Tuesday, February 15, 2011

10 Conservative Principles

What is Conservatism?

Marine blogger Mustang gave us a cogent and well-stated answer in his response to my blog post, Time to Throw the Neocons Overboard:

I am a conservative. I vote conservative; this means I revere our traditional values and shun Marxist/Stalinist ideology. As a conservative, I believe in God and Judeo-Christian values. I do not support homosexual lifestyles, but neither do I condemn people who do. I do not think I should have to pay for some idiot’s abortion. I do not think it is the federal government’s business to regulate marriage, my drinking habits, or how many gallons of gasoline I consume in a week. I believe strongly that our states are sovereign and must behave accordingly. I think limited government is the best kind of government.
That's a good working definition, especially speaking off the top of ones head.  Logical, no contradictions, no bigotry.  Just a stated belief in the vision of the founders embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.  Mustang can trace his belief all the way back to the enlightenment.

Most liberals have a hard time explaining liberalism...
...because it is an incoherent hodgepodge of pollyanic aspirations, musty dogma and high dudgeon. It has also become very illiberal, with its path winding through Fabian Socialism, illiberal nationalism, elitist progressivism and ending up in the dark caverns of tribalism, identity politics, and because-we-say-so-ism.

Conservatives stand upon the immovable stone foundations of Bastiat and Burke; but the musty tomes from which their eternal ideas spring can be intimidating.  We understand these concepts because they have been handed down through the generations and championed in the writings of great conservative thinkers like William F. Buckley, Ronald Reagan and George Will.

Conservatism:  The Definitive Definition
Russell Kirk was a great 20th century conservative writer.  Among his many writings on the subject of conservatism, which he never considered a "movement," Ten Conservative Principles is the most concise and accessible to the average citizen.  It can be read in about ten minutes and it is one of the best summaries of conservatism that can be found.

This short essay is a beautiful piece that should be read as a whole, but I will leave you with a few quotes:
Conservatives are champions of custom, convention, and continuity because they prefer the devil they know to the devil they don’t know. Order and justice and freedom, they believe, are the artificial products of a long social experience, the result of centuries of trial and reflection and sacrifice.
Change isn't always for the better...
Burke agrees with Plato that in the statesman, prudence is chief among virtues. Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity. Liberals and radicals, the conservative says, are imprudent: for they dash at their objectives without giving much heed to the risk of new abuses worse than the evils they hope to sweep away.
Against Anarchy, Against Tyranny
The conservative endeavors to so limit and balance political power that anarchy or tyranny may not arise. In every age, nevertheless, men and women are tempted to overthrow the limitations upon power, for the sake of some fancied temporary advantage. It is characteristic of the radical that he thinks of power as a force for good—so long as the power falls into his hands.
The Right Kind of Change
The conservative is not opposed to social improvement, although he doubts whether there is any such force as a mystical Progress, with a Roman P, at work in the world.
Change is essential to the body social, the conservative reasons, just as it is essential to the human body. A body that has ceased to renew itself has begun to die. But if that body is to be vigorous, the change must occur in a regular manner, harmonizing with the form and nature of that body; otherwise change produces a monstrous growth, a cancer, which devours its host.


Divine Theatre said...

Cancer indeed! Excellent post, Silverfiddle. Thanks!
I was kicked out of the teacher's forum. Oh well!

Anonymous said...

When Obama was running his supporters kept telling he is for change. I said change is not always good. What kind of change is he for? They just looked at me like deer in headlights.

jez said...

I admit I haven't done any recent revision into the origins of these ideas, but nevertheless I thought I'd have a go at answering Mustang's self-description. I expect you'd call me a progressive or a liberal, so I'll go along with that for now so that I can copy Mustang's format. Also, I admit it is only part self-description, since it is also reaction to some of his points.

I am a liberal; this means that I value equality of opportunity, freedom to embrace or reject tradition in my personal life, and tolerance towards you who do the same. I shun any ideologue who needlessly interferes with that freedom. I do not support religion of any type, but I do not condemn people who do. I do not think it is the government's business to regulate marriage. Where a commodity causes measurable harm to society, such as alcohol or gasoline, it is appropriate for those costs to be met through duty on that commodity. While I champion subsidiarity where appropriate, as it is a means for the individual voter to retain maximum power, I also strongly believe that international cooperation is increasingly important for defence, and for trade since markets have become very global. I think limited government is the best kind of government since in every circumstance, the default state should be freedom, not law.

Divine Theatre said...

I just copied this quote from the CNN site. The topic is in regard to police being vindicated in the death of a black male who attempted to run them over when they responded to a brawl..."This is why I think there should be more than one judge - perhaps three - to preside over matters or (at least) it should be an option for those who don't trust America's legal system.
I know I, certainly, don't and neither do most minorites, nor even the rest of the world.

