Conservatism and Liberalism
Ask ten people what each of the above terms mean, and you will get at least ten different answers.
The term conservatism in the press today often comes with negative connotations, such as narrow-minded, backward and unwilling to accept new ideas, while the term liberal, or better yet, “progressive” implies brave new thinking, with a “lean forward” mentality. But lean forward into what? Something better, or something much worse? Something “new,” or something that has failed over and over again throughout history?
There are many truths we live with, and gravity is one of those truths. It always works. Conservatives are not against new ideas if the ideas have merit, but if someone has a new idea that requires us, for example, to propel ourselves over a cliff because we’ve been led to believe gravity is no longer relevant, most clear thinking people will choose to opt-out, not because they’re stuck in their ways, but because they know what works, and what does not.
For the purposes of The New Conservative, we consider a smaller federal government as a core principle of conservative thinking. We believe in the clout and importance of the Constitution, and should go out of our way to protect it. Our fears of encroachment on our constitutional provisions are viewed by some on the left as over blown and unwarranted. We understand human nature however; how political winds shift – and how quickly things can change. We base this not off of irrational fear, but with historical observation.
Most conservatives today would point to Ronald Reagan as the best President the country has had in modern times. Many of us have been looking for the next Ronald Reagan ever since. The author remembers the Reagan years (1980 through 1988) very well. What was noticeably absent from the national discussion during these years was the religious right’s insistence on overturning such things as Roe vs. Wade. This was never a Reaganesque position. This position, in fact, did not start until the first term of the George H. W. Bush Presidency, when the religious right began to infiltrate the Republican Party.
What we remember about Reagan was his insistence that the federal government’s role in our lives should be minimized, so the people of this country could maximize their full potential, without the interference of a large, bureaucratic and overreaching government. He also emphasized the responsibility and privilege we all had as citizens, and for our self-determination.
In that light, we lay out for you the following scenario:
You and your spouse get home from a long day at work, and your children have been home from school for a few hours. As you are sitting down with your family for dinner, you notice your 15 year old daughter is very quiet, and appears to be upset. During your family discussion that night you learn from your daughter that she is pregnant.
For your family, this event was certainly not anticipated, and the repercussions of this situation and how you handle it are important matters, and also very personal matters for your entire family. You have your personal beliefs, as does each member of your family, about what the right course of action may be. There are decisions that will have to be made; whether to have the child and keep it, give it up for adoption, or abort the pregnancy.
During this personal family discussion you hear a knock at the door. At the door are representatives from the government, informing you they have learned about your daughter’s pregnancy, and also informing you that your daughter will have the child, as dictated by federal law.
In this scenario, would this situation be that of a small federal government, so beloved by Reagan, or rather a very large and overbearing federal government? Is this conservatism at its finest, or is it something else entirely?
If conservatism makes so much sense for the country and for its citizens, why has it been so difficult for the electorate to consistently choose conservative leadership? If a smaller government is better for most involved, is it simply a messaging issue the Republican Party needs to tune, or could it be the support of some positions the party has taken on are anything but conservative?
As pointed out earlier, conservatives that value the power of the Constitution are concerned about the erosion of the Constitution, and how this erosion could lead to our loss of freedoms. To many of us this is a very legitimate concern. We must, however also understand there are the same concerns with many people on the left about the erosions of their same freedoms, given to them from the same constitution, that we both so admire.
Could it be that some of the positions the Republican Party have established over time are not so conservative after all? Could it be that some of the current positions of the Republican Party are viewed as a very large and “in your face” federal government? As a party, the Republicans need to understand when they subscribe to conservative religious values, and dovetail those values into a political policy framework for governance, they are no longer the party of smaller government, but rather, have taken on the role of a theocracy.
It should be pointed out that the main thrust of The New Conservative is in no way centered on the Pro-Life – Pro-Choice debate as was exampled in this article. This example was chosen as it is very instructive and certainly understandable for most people.
Is it possible to be pro-life and at the same time be pro-choice? We believe so. The way to reduce the number of abortions is not to make abortions illegal, but rather by instilling a sense of responsibility, empowerment, and self-determination at the individual level. If you have a nation of people that feel powerless, or worst yet consider themselves victim, you will have more pregnancies, and therefore, more abortions. This has proven itself over the last 30 years.
Conversely, if the citizenry is educated, empowered and responsible for their actions, better decisions will be made at the individual level. This will lead to fewer unplanned pregnancies, and therefore fewer abortions. It’s that simple.
Question: Why is the concept of smaller government so important to the American way of life and fits so well into a conservative agenda?
This can be demonstrated by the settlement of Jamestown, in what is now known as Virginia. Started in 1607, Jamestown was the first permanent colony of England on the North American continent.
What is striking is that the settlers of Jamestown had arrived in a ship no different than those of ancient kings, and the tools they brought with them – the shovel, the axe, the hoe, and plow were tools that were only slightly improved over tools used for thousands of years in China, Egypt, and Greece. They harvested their grain and hay-grass with the same primitive scythes. Their transportation was by cart and oxen.
Their first attempts were communal economies, with central control and planning. These experiments turned out much worse than the panacea which Plato had described them. It was disastrous. Out of about 9,000 settlers who found their way to Jamestown, only about 1,000 survived.
Eventually, it was in Jamestown that the system of free enterprise principles began to be implemented that took them from years of starvation into years of prosperity. The ability for men and women to use their own potential, to be creative and industrious, without the dictation of an oppressive government – these are the principles which allowed the American Dream to unfold. Within a short 200 year timeframe, the spirit of freedom, which moved around the world during the 1800s was primarily inspired by the fruits of freedom in the United States.
This transformation led to an explosion of inventions and technical discoveries, which in merely 200 years, led to gigantic new power resources of electricity, the internal combustion engine, jet propulsion, nuclear energy, and wonders of space travel and modern medicine.
Suggested Reading: The 5000 Year Leap, by W. Cleon Skousen – 1981. This book covers in more detail this current discussion, and brings to light the importance of limited government, free enterprise, property ownership, and the concept of natural law. If you want to understand the greatness of the United States, this book should be required reading.
To be sure, we do need government, and we do need a reasonable amount of regulation for the stability and fairness of commerce, the protection of our individual rights and freedoms, the protection of our resources and environment, and of course – protection of our country. However, when government begins making the majority of decisions, it creates tremendous friction with the capabilities of the individual and also local communities. It beats down the creativity and industriousness of the human soul, and it is at this point in time, we begin the loss of our individual freedoms, and self-determination.
Throughout this site, it is our goal to educate and also help facilitate the concepts of conservatism, and to demonstrate why conservative principles are not archaic or barbaric but are, rather, relatively new. True conservative principles are tried and proven concepts that have changed the world for the better, especially over the last 200 years.
We are looking for conservative, like-minded thinkers to add to the dialog. Please contact us if you wish to be part of the solution.
Hopefully, through our discussions – our work will help people to rethink what works and what does not, and what a principled conservative agenda should stand for.