Okay, so before everyone jumps up and asks why I would have this be my first post, let me just say that being able to examine one’s self for weaknesses is an essential trait if one wishes to improve. I don’t see this as a violation of Reagan’s eleventh commandment. (Not that it’s applicable, since I am not a Republican.) Mean-spirited criticism is not useful, but careful examination of the problems that arise out of a political philosophy is required to refine that philosophy in order to make it more effective at reaching its goals.
To examine what the problems are, we need to start with the goals of conservatism. I’ve mentioned a bit about my idea of what conservatism’s goals are (the whole “What is Rational Conservatism” thing), but I’d like to go into a little more detail. I see the goal of conservatism as being the creation and preservation of a society in which self-determination is not only possible but is seen as the best available option.
Conservatives want to be able to succeed or fail by their own efforts. They want to be able to use the Puritan work ethic that was present at the Founding of this nation, combined with their intellect and ingenuity, to make a better life for themselves. They believe in basic fairness. (We’ll probably discuss distortions of that term in another post.) They believe in property rights. They believe that the things they purchase by means of their labor are theirs, and they should be able to determine the manner in which those items are used. (There will likely be a discussion of taxation at a later point as well….)
Because conservatives are not satisfied to simply ask “who is John Galt?” (yes, I’m busy reading Atlas Shrugged at the moment), they take it upon themselves to try to better their lives and the lives of others in the process (with the lives of others being bettered as an externality to the bettering of the conservatives’ own lives).
But this is where the problem arises.
In order to have a society in which conservatives can thrive, there has to be a government that is conducive to such a society. Without a system of laws, there would not be any protection for property rights, and there would be no guarantee that one could keep that which was bought with labor. While I have not yet read the two treatises on government, I do agree with the basic tenets.
Government then becomes a question of scope. Once the government is expanded beyond the protection of property, one must determine what roles it is allowed to play and what roles it is not allowed to assume. This is where the problem with conservatives arises.
By their nature, conservatives tend to be busy regulating their own affairs. As such, the majority of their time is spent dealing with market forces, supply chain management issues, and other pesky things that require their attention in order to improve their situation. In all this, they often neglect one thing: government.
The conservative that wishes to be left alone, and wishes that others would be afforded this same courtesy, is the same conservative that imperils conservatism and the way of life desired. This is because he (or she, but I’m not going to use the convention of he/she throughout my writing – assume that I mean both genders) generally feels that the government is an external force. He believes that the government is a deist god, a watchmaker who sets things in motion and stands back. Of course, a better analogy would be an umpire: one who watches but also intervenes when rules are broken in order to maintain the integrity of the game. (I umpire baseball, and officiate football and wrestling…)
The peril comes in that there are those on the other end of the political spectrum who wish to alter the rules as they go. They seek an advantage through manipulation of the rules, and if left unchecked, they will often gain said advantage.
For those who use government as a tool to better their lives instead of using their own efforts within the already established set of rules, government is not only the umpire – it is also the pitcher and the catcher. (Yeah, more sports analogies, sorry.) The batter would like to simply attempt to hit the ball, but if the other three have suddenly changed the rules, he has little chance of success.
Okay, back to government. Those on the Left see government as a way to become successful and are therefore more than happy to go into government. This is how they try to influence society. The conservative, on the other hand, wants to be left to his (remember, both genders) labors. The conservative sees working for the government as service, not as a way to profit.
Since public service is something that conservatives would rather not have to do, there are fewer who choose to enter into it. The problem is that by doing so, they are essentially Cold War Russia, but without the shoe pounding. The USSR boycotted the U.N. Security Council in the 1950s because of a dispute over representation of China. When Russia boycotted, they removed the last voice of opposition, and the U.N. went to war with Korea (or at least part of it). When conservatives are reluctant to engage in politics, whether it be at the level of elected office or simply talking with their friends and neighbors and engaging in rational debate, the liberals are able to influence the government for their own purposes, many of which are seen as detrimental by conservatives. (I imagine there will be lots of discussion of that later on as well…)
In the end, I suppose this piece is a call to arms. (Yes, I support the second amendment, but the call to arms is figurative, not literal. Don’t have spirited discussions with firearms in sight. They make liberals nervous, and people don’t think as well when they’re nervous.) I’m asking that conservatives start being more proactive in their involvement, be it in town hall meetings (remember to be polite and reasoned), talking with neighbors (be considerate of others’ opinion and persuade with logic and out of caring for others, not out of superiority), or any other realm in which we might be able to lend our view. By golly, you could even become a contributor to a blog much like this one. (Or start your own. Your choice.) (But I’d rather you help with this one…)
If conservatives fail to speak up, they will lose. I don’t mean that in the sense of losing a political game. I mean that we will lose the opportunity to determine our own fates, we will lose the right to keep the things that we have earned through our own efforts. We will lose the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens, and in turn, we will lose our freedom. (I’m not trying to be an alarmist, I believe that losing marginally is still losing.)
Whatever method you choose, engage in Rational Conservatism, engage in reason, engage in the society in which you have the opportunity to determine your own fate, and keep it that way.