In fact, the global market is convinced that Americans are just plain stupid; which, apparently, they've attached a face to, consequently, the whole world applauded the Obama election - aside from white America - longing for the promise of "change". Yet, still, the aforementioned young man would never live to see that "change" and never had a chance, here in America. Why? Because he is African American - PERIOD - it didn't even matter that he wasn't either the subject of the 911 call or even a suspect; he was leaving the scene as a young black man. Consequently, that became the focus of police officers who (quickly) made the determination to forget about the other incident, i.e., the fight/disturbance; here is the real threat to the future of American society: an educated black man.

Moreover, the record shows that white America can NOT adjudicate either justly or even remotely close to the letter of the law when it comes to minorities; whether it be in criminal, civil, or even divorce and custody matters, whites have historically perceived blacks and other minorities with some degree of Norman psychosis and, clearly, still do as they are their father's children who, as a prerequisite of the aforesaid psychiatric illness, can only observe themselves and others like them - who either happen to be white or (at least are subservient to them) - from rose-coloured glasses.

Subsequently, everyone else is a threat, i.e., criminally inclined - somehow - and cannot reasonably expect their rights, as citizens or otherwise, to be preserved in circumstances where the majority of jurist are white. As a result, the grand juries and courtrooms of this country must be restructured to appeal to a sense of morality, bringing both confidence and some credibilty to the legal institution of America; or the people, who have long revolted, will soon rebell as we've seen both in Egypt and here in this country with the alarming increase of cop killings.

Furthermore, I submit, that every appeal of a lower court order should be handled by community organizations/panels of individuals from various backgrounds who review the matter - filling out a worksheet that incorporates the findings, then, going through the record to ensure the determination is supported by the facts/evidence - otherwise, the case is remanded to be heard somewhere else. Too many of these remands would imply the judge is unfit and should be removed without the burden of a pension, paid out for what is (at best) utter incompetence, on the backs of the citizens.

In conclusion: I don't see where anyone could find a problem with what I've written. If you don't agree, please address the line item/statement - in quotes - that you oppose and support your view with reliable evidence, to the contrary. Otherwise, you're just not professional enough to rent space in my head and should, perhaps, keep your comments to yourself."

Silverfiddle said...

Divine, Unfortunately, we will always be pestered by those who insist on evaluating everything through the prism of race, even when it is not relevant, as it the case you cite. Fools will always be with us.

Jez: Careful, you're sounding very much like a libertarian. Liberals here do want to limit speech, and they also favor a utilitarian approach to individual rights vis-a-vis the state. This makes them illiberal, imho.

You, unlike the American variety of liberal, sound like a classical liberal.

Finntann said...

I particularly found:

"...while a society in which men and women are morally adrift, ignorant of norms, and intent chiefly upon gratification of appetites, will be a bad society".

A rather apt description of modern progressive culture.

Karen Howes said...

Great post, Silver-- I especially think it's high time we stop referring to the Left as "liberal." We're the true liberals, in the classical sense-- individual freedoms and rights and a non-intrusive federal government.

There's nothing liberal about people who want my money and who want to silence my views.

Sam Huntington said...

Jez wrote, “Where a commodity causes measurable harm to society, such as alcohol or gasoline, it is appropriate for those costs to be met through duty on that commodity.”

I wonder if we should reconstruct that argument so that it makes sense within the progressive mindset. “Where traditional values interfere with my hedonistic behavior, it is appropriate for government to institutionalize me until I change my ways.”

Silverfiddle said...

I like your formulation much better, Sam.

jez said...

"Jez: Careful, you're sounding very much like a libertarian."

This doesn't surprise me, so I hope you don't see my questions about libertarianism as any kind of threat or challenge. I haven't investigated it as much as you, so I'm quite interested in your take of the foreign policy implications.

Sam: Is your sentence supposed to be equivalent to mine? I think the important differences include a) the idea of measurable harm, which you replace with the judgemental idea of "hedonistic behaviour"; and my duty is to meet the costs of that harm, while your aim is to reform the hedonist.

Think of it this way: where there is measurable harm, someone has to meet those costs. Whom would you charge?

Silverfiddle said...

Jez: The foreign policy implications are that we stay out of other people's business. No nation building, no invasion unless attacked or credibly and verifiably threatened.

Much libertarian thinking is guided by the harm principle.

Go to this link if you're interested in more:

jez said...

I already read that :)

Did you see my question under "Muslim Population set to Double"?

Sam Huntington said...

It is not possible to have a debate with anyone based on false premises. What is the harm? What is the measure that suggests “harm” to society? What is the science that makes such a claim? If we are clever enough to demand proof before convicting anyone of a crime, then why can’t we also demand proof of “social harm” before deciding that the solution is to tax the hell out of everyone for daring to engage in economic activity while driving a car or truck?

By the way, when you punish people for diving to work, or driving to the store, you punish them for performing activities that strengthen our economy. Why does this make sense to anyone, other than a leftist? What has government done to fix this “problem?” Let’s just take one area of the country where the government’s solution was to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on diamond lanes: the air in California is as polluted today as it was 50 years ago.

