“There is but one law for all, namely that law which governs all law, the law of our Creator, the law of humanity, justice, equity – the law of nature and of nations.”
Much has been made on this board of what a “true conservative” is, and is not. Generally, people will either compare a particular person to a laundry list of positions deemed conservative by prevailing sentiment, or worse, will simply defer to what self-appointed sentinels of conservatism profess. Recently, I have suggested in several threads that conservatives would be well served if they spent less time listening to Rush, and more time reading Burke. I would like to briefly make the case why.
Conservatism in modern America has become uprooted. Too often it has become a series of policy proscriptions; big military, lower taxes, less government spending, assertive and unilateral foreign policy, etc…. Sometimes these policies can be good and proper manifestations of conservative principle, but they are not- as is often mistaken- the essence of those conservative principles themselves. The essence of conservatism is not found in a random litany of policies that necessarily vary in time and place. It is not dictated by terms such as “increase, decrease, cut, raise, limit, grow.”
The essence of conservatism is found in the acknowledgment and preservation of transcendent truths. Policies are the seasonal leaves, which come and go as the manifestation of the life of the tree. But they should not be mistaken for the life of the tree itself. Conservatism is a philosophy, even a sensibility. I would offer the following as some of the enduring principles of conservatism:
– Conservatism recognizes a hierarchy of value. Not all goods are equal, and some must be subordinate to others.
– Conservatism has the human condition as it’s ultimate concern, and not the mechanics of political process or economic theory.
– It recognizes that markets exist to serve people, and not people to serve markets.
– It seeks stability and continuity in economic as well as social policy, as these are the prerequisites for passing on traditions and heritage.
– At root, it recognizes that man is created in the image and likeness of God. As such, it is anti-utilitarian. People are not fodder, either for the government, or the economy.
– It is anti-Utopian. Its principles can be manifest in republics or monarchies, under capitalism or manorialism. It can exist in a variety of economic or political systems because……..
True conservatism, in the Western tradition, is rooted in Christianity. Let me say that again. Our culture, traditions, sentiments, and mores in the Western world are rooted in the culture, traditions, sentiments, and mores of Christianity. As such, it is impossible to understand conservatism without a healthy appreciation of how Christian tradition informs our culture. One of the most significant (and radical) among these truths is the inherent dignity of man.
Conservatives believe in teaching a man to fish, so that he may be as self-sufficient as possible, but will, in times of dire need, help unconditionally. Too often, the self-professed guardians of conservatism espouse a law-of-the-jungle mentality that is rooted not in Christianity, but in Social Darwinism, which is completely antithetical to our Christian heritage.
With such an understanding of traditional conservatism, we should fully expect for a true conservative to speak out for the poor. We should expect such a conservative to recognize the inherent dignity and worth of all of God’s children, even those here illegally. We should not reflexively dismiss his calls to preserve and protect the earth our Creator gave us in trust. We should understand that even raising taxes and spending more is not beyond the realm of possibility, if it stabilizes families, protects communities, and helps secure the common good.
I’m not against economic growth, but I am against the notion of economic growth at all costs. I am not against low taxes, in fact I prefer them, but I am not in favor of lower taxes at any cost. A true conservative should recognize that the essence of the good is not defined in relative terms such as raise, lower, increase, decrease, more, less, but rather in the acknowledgement of the transcendent order, created and sustained by the living God.
I would encourage each reader here who is interested in understanding the core principles of conservatism to put down the newspaper, turn off the radio, and set aside the position papers (if just for a moment) and pick up the works of men such as Edmund Burke, Christopher Dawson, GK Chesterton, and Hillaire Belloc. Let us not confuse particular policies for universal truths, seasonal conditions with transcendent realities, or even the fizz and froth of talk radio for the substance it tries to ape- but has long forgotten.
— M. Sanders