither my son nor I are a member of any group, and we don’t want to be.
To be clear, anyone in the United States can be rich by doing one thing:
Provide a quality product or service that enough other people want
at a price that beats the competition.
Or, to quote the late Zig Ziglar,
“You can get anything in life you want
if you’ll just help enough other people get what they want.”
-- Zig Ziglar
This is exactly what my son and I are doing. How much more freedom could we ever dream of having?
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...”
-- U.S. Declaration of Independence (emphasis added)
Notice that according to the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the job of the U.S. Government is not to provide the rights of citizens, but to secure the rights they have already received by their creator.
The term “Unalienable rights” means:
Natural rights that cannot be surrendered to the government.
Any law that alienates such a right would therefore be inherently invalid.
Statism destroys initiative & self-worth
Free enterprise is the voluntary exchange of money for something else of value. No money is taken from anyone against their will so long as there are enough companies competing to produce the same goods and services. A t-shirt is relatively inexpensive because t-shirts are manufactured, distributed, and sold by a wide number of companies competing for the same consumer business.
But with freedom comes responsibility, and a great deal of choice, chance, and vulnerability. The damage and misery that comes from making financial mistakes can be devastating. Money management can be difficult and unclear even for the most well-established and educated people.
Governments that genuinely care about their citizenry
will do all they can to teach via education and other means
the principles of wise money management and investment.
A government that wants to help its people out of poverty would concentrate heavily on:
Removing unjust roadblocks (unjust laws) facing people who are trying to become financially independent.
Providing instruction, encouragement, and reward systems (grants, etc.) that encourage behaviors and attitudes that promote financial security and advancement.
Whereas with Statism, the government takes money from one Group of people against their will and gives it to another Group of people who may or may not want it or need it. What message does this give to the recipients of such funds?
Who wronged us, that we deserve this money?
What, if anything, is wrong with us?
Who are they to decide what we need or want?
The dominant thought of a just government’s citizenry should be,
Work hard, sacrifice, be wise, cautious, and diligent.
Do what the State says, and you’ll be taken care of.
This can happen only if the government is doing all it can to protect the citizenry from unjust, predatory practices from public and private industry. People cannot invest money, goods, and energy if they don’t believe their long-term work will be reasonably protected by just laws.
A government that tries to control a greater percentage of our daily lives must, by definition, take away more freedom. If, for example, the government controls how many goods and services are distributed to a certain area, then the government must have some say over how much of those goods and services individuals in that area may use, else there will be shortages or overages. What if a certain community decides to work harder and improve their circumstances? Do their taxes decrease because they become less reliant on the government? Who decides these matters?
The role of a just government should be to warn and protect, not provide.
The term zero-sum refers to the economic idea that there is only “so much” of something to go around, and that when one portion of the population receives more than their share of that “something,” then other portions of the population suffer because they get less of it.
Statist governments are zero-sum because Statist governments distribute, while the private sector produces. When the private sector is weakened to the point that it is no longer economically effective, the Statist replacement of distribution is zero-sum.
The private sector is not zero-sum because when consumer demand for a product exceeds the available supply of that product, other companies arise and provide more of that product, thereby increasing supply and lowering product cost.
To return to the example of my son’s photographic business, he’s able to make money photographing people only because his service meets a demand. This he did on his own without governmental intervention. My son can then, with the money he earns, purchase other goods and services from other people’s businesses.
One of my daughters is both a music tutor and a math tutor. The money she makes from her labor is significant. People voluntarily pay her for her services. Both she and her clients benefit.
If everyone who lives in a community does the same, then the entire community prospers. Such a condition is not zero-sum because there is no fixed, upper limit. Wealth is created instead of distributed.
“But most small businesses fail,” you say.
I invented a board game and was awarded, along with my two business partners, a U.S. Patent. This patent cost us thousands of dollars. As a demonstration of the game, I programmed a fully-functioning, animated computer version consisting of the human player playing against three A.I. (artificial intelligence) opponents.
The game was fun and addictive!
However, no game company purchased the game, and we lost all that money. But I gained much life experience from that endeavor. If I could go back in time, I’d do it all again, but better. I was wise enough not to sink too much money into it. That venture counts as a failed business. But I have no regrets. I’m a much better person for doing it. And I’m more popular at parties.
Safe zones/cancel culture
Protesters in the past didn’t care what others thought of them. In the 1960s, if you walked up to a group of protesters carrying signs and told them to go away, they’d probably have responded with, “Make us,” and then scorn you for being weak. Nowadays, they’d probably accuse you of being mean and insensitive and then complain to someone about being judged.
Free speech is both a liberal and a conservative concept. But it’s not a Statist concept. This is because anything said that may offend the protected Group must be censored (i.e., canceled). To the Statists, the Group is society, and therefore must be protected.
Conservatives do not censure speech. If you don’t believe me, show me an example in the past forty years where conservatives get offended and want the offending person “canceled.” Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Nowadays, conservatives across the country are routinely censured by their opponents when they say anything that can be construed as offensive.
Target made two decisions a few years ago that turned me off so badly I have never set foot in a Target store since. However, I did not institute a boycott and walk around the building with a group of people carrying signs.
In 2004, Target banned Salvation Army bellringers in front of the store, claiming that the bellringers offended some customers.
In 2015, Target stopped labeling clothing and toys as either “boys” or “girls.”
When I enter a store, I want to buy something. Nothing more, and certainly not political messaging. If someone is insulted by the store’s policies, they can frequent another store instead, just like I have done. Target is free to make its policies, and so am I.
