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What Is A Conservative, And Why Would Anyone Be One?

Conserve v. To preserve for future use – to protect from harm.  To save and safeguard.

ant. To squander or destroy. To waste and use without future concerns – to use up or spend.

If you listened to the media, you would think that conservatives are the most evil people on earth, responsible for all the bad things happening these days, and instead of acknowledging their errors, lying about their complicity.  Just about everyone on the Left is claiming that conservatives are racist, white supremacists, want to replace our system of government with an autocracy, hate black people, gays and Jews, and spend their spare time when they aren’t at a bar swilling beer or at a neonazi rally, torturing puppies for sport.  All these allegations and more are literally true – just ask anyone on the Left!

Why should we ask them, though?  Part of the problem, I believe, is because we haven’t done a good job of articulating just what it means to be conservative.  When I ask, most of the answers I get are related to specific issues around family values, fiscal responsibility, freedom of religion, gun laws, among other things.  The general principles involved seldom get brought forth that show why these things are important.

Of course, if you ask a bunch of conservatives what it means to be a conservative you will likely get at least as many answers as people you ask, but there is a solid foundation for the answers.  For many, the foundation is so solid that it is invisible.  We take it for granted that it is obvious – so obvious that we don’t even think to mention it.  Yet by presenting conservatism in terms of issues without the underlying rationale, we undermine our cause and leave room for the Left to propagate their own version of who we are.

Laying the foundation

The definition at the start of this article gives a clue about the fundamental nature of conservatism.  We conservatives want to make sure that we not only take care of things today, but also want to provide for the future to be sure that there is also enough for tomorrow and for every tomorrow to follow.  In order to do this, we need to have a collective memory of what works and what doesn’t when it comes to ensuring future provisions.  This leads us to a fundamental truth:

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For every way we know to do something that works, there is literally an infinite number of ways that won’t work.  Further, many of the non-working ways are actually harmful or destructive.

Conservatives, then, are people who recognize the importance of knowing and practicing what works because just trying things that might seem like good ideas is far more likely than not to have bad results.  Many of those bad results can adversely affect our own survival, the survival of our families, and even our entire society.

On the other side of the coin, we also remember what has been tried that didn’t work, hopefully, so we can avoid repeating a past failure. Folklore, cautionary tales, historical records, proverbs, memorable sayings, and other devices help us to remember and avoid past mistakes.

Sometimes, we encounter situations that are without precedent.  We don’t have information on what has worked, nor do we have information on what was tried that didn’t work.  In that case, remembering that there are more ways to do things wrong than right, we invoke a higher principle that shows us how to find and evaluate new solutions.

Conservatives are not automatically opposed to change, but the higher principle tells us that caution is appropriate.  Changes in response to novel problems should be evaluated carefully to see which might stand a good chance of success.  Any proposed solution or change should be implemented in a way that recovery is possible should it prove to be unworkable.  Only in the direst circumstances does it make sense to fully commit to an irrevocable action.  Don’t put all your eggs in one basket is one expression of that principle.

We  can begin to see why the Left hates us so much

Essentially, conservatism is a survival-promoting approach that works for individuals, societies, and even for our species.  It goes back a long way, and one could even say that we are all descended from conservative stock.  Those who weren’t didn’t survive.

Imagine for a moment a scene with two cavemen, Urk and Klak standing atop a cliff overlooking a grassy savannah.  Below them in the tall grass, their unconservative friend Og is crawling through the grass toward a sabertooth tiger enjoying its midday meal of fresh gazelle.

“What’s Og doing down there?”

“His wife wants a new sabertooth rug for the cave, and he has an idea that by sneaking up in the tall grass, the sabertooth won’t see him until too late,” Urk replied.

“Look, that sabertooth has noticed something.  See how he is sniffing the air.  I think he noticed Og!”

“Yes!  He’s headed for Og!  Run Og, ru… ooohhh.”

I guess Mrs. Og won’t be getting that new rug anytime soon.”

“Yeah, and I’m not going to try sneaking up on a sabertooth any time soon, at least not until we invent deodorant.”

Humor aside, we are the descendants of the smart ones who looked before they leaped, and learned from mistakes.

If the foundational principles of conservatism are that there are more wrong ways than right and that caution is a survival virtue, then how do these manifest in daily life?  We will not have space to provide a full suite of examples, nor to go into great depth on any of them.  Our intent is simply to offer an introduction to how conservative thought informs and shapes Right response to challenge.

A few examples

Socialism

The term “Socialism” includes Communism, Fascism, National Socialism, Democratic socialism, and all the other forms of collectivist government that put the collective interests of the State ahead of the individual.  In fact, that may be the principal distinguishing characteristic of governments.  The Leftist forms such as Socialism take the position that the individual exists to serve the state, while those on the Right assert that the State exists to serve and protect the individual.

