Thursday, November 06, 2008

True Conservatism: Thoughts on the 2008 Elections

Referring to the week's main event, a friend of mine commented that "conservatives lost in a big way," and certainly a resounding defeat of the Republican Party's presidential candidate, along with many smaller, state and local elections, would indicate that conservatives have suffered a serious set-back. Reflecting on what happened, however, I think it is quite clear that conservatives did not lose in this election. What lost in the 2008 elections was a kind of soft-core liberalism advocated by "moderates" within the GOP. John McCain may have lost the election, but John McCain is not a conservative. If anything, McCain's defeat has vindicated the cause of conservatism. Moderates within the Republican Party have desired to run more and more liberal candidates in an attempt to capture more votes from demographics that traditionally vote for Democrat candidates. Rather than seeking to win their support through convincing them of the superiority of conservative ideas, they watered those ideas down, stripping them of their power. That "moderate" candidates faced across-the-board failure, or rejection, is clear evidence that the GOP must return to its conservative roots if it ever wants to return to a position of leadership in this country.

The Six Canons of Conservative Thought

Conservatism, in its contemporary form, traces its roots back to Edmund Burk in the 17th Century, and while it has never been an ideology, has traditionally embraced certain tenants or beliefs in its various manifestations. Russell Kirk, in The Conservative Mind, identifies six of these "canons:"
(1) "Belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience. Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems."

(2) "Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems..."

(3) "Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes as against the notion of a “classless society.” With reason, conservatives often have been called “the party of order.”"

(4) "Persuasion that freedom and property are closely linked: separate property from private possession, and Leviathan becomes master of all."

(5) "Faith in prescription and distrust of “sophisters, calculators, and economists” who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs."

(6) "Recognition that change may not be salutary reform: hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress."


In addition to identifying these principles of conservatism, Kirk identified several core doctrines of liberalism, which he thought could be found universally in all of the 20th Century's ideologies. The dogma of Radicalism are:
(1) "The perfectibility of man and the illimitable progress of society."

(2) "Contempt for tradition."

(3) "Political leveling."

(4) "Economic leveling."

(5) Rejection of the state as a God-ordained institution.

(6) "Rejection of society joined in perpetuity by a moral bond among the dead, the living, and those yet to be born --the community of souls."

The Future Political Landscape

While it is clear that Barrack Obama's views fall into what Kirk would call radical ideology, his election to the office of Chief Executive is not the end of the world, as those ignorant of history seem to think. Already, in my relatively short life, American witnessed the election, and re-election of William Jefferson Clinton, whose wife loudly advocated universal health care and other socialist policies. Those who would care to search the political annals of the 1990s will find that America did not slide into a socialist utopia, nor did Hilary Clinton succeed in nationalizing health care. In 1994/95, a conservative resurgence swept into Washington, and conservative Republicans rode in on conservative ideas and took a majority in congress, forcing the liberal Democrat president to reform welfare. I believe this can be done again under the Obama Administration, so long as there are courageous men willing to lead without compromising our ideals.

The Sucesses of Compromise

Compromise is considered by many to be the chief of political virtues, but it is more akin to vice than excellence. Integrity and courage are necessary to govern well. George W. Bush compromised with the liberals on education and gave us the No Child Left Behind Act. More recently, congressional Republicans compromised and allowed passage of the Wall Street bail-out. The people to whom such compromises appeal to are the kind of voters who would vote for an Obama over a McCain in any given election. Only by returning to true conservative principles, which each generation must take hold of and express in the context of their times, will this slide toward socialism and inhumanity be attenuated.


Laura said...

I recently read some thoughts by an Australian friend on the election, and he reflected that, broadly and in general, a regime change is a net good for a nation.

This may be controversial, but I actually think Obama is going to be a good president. If the pundits are to be believed, his cabinet will include Republicans and Democrats from the whole political spectrum. Anyone who's willing to take counsel from people who disagree with him (vehemently!) has at least the potential to be a reasonable leader.

I struggle as a Christian with a lot of gov't policies. I think you'd agree with me that the public school system is, if not irreparably broken then at least mortally wounded. So how are Christians to think about NCLB and other gov't regulation of an already screwed-up system?

Jacob said...

Given that Obama's economic advisers include Michigan's Governess Granholm, who has presided over a state economy that has been taking well before it started to nationally, I'm not too optimistic about the kinds of people he is going to surround himself with. I hope you're right, but what I saw in my four years in Michigan wasn't good.

Regarding education, you're right to assume that I think public ed is a mess. I think Christian education is a better alternative than public, but that doesn't address the problem of what to do with everyone across the board. Whenever you hear about good public schools, it is usually because the communities are full of parents who are involved, both with their kids and with what is going on in the school. Local control seems to be the key, so what I would like to see is the federal government step out, and in some cases, even the state governments, and let each local community be responsible for its own success or failure.
The idea of having standards to hold schools accountable too isn't a bad idea, but what resulted was a series of tests that schools now teach to. You can hear a public school english teacher of 30+ years talk about it here:

Laura said...

Oh boy, do I ever know about teaching to a test. And I think federal deregulation is a great idea. Public schools are bad enough without being effectively controlled by bureaucrats.