A conservative, by definition, is someone whose political or social views advocate the norm; an aversion to change. Similarly, by definition, liberalism is seen as the “change” ideology, and whilst I think traditionally these definitions may have once been valid, in a modern context they simply don’t make sense.
When a conservative is in power, the liberal seeks to change – in the liberal’s mind of course that change is “progressive” but ideology is left-and-right not forward-and-back, so no one is to say what constitutes a progressive change versus a regressive change. If progressivism is, as so commonly referred to, anything which moves towards equality and social justice, then at least half of the “progressive era” in the late 19th/early 20th century would be considered regressive. It was considered progressive in that time to impose prohibition laws, equally the move toward eugenics, Woodrow Wilson was considered a progressive who advocated the Democratic party’s segregation laws. Are these progressive values? The Republicans opposed much of this as it was contrary to that stated in the constitution. In this sense, they were conserving the principles of the constitution, and yet it would seem a great change away from the status quo.
My point here really is that it would be stupid to see a priest turn away from God and consider it change, then a former priest turn back to God and consider it an aversion to change. It is a shift between views, not directions, and you can see in this past year alone, the conservative uprising against the established order of America, and Europe, which is very much considered “liberal”, and it would be stupid to consider that movement away to be a movement backwards and still consider the established order, an order for “change”.
There’s a subset of liberals who consider themselves “classical liberals” following this definition of liberalism as moving away from rigidity and inequality, who oppose the modern left in its embrace of rigidity and inequality, but I would argue too these are positions on the wrong grounds. If I am a conservative, I am a conservative because of what I believe is best, not because of what I believe is old. If I am a liberal, I am a liberal because of what I believe is best, not because of what I believe is change.
An article by Gordon S Livingston, in a very partisan way, described conservatism as the “punishment ideology”. Taking his cue from religious background, the conservative in Livingston’s eyes “rewards the good and punishes the wicked, [and] those who have “succeeded” materially are naturally favored over those who have failed. The latter have not made use of their opportunities to better themselves and should not be objects of concern for those more successful. It follows therefore that the poor are simply not taking responsibility for their lives, only seeking “entitlements” when they should be looking for jobs.”
Well if this is true, and conservatism focuses too much on punishment, perhaps liberals focus too much on reward; neither of which are very workable systems. I would also argue, much like “to expect the worst is never to be disappointed”, to assume that poor people are not only seeking entitlements, is to be open to being taken advantage of. Of course, to assume all are is wrong, but how do we know the difference? I think also Livingston is assuming that because many conservatives are religious, it would seem then that conservatism stems from religion, but I think this is an oversimplification. Wouldn’t it be more likely that their values simply lean to being both rather than one enforcing the other?
Livingston also notes a hypocrisy, where conservatives who value less government would be in favour of imposing religious beliefs on people. This is, I believe, one of the fairer points he makes, although ignoring the hypocrisy of liberals who want to end corruption in government being in favour of larger, more corruptible government (and the hypocrisy of wanting freedom to act but allowing any government the power to control), but it is true, there are conservatives who seek to impose religious values on people – so are these people true conservatives? If you believe in the “less government” definition of conservatism, then no, they aren’t. If you believe in Livingston’s “religious” definition of conservatism, then absolutely.
So this is my definition of conservatism, and I would like to hear from people if they disagree, but it is largely informed by own experiences, and I will say that no two conservatives, like no two liberals, are the same but the mindsets and the way they view the world are similar enough to group together in this way. I am a sensitive person, emotional, empathetic and sympathetic to a point of near delusion in some cases. If for example I saw a murderer, who murdered his entire family bar his mother, feel sad because he won’t get to see his mother anymore in jail, I would feel sorry for him. I shouldn’t, but I would. Would that make me a liberal? Following my heart, not my head? Well, no. And here’s why;
I am forced by nature to develop a set of principles whereby this sympathy does not impede. This murderer broke the law, and is morally evil, therefore he must be treated as such, if I cannot override my sympathy then it would be to allow this man to kill again. In the same vein to not allow my principles, following my heart, is to allow people to take advantage of me, and to allow people to use me.
Should one sacrifice themselves for the happiness of others? No, as Ayn Rand would suggest, because if everyone were to do that then nobody would live, let alone be happy. In a Kantian way, if it cannot be universalised then it cannot work as a moral principle – if it was moral to sacrifice yourself for the happiness of others, then it would ensure that the one person who does not do so, and therefore profits from it, is immoral – it is a moral principle which, by definition, favours the happiness of those who do not follow it.
Applying this then, to let my sympathy impede my reason, is to ensure the betterment of a murderer who does not have that sympathy. It is equally flawed as a moral principle, and is therefore an immoral principle. What I’m getting at is that conservatives, and I consider myself conservative in a lot of my views, are people who may not necessarily hold the delusional levels of sympathy I do, but who know that you cannot be human in the face of logic, for it is not human, nor is it logical. Liberals however only believe in being “good” among arbitrary definitions, probably guided by the desire for change, even when no change would actually exist. In this sense I suppose it would give reason as to why new “movements” are being formed out of illogic, the transgender movement for example, to make up for a deepening knowledge that their ideology is the new establishment. These are people born and bred to say “fight the power”, rather than “fight power”.
The conservative conserves, yes, but only their foundation principles, the search for which make some of them vulnerable to religion (which offers up a ready-made set of foundation principles). Do liberals change? Not always, but oh how they’d like to.
(Image of Rebecca Pow, by: Rebeccapow (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)