Many of the liberals among whom I live ( by choice) have rudimentary and stereotypical ideas of what constitutes conservatism. They think the word implies selfishness, heartlessness and intellectual crudeness. They have trouble understanding that it’s primarily a moral position. Unfortunately, many of my conservative friend are also confused. I learn about their confusion from my weekly radio talk show, “Facts Matter,” every Sunday 11am to 1 pm on ksco radio Santa Cruz, 1080 AM. So, here is a short reminder to begin the year 2010.
NOTE on 1/4/14: I discontinued my radio program several years ago.
Its ability to force me to do what I would not do otherwise is the distinguishing characteristic of government. Everything that does not require coercion can be implemented by other agencies of society such as clubs, voluntary associations, churches, and above all, by private enterprise.
It follows from this definition that government is, by its nature, the enemy of my happiness, that it’s inimical to the happiness of individuals in general. Yes, government is fundamentally evil. Incidentally, this is not something I made up. That’s the idea the US Constitution is founded on.
Since government is evil, its actions must be limited to the minimum necessary to allow us to enjoy our individual lives. So, some credible threat of force my be necessary to achieve this objective. According to many – but not all – government is a necessary evil when it comes to our collective security. As Benjamin Franklin said: “If we make ourselves into sheep, the wolves will eat us.” Government police and military functions are thus a necessary evil right now (though, not necessarily forever).
This is the irreducible heart of conservative thought. Everything else is added on through processes we should consider with skepticism.
It’s possible to argue that there exists a tenuous and subtle link between conservative thought and religious belief. It seems to me that the current political fact of such a linkage in America is the result of strategic alliances only. I don’t need to believe in any god to be a good conservative. Christopher Hitchens, a columnist for Vanity Fair and a conservative thinker with perfect credentials clarifies the issue in his book, God is Not Great. (And here is a link – forwarded from the Independent Institute website – to a recent scholarly paper that’s tangentially related.)
As is the always the case, one should pay attention to what one expects to see and that’s not there. Note what’s not included in this simple but sufficient definition of conservatism:
Though you may feel like helping me out as a result of your innate humanity, or out of religious conviction, there is no justification for the government taking your money to give it to me. That’s true no matter how deserving I am. By the way, I think I am extremely deserving, but so do many others, almost everyone, actually.
Moreover, there is also no moral reason for me to use the government – even through valid, constitutional means – to force you to put your money into my well-planned, well-executed, socially desirable, awe-inspiring pet project, such as a concert hall for children. If my project is so hot, why can’t it pay for itself? And why can’t I persuade you to put your money into it for the pleasure of it?
As a conservative, I don’t want to force you and I don’t want to be forced.
That’s about it. I could expand these simple ideas for weeks to come but it’s not necessary. That’s really all you need to remember.
I wish you all a productive year 2010.