Conservatives know that Socialism in its many forms has been tried and failed in every trial.  Good theoretical arguments show that not only does it not work but that it cannot work.  Consequently, the conservative Right stands in opposition to yet another futile attempt, regardless of how appealing it might seem on the surface.

The Left, on the other hand, asserts that no one can predict that the next attempt will fail.  Frequently they will say that the only reason previous attempts failed is that the systems were not implemented correctly.  It never seems to sink in that if Socialism must be precisely implemented or it will fail, then it is too fragile to survive.  Capitalism and its attendant individual freedom, conversely, has survived for hundreds if not thousands of years through flood, famine, earthquake, war, pestilence, and is extremely robust and antifragile.

Personal responsibility

The Left has taken the position that nearly everyone is a victim of someone or something, that our thoughts and feelings are under the control of others, and that it is society, the environment, and other influences that are responsible for an individual’s actions.  Thus society must be shaped and constrained to ensure that all actions and activities never cause distress or discomfort to its members, except for those who are designated as oppressors.  Those so designated must be identified, punished, and eliminated for the greater good.

Alternatively, the Conservative position is that each individual during the course of their life is confronted with a multitude of choices.  While we might seek advice and counsel, we alone make our choices and are responsible for the consequences.  We do not hand over to others the power to dictate our feelings, although we may choose to allow our feelings to be influenced by music, a powerful story, another person, or some other factor.  No-one makes us angry or sad or happy or any other feeling beyond the power we choose to allow them.  Yes, others may take actions of which we disapprove, or which may be harmful or helpful to us. We are not powerless, though.  We have a vast history of experience to draw upon to guide us and suggest appropriate responses.  We are not helpless victims.  We may not like the hand we are dealt, or the circumstances we face, and even though we may be powerless to change the situation, we still have the choice of our response.

History

Recently, the Left has been working to remove statues and memorials of which they disapprove.  Christopher Columbus, Teddy Roosevelt, and numerous Confederate generals have all enjoyed their attention.  These activities serve several purposes for the Left.  They find it amusing to be able to provoke the Right and destroy the artifacts the Right values.  It also serves to remove reminders of history that support and maintain the collective conservative memory.

Take, for example, statues of Confederate generals such as Robert E. Lee.  The Left condemns him as someone who fought to preserve a way of life that supported slavery.  In the black and white thought of the Left, such a person was evil and his memory should be erased.  Anyone who opposes such removal must seek to restore slavery – a charge they level against the Right.

Conservatives do not desire to re-establish slavery.  They do, however, recognize that in spite of the fact that these people were fighting for a bad cause, they were superb leaders who fought bravely and exhibited loyalty and courage in protecting their homes and families.  Their statues and memorials exist not to support slavery, but rather to recognize and encourage the virtues they exhibited – virtues that have proven time and again to be necessary to survival.

Further, these memorials were erected soon after one of the times of greatest division in our history.  The nation had suffered deep wounds and was in need of healing, not too much unlike our time today.  Those statues were part of that healing as they showed respect for those who fought and were emblematic of forgiveness and a spirit of reconciliation.

The Conservatives who oppose removal of these statues and memorials know that without forgiveness there can be no healing.  It is from long memory and often bitter experience, that we know that healing can never be brought about by vindictiveness and vengeance and punitive hatred.  That knowledge and understanding informed our actions following the Second World War when we helped rebuild Germany and Japan.

When you honor your former enemies, you gain friends.  The Left has no understanding of this concept.

Tolerance and obligation in civil society

It is obvious to Conservatives that tolerance is essential to the functioning of a society comprised of a diverse range of people – people of all ages, of a multitude of ethnicities, values, religions, and a host of other factors.  We know that if we wish to be able to express our own values and pursue our own interests without interference, we must be willing to afford the same freedoms to others, so long as neither of us acts to cause harm.  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” is manifestly obvious as a fundamental principle to Conservatives.  It seems to be completely obscure to the Left.

One of the greatest problems we face today as a society and one of the greatest sources of division between Left and Right is this very concept of tolerance.  As typical, the Left claims for itself the virtue of tolerance, yet they define it as agreement with their values and positions.  They are rabidly intolerant of any disagreement and will act to impose their beliefs on others and will punish any who differ.

There is great division in the country now.  Many speak despairingly of the growing divide between the Left and the Right but seem unable to understand why it should be so.  Yet how can it be otherwise with one group seeking to impose their flawed ideas and will on everyone, and the other group wanting little more than to be left alone to do as they see fit?  When the Left has elevated their prejudices to the level of moral imperatives and sees anyone who disagrees as evil to be canceled and eliminated, conservatives have little choice but to resist and defend their values and even lives from attack.

