In a recent conversation on social media, a Bernie Sanders supporter asked the question: “What are you trying to conserve?” While the question itself demonstrates the intellectual bankruptcy that plagues the left (if he doesn’t even know the conservative position, how is he so certain it’s wrong?), it still accidentally managed to hit a deeper question crucial to understanding the Culture War. Though we touched on this subject in an earlier article, it’s important enough to spend more time on. Let’s start by framing the arguments.
The left invests its energy in changing the status quo. It’s why they refer to themselves as “progressives” (among other names) in the first place, because they presume that their political theories represent cultural progress, despite having no logical basis for this certainty. Historically speaking, it’s obvious that many of their policies have demonstrably resulted in exactly the opposite of progress, including unspeakable acts of systematic barbarism. Their good and noble intentions, however, remain justification enough for them to passionately pursue their political ends.
So if the left is focused on change towards an ever elusive “better future“, is the right focused on maintaining the status quo that the left is trying so hard to deconstruct? The answer to this is obviously “No!” Every time Americans have been asked “Is America headed on the right direction?“, roughly 2 out of every 3 Americans say we are “on the wrong track“. So who would want to conserve a situation where discontent is the norm? Not us, certainly. So if not the status quo, what is it that we, as conservatives, are conserving?
Life, Liberty, and Property.
In some ways, the word conservative is misleading, as it implies a resistance to change. As conservatives, there is nothing we want more than change. Not change like the hypothetical nonsense of collectivism and socialism espoused by the left, but the fundamental political ideology that undergirded the founding of the United States espoused and illuminated by three critical figures: John Locke, Adam Smith, and Thomas Jefferson.
Up until the 1600’s, a person’s very life and livelihood were considered to be at the pleasure of their noble lords via power vested in them from their monarch, to whom all property (and people) ultimately belonged by “divine right“. In the wave of the Enlightenment, the lines between land ownership by blooded aristocrats and a growing class of merchants brought with it the dawn of Mercantilism, a political economic system where wealthy merchants, second sons and distance cousins of aristocracy, began to amass so much wealth they became political entities unto themselves. Having demonstrated that wealth could be created through trade, the monarchies of Europe established laws and measures to try to maximize their relative advantages.
This resulted in a frenzy of protectionism, imperial expansionism, colonialism, and tyrannical employment of citizens who had, for centuries, worked only to survive, covering basic needs of housing and food, and to pay taxes in the form of excess goods. People, having been the property of the State via the authority of the crown, were pressed into service to expand the wealth of not just the crown but the ever expanding ranks of wealthy merchants. Since the only way to increase real wealth was to acquire more property (land) and precious metals (gold, silver, etc.), this led to wars that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of common men and women across Europe for hundreds of years.
In the beginning of the 18th Century, John Locke was born into a world that was drenched in the blood of Europeans, Africans, Arabians and Americans all for the crowns of Europe. Though not alone, Locke becomes one of the most influential of the Enlightenment thinkers, at least in terms of American philosophy, espousing the truly revolutionary idea that not only are the People not the subjects of the monarchs and their bastard sons, but the State, in its just and proper form, should be the subject of the People. He established the idea that every man, not just the blooded elites, were entitled to the Natural Rights of “Life, Liberty, and Property“.
This idea was so revolutionary that it literally turned civilization on its head, leading directly to the revolutionary period of the late 1700’s and mid 1800’s, including the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Mexican Revolution, and many more as the common people tried to overthrow the crowns of State. In this period, Adam Smith writes his “Theory of Moral Sentiments” and “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” which established the principles of capitalism, establishing the bedrock of economic freedom to go hand in hand with the political freedom of the People. Not only were property and liberty necessary to a just society, but private enterprise was a moral good that benefited everyone.
Truths That Are Self-Evident
It is this political, economic and moral climate that inspires Thomas Jefferson who famously coined “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness“, combining the ideologies of Locke and Smith into a single cultural doctrine. Opportunity of happiness, via the acquisition of property, necessary and luxury, for the first time in the long and bloody history of mankind, was part of the human experience. The Constitution was designed to limit the powers of government so that it hindered these Natural Rights in the least possible fashion, and the first Amendments erected protections of these rights.
It is this that true conservatives are trying to conserve, the principles of the Enlightenment, that the individual not only has the right to his Life, Liberty, and Property, but has a moral duty to defend his and everyone else’s rights. Many political forces abroad and domestic (in both major political parties) have devoted all of their energies to eroding these principles from the face of the earth, replacing them with “needs of the many” and “it takes a village“, usurping the Natural Rights of the individual with the tyranny of the collective, a regression to a time when a person’s life was at the leisure of the State.
The attacks are ceaseless, coming from all quarters. The collectivist left are simply the most vocal and obvious enemies of Liberty, but the moderate crony corporatist Republican is just as dangerous, if not more so. Not only does the corporatist not have an ideological stake in Liberty, he has an incentive to trade the Liberty of others for political favors that protect and expand his own wealth and influence. There will always be a class of individuals with ambitions of creating a new aristocratic class and political influence peddling is the only sure way of achieving those ends.
Be ever wary of politicians who promise anything, because all of their promises come at the expense of someone else. Please remember this, friends.
Liberty is For The Win!