What is Conservatism? Take One
Justin Green writes about “what it means to be a conservative in today’s society,” in Current Radical GOP Rhetoric Contradicts True Values of Conservatism, at the Daily Nebraskan. He quotes conservative scholar Russell Kirk in claiming that conservatism is the fear of hasty change, “Hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration.” He claims that the GOP has stood against revolutionary progress and in favor of cautious and incremental change.
But Green thinks today’s Republican party has become radical, which has led to an absence of conservatism in Washington, D.C. This absence of conservatism is the reason why we have wars we can’t afford, more government power, and a lack of respect for the United States Constitution.
On specifics, Green thinks the pro-life movement is not conservative, but rather reinforces government meddling in our lives. He thinks conservatives should care less about sex, and more about basic rights.
But Corey Robin, Jonathan Haidt, George Lakoff, and even the Edmund Burke that he applauds, have a different take on conservatism. Corey Robin, in The Reactionary Mind, thinks that contrary to prudence and moderation, conservatism has been a restless reaction against events, “partial to risk taking and ideological adventurism…friendly to upstarts and insurgents.” Other conservative writers share Green’s concerns–Robin mentions Sam Tanenhaus, Andrew Sullivan, Jeffrey Hart, Sidney Blumenthal, and John Dean–that conservatism has gone off the rails. But Robin notes that even in the progenitors of modern conservatism, Joseph de Maistre and Edmund Burke, there exists an antipathy toward the old regime and a desire for tearing down in order to build up again. Barry Goldwater’s first fire in The Conscience of a Conservative is directed not against liberals or the welfare state, but the moral timidity of the Republican Establishment. And conservatives applaud Ronald Reagan’s muscular conservatism–“Tear down this wall!”
For George Lakoff (Moral Politics), conservatism is defined by the strict father model of morality, with an emphasis on hierarchy, competition, and purity which easily encompasses the anti-abortion movement and applauds a reigning in of sexual adventurism. And for Jonathan Haidt (The Happiness Hypothesis), conservatives find purpose in ordering society to the third dimension of divinity, and contrary to a full-throated celebration of freedom as Justin Green might encourage, in fact see that “hell on earth is a flat land of unlimited freedom where selves roam around with no higher purpose than expressing and developing themselves.”
So is conservatism Rick Santorum trying to build a more religious and moral society, tamping down the flights of individual freedoms; or the careful pragmatism of William Howard Taft in a land of individual freedom and limited government, in strict adherence to the US Constitution?