The source of the divide

I could go on and on to cover rule of law, the role of religion, fiscal responsibility, the Constitution, the environment, use of resources, and a hundred other topics.  All these are merely corollaries – the natural results of conservative experience.  But that does not explain why so many on the Left hate us.  That hatred comes from a fundamental difference in understanding the nature of reality.  I know, that sounds rather far-fetched as an explanation, but bear with me for just a bit.

A fundamental assumption of Conservatism is that there is an objective reality that exists independent of our thoughts and feelings.  It is consistent and the basis of our experiences.  Things we hold as facts can and must be traced directly back to events or conditions in this reality.  The Progressive Left, though, is rooted in a different concept – a concept that bears the name of Postmodernism.  While many might not even recognize the name, the concepts have been around for decades.  Whether the philosophy is a result of or a cause of the beliefs, Postmodernism asserts that even if an objective reality were to exist, it is unknowable.  The only things that can be known are our thoughts and feelings, and those thoughts and feelings are shaped by our experiences and through interactions with others and with society in general.

Most of us have heard someone say: “Well, that’s just your reality – mine is different.”  While that sounds bizarre to a Conservative, it is manifestly true to a postmodern Progressive.  For them, reality is a social construct, a product of general agreement on what is to be considered reality.  In this thought regime, reality is defined by whoever can make the strongest case and provide the most persuasive arguments.  For them, the conservative claim of an objective reality is simply another competing view.  There is no objective truth.

The consequence of this postmodern belief system is that one must always be on guard against divergence from the prevailing agreements.  One must always be “right” in order to defend against alternative attempts to change the nature of reality.  The Left makes up explanations for events and attempts to incorporate them in their broad narrative. Things like white fragility, systemic racism, critical race theory are all attempts to provide explanations for certain observations.  However, since they do not accept the existence of an objective reality, the only standard they have is how well those explanations are accepted in the broader society.  To have an explanation rejected is to be “wrong”. Careers and status are built on the acceptance of one’s arguments, so to be wrong is to lose everything.  This is why the Progressive must always be “right” and will fight so hard to avoid being wrong.

The hazard of being Right

How hard will the Left fight to avoid being wrong?  Picture giving a cat a bath.  As soon as the cat realizes what is about to happen, the fight begins.  Imagine the spitting and snarling, the screeching and scratching, claws out and teeth bared.  Should one actually succeed in getting the cat wet and washed, one must then confront an angry, sullen, vindictive entity, determined to punish you for subjecting them to such indignity.  Now multiply by a large factor, and you will have a glimpse of a Progressive’s response to being proven wrong.

The innocent Conservative will walk right into such a response whenever they enter into a disagreement with the Left.  Unlike discussion with another conservative where a matter can usually be settled by examination of facts supported by objective data, for someone on the left, what they call a fact is simply a point raised in an argument and may bear no relationship to an objective reality, since objective reality doesn’t exist.  Only the quality of the argument is important, and the goal is always to win and be “right”.

We now see why the Left hates Conservatives so, and why they have a special hatred for Trump.  Over the years, the Left had developed many explanations for why things were as they were.  They had stories to explain poverty, race issues, criminal behavior, economic stagnation, the role of government, environmental degradation, climate change, and many other aspects of society.  Those stories explained why things were difficult and would not get better unless their “solutions” were implemented.  When Trump stepped on the stage, he immediately began to prove them wrong.  Using conservative principles, he introduced plans and programs that directly contradicted the narratives of the Left and committed the unpardonable sin of proving them wrong.  Remember the cat.

Conservatives continuously prove the Left wrong simply by doing things that work- things that are contrary to the narratives of the Left.  Socialism is a prime example.  The Left blames the failures of Socialism on the bad example of the success of capitalism and the operation of conservative principles.  Rather than acknowledge that Socialism is wrong, they seek to eliminate capitalism so there will be no standard of comparison.  Progressivism means never having to say you’re sorry.

The answer to the question

We finally come to the answer to the question in the title of this article.  Someone would want to be a Conservative because they want to do what works and is effective.  They do not wish to spend their lives in futile pursuit of grand-sounding ideas unrooted in reality.  The sullen anger of the Left is a direct result of trying to fulfill ideas that can never work, and rather than admitting error, seeking to blame others for their own failures. For the Left, every day is a new day, filled with new, avoidable mistakes.  Conservatives know better.

By David Robb

David Robb is a regular contributor to The Blue State Conservative and a practicing scientist who has been working in industry for over 50 years. One of his specialties is asking awkward questions. A large part of his work over the years has involved making complex scientific issues clear and understandable to non-specialists. Sometimes he even succeeds.

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Featured photo by Hermann Junghans, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en>, via Wikimedia Commons

3 thoughts on “What Is A Conservative, And Why Would Anyone Be One?”

  1. Would just like to add [which Rush knew so well], Conservatism is Based on Natural Law. Without our Creator God, Conservatism wouldn’t exist.

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