Defining Conservatism Up (Part Two)

This is the second part of a two-part article. The first part appears here.

10 Essential Conservative Principles: Principles 3 to 10

Principle # 3: Conservatism is more than the Constitution.

Strict adherence to the Constitution is not enough to halt our decline. The Constitution is a very short document that sets out the structure of the federal government and enumerates its powers. It doesn’t define a common way of life or even defend it, but it does presuppose it. That is, the Constitution presupposes deeply shared moral, social, economic, and political principles, and the Bill of Rights was added to protect them. But neither spells them out in the kind of detail that can actually form a common life. How mortifying—so the founders would think—that we would now be thinking it necessary to add an amendment to the Constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

Principle # 4: Conservatism is older and larger than America.

The deepest principles of conservatism are rooted in human nature, and therefore constitute a kind of perennial wisdom that has been available to all peoples at all times. It can be found in the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, the Elizabethan dramatist Shakespeare, the 18th Century English conservative Edmund Burke, the French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville, the 20th Century Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek, as well as among our own founders and citizens. The first place to retreat and regroup during our own time of moral, social, economic, and political confusion is among the great minds who have thought so carefully, deeply, and clearly about conservatism.

Principle # 5: Human wickedness is real, pervasive, and humanly ineradicable.

To say, in Principle # 4, that perennial wisdom is available to all peoples at all times should not mislead us. “Available” doesn’t mean that all nations have availed themselves of this wisdom. In that great English conservative Edmund Burke’s sober words, “History consists for the great part of the miseries brought upon the world by pride, ambition, avarice, revenge, lust, sedition, hypocrisy, ungoverned zeal, and all the train of disorderly appetites.” Recognition of the pervasiveness of human wickedness is an essential part of conservative wisdom, and what makes conservatism sober rather than utopian.

Principle # 6: Government cannot replace the need for moral character.

No form of government, in and of itself, can eradicate wickedness or spin the straw of “self-interest” into the gold of a prosperous and orderly commonwealth. The philosopher Immanuel Kant was dead wrong to state blithely that “As hard as it may sound, the problem of organizing a nation is solvable even for a people comprised of devils (if only they have understanding).” A nation of devils, or merely of men with thoroughly debased characters, will always cleverly use the form of government, however ingeniously contrived, for their own devilry. Democracy doesn’t cure devilry, but it can make it more equitably applied.

Principle # 7: The family is the origin and foundation of society.

The first natural social, moral, and economic unit is the family—not the individual or the state, as modern liberalism asserts. The real family, not what’s left of the family after defining deviancy down. To destroy the family is to destroy the whole social, moral, economic, and political order. To repeat Moynihan’s words, “one unmistakable lesson in American history: A community that allows a large number of young men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any set of rational expectations about the future—that community asks for and gets chaos. Crime, violence, unrest, unrestrained lashing out at the whole social structure—that is not only to be expected; it is very near to inevitable.”

Principle # 8: Good government begins in self-government.

There is rather unpleasant inverse proportion between self-government and national government: The less we govern ourselves morally, socially, and economically, the more power national government receives to shoulder our responsibilities.

Men who enjoy the benefits of sexuality without the responsibilities marriage hand over to the state the task of providing economically for their wives and children, and cleaning up after the moral and psychological carnage wrought by their absence. Husbands and wives who foolishly steered their families into hopeless mortgage and credit card debt invited a federal rescue by the Socialist minded who always had believed that people were incapable of ruling themselves. Those who will not take care of their own health will usher in a government takeover of an imploded health care system.

Principle # 9: Conservatism is about the fullness of human nature.

Conservatism is more than mere economics. It was none other than Karl Marx that reduced the human being to homo economicus. When conservatives concentrate only on the economy, they by default allow liberals to define our social, moral, cultural, artistic, philosophical, scientific, and theological aspects. More damage has been done in the universities, due to the absence of the conservative mind than by all the ill-conceived government programs combined precisely because their conception occurred among the liberal intelligentsia in academia. Literature is generally debased because it has been left to those hotly defining deviancy down, and the same is true for the bilge flowing from Hollywood.

Principle # 10: Conservatism is essentially religious.

This is the last principle only because it is hardest to achieve. It is actually the first principle, since what we think about God and our place in the universe defines our understanding of human nature and the human good. If we are spiritual and material creatures made in the image of God with a defined moral good we will set ourselves up much differently as a society than if we are mere ephemeral bodies accidentally contrived by a mindless cosmos with no moral goal other than the pursuit of physical pleasure and the avoidance of physical pain. In large part, the history of the Western slide downward is essentially one of increased secularization; that is, a slide from the first view to the second. Defining deviancy down is, again, the way that the left has moved all the boundary markers.