How many metric tons of black diesel exhaust do buses from the Los Angeles and Orange Country transit authority spew into our air every single day? Yet the government’s solution to transportation problems is black smoke belching busses —as opposed to clean air Disney type trains running every ten minutes from Laguna Niguel and El Toro to downtown Los Angeles.

Government is the problem, not the solution. Government inhibits free market solutions to our problems —unless you happen to be Albert Gore, who has made hundreds of millions of dollars by defrauding poorly educated people into thinking the sky is falling, and producing no credible science that any of its suppositions about “harm to the environment” is true.

jez said...

"then why can’t we also demand proof of “social harm” before deciding that the solution is to tax"
Of course we should! We absolutely need to look courageously at the proof on offer, and not rule it out if we don't like the implications.

"when you punish people for diving to work, or driving to the store, you punish them for performing activities that strengthen our economy."
No, I advocate charging them the true cost of their activities. You might want to argue about the societal cost of a specific commodity such as gasoline, but how can you disagree with the principle?

"free market solutions to our problems"
by their nature emphasise short-term issues, and each trader chooses a strategy based on what he expects his competitors will do. Often this is not the overall best strategy. (Nash equilibrium). I don't dispute the examples of pointless govt schemes that you offer (I'm not American so I'm not familiar with them), but cooperation (government regulation is one way of achieving that) can make better, more long-term strategies viable.

Sam Huntington said...

No, I advocate charging them the true cost of their activities. You might want to argue about the societal cost of a specific commodity such as gasoline, but how can you disagree with the principle?

Consumers pay for the cost of a commodity, from its essential extraction to the point of sale; then, depending on what kind of good it is they also pay a multi-tiered tax: federal, state, and local. The danger is this: continue to punish the consumer’s behavior, and he may decide not to purchase that commodity at all. If everyone suddenly derives a clear understanding of the power of consumers, then hundreds if not thousands of people could find themselves out of work or under-employed. So once again, how does this help save the earth?

… but cooperation (government regulation is one way of achieving that) can make better, more long-term strategies viable.

I fail to see how government regulation is “cooperation.” From the perspective of an American, government regulation is dictatorial. It is not unlike making a polite suggestion while pointing an AK-47 to my head. Yes, I’ll cooperate —I haven’t any other options. Thus, we find Mr. Washington’s observations have merit: “Government is not reason, it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” I think the world needs far less government, not more, but if you are European, then I understand your point of view.

98ZJUSMC said...

I not so sure I would qualify Reagan as a great conservative thinker as much as a man who was, firm in his convictions, courageous in his actions and stalwart in his leadership.

...and one of the five individuals I always wanted to drink a few beers with.

Silverfiddle said...

98ZJUSMC: I'll concede the point that he was not WFB or Russell Kirk, but he was no dunce either, as some nasty leftists would have us believe.

I agree with your assessment 100%

jez said...

"Consumers pay for the cost of a commodity, from its essential extraction to the point of sale"

which clearly isn't its entire cost. Someone has to pay for the extra police in town centres to manage the drunks every weekend night, and someone has to pay for the environmental impact of petrol (let's put aside our differing opinion on environmentalists' claims for a moment and concentrate on the principle).
Who better to pay that cost than the person who benefits or enjoys from the harmful commodity?

"The danger is this: continue to punish the consumer’s behavior, and he may decide not to purchase that commodity at all."
Since we're discussing duty on harmful commodities, which we postulate cause measurable (in units of currency) harm, maybe that wouldn't be a bad thing. The alternative is effectively subsidising that industry, since if the consumers aren't paying to fix the harm, someone else is.

If short-term capitalist strategies have lead us to a situation where a sizeable chunk of workforce is employed harmfully, then it is harmful (by definition) for them to continue in that industry. In short, we must find something better to do.

"I fail to see how government regulation is “cooperation.”"
Remember that in our countries, government is representative.

In practice, I don't think we disagree as profoundly as you think. If duty levels were forced to be justified by the standard of measurable harm, they would be much lower (certainly in the UK).

Silverfiddle said...

The problem, Jez, is who decides what is "harmful" and what is not? By what standards?

Also, we must ask, more harmful than what?

Breathing city air is harmful, but not as harmful as putting a plastic bag over your head.

jez said...

That is a problem, but I don't think that's a reason to forget about the whole thing. Otherwise, producers deliver goods to consumers at cost of extraction + whatever the market will bear; but then third parties who were not involved in the original transaction pay for the clean-up. Imagine you charged a fee to let customers slap me around the face. You get paid, your customer achieves his satisfaction, but I get slapped around the face. At least if slaps around the face were taxed, I could get compensation for my facial reconstruction surgery and/or the slap market would collapse if it were unable to bear the true cost of slaps around the face.