When capitalism goes wrong
Capitalism cannot go wrong if the government does its job. What is the primary job of a just government?
The purpose of any just government is to help protect
people from unjust harm from other people.
“Other people” includes corporations because they are made up of people. If the government, due to weak anti-trust laws or weak labor laws, has allowed corporations to unjustly harm either its employees, consumers, or competing corporations, then the government should be held accountable—given that protecting people is its primary responsibility.
Nowadays, in political speech and in many fictional movies and TV shows, corporations are routinely credited for widespread misery, while the governments that allow such behavior get a free pass.
The public must become aware that Statist-leaning governments have motive not to enforce just controls over private businesses. This way governments can step in to replace the permitted widespread economic corruption with governmental Statism.
If you believe that the government shouldn’t be held accountable for policing corporations, then you must answer the following questions:
If people constantly drive through your neighborhood at 25 miles per hour above the speed limit and the police do nothing about it, would you be irked at the police?
If your neighborhood is frequently victimized by burglaries and the police do nothing about it, would you be irked at the police?
You would because the primary job of the police is to help protect citizens from unjust harm from others. Yet, when a corporation inflicts unjust harm upon others and the government either won’t pass protective laws or won’t enforce existing laws, why does the government get a free pass?
And even more:
How can anyone believe that after full-blown Statism takes over,
the government will suddenly change and begin to act justly?
Wouldn’t putting all of society’s social and economic needs solely in the hands of the government be akin to putting the fox in charge of the henhouse?
Universal health care
Whether or not Universal health care is noble, it hurts consumers in three ways that are never discussed by its proponents:
Reduces competition. In all other parts of a free society, competition is the best way to reduce consumer costs. Prices of toasters, shovels, and automobiles are minimized because many competing companies provide them.
Prices for medical goods and services have risen dramatically because near-universal health care insurance has allowed prices for medical costs to be set by the amount insurance companies pay and not what consumers can pay. If the average consumer can pay only $75 for an MRI, but the insurance companies pay $750, then the cost for an MRI jumps from $75 to $750. This raises insurance premiums for everyone!
Universal health care teaches that the government is the predominant protector and provider.
Question: Why does a ride on a commercial aircraft, with its thousands of components and millions of hours of design and testing, in addition to the salaries of the flight crew and the maintenance expenses of an immense airport, cost about the same as a 10-minute visit at a doctor’s office? It’s because,
In the United States there are intentionally too few universities that can produce doctors (why don’t anti-trust laws prevent this?), and
Because of the influence of near-universal health care insurance.
If there were true competition in the medical industry, where more people could become doctors, then health care costs would drop dramatically.
There are some doctors (we need more of them!) who work outside the insurance industry, who accept only cash, and do very well. If enough doctors did this, the cost of medical care would go down.
If I could produce a medical product or service at one-tenth the cost of what other medical companies charge (which, by the way, is closer to their true cost), then many thousands or even millions of people would be benefitted from my company.
Equality is required,
before a just court of law, and
the equal enforcement of all laws across all citizens
Any other enforcement of equality is bondage. This is easy to prove:
Should it be illegal for my house to be bigger than my neighbors?
Should it be illegal for me to make more than my officemate sitting next to me?
If I save my money instead of spending it, and later in life have more than someone else, should it be legal for the government to take it from me?
If you’ve answered yes to any of the above questions, then you prefer “equality of outcome” over liberty.
No perfect social order can be created because human beings are imperfect and changeable. Even if one system could be devised for a small group of people over a limited period of time, such an order could not apply forever. Societies must be allowed to change in reasoned and healthy ways that increase the long-term well-being and security of their citizens.
A strong, highly centralized Statist government is resistant to changes that don’t increase its power.
The best we can strive for is a just, ordered, and free society.
Just, so expectations are reasonable, and consequences are fairly and evenly administered.
Ordered, so its citizens know what is expected of them.
Free, so its citizens are able to make choices, so long as they don’t unjustly harm others.
Freedom and private property are closely linked. The more widespread the possession of private property, the more stable and productive a commonwealth is, so long as the property is obtained justly.
Private property provides the following advantages:
It permits citizens to retain the fruits of their labor
It permits citizens to see their work made permanent
It permits citizens to give their property to their posterity
It permits citizens to have something that is really their own
There’s a scene in the movie Trading Places (1983) where Billy, who earlier in the movie demonstrated no respect for property, quickly began showing great respect for property once that property became his.
A broad public conscience is required for conservativism to exist, or else an ever-increasing degree of Statism is our fate.
In a free society there should be a fair number of citizens helping one another. Honorable citizens help those around them. I have given a great deal of money and personal time to worthy causes throughout my life and will continue to do so. If we all did this, the world would be a better place. Governments would be less tempted to manage our lives for us, and we’d be less likely to let them.
The older I get, the more I realize that a collective “good and noble conscience” is a requirement of any free society. The worse a society gets morally, the less liberty works for that society. This is why I believe that good attitudes and morals should be taught in all levels in society, else someday every part of our lives will be controlled by laws, and we will no longer have any freedom.
“Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.
It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
-- John Adams, second President of the United States
If President John Adams was right--that we must have in our minds a minimal sense of right and wrong--then as a people we must hold our government to that same standard.
May I close with a quote from the late William F. Buckley, who wrote more in one sentence than I have said in this entire post:
“Conservativism is freedom, individuality, the sense of community,
the sanctity of the family, the supremacy of the conscience, the spiritual view of life.”
-- William F. Buckley