Are you a Liberal who constantly finds yourself asking, “How the hell can Conservatives believe that?” Are you a Conservative who wants to delve deeper into your political philosophy? Are you just interested in learning how a Conservative thinks? If you answered yes to any of the preceding questions, don’t read this article. Instead, let me direct you to Barry Goldwater’s 1960 book, The Conscience of a Conservative. It is, without a doubt, the best exploration of the Conservative mind and its practical implications extant.
If, on the other hand, you are looking for a summary of Conservative positions on the most important issues of our time, a sort of cheat-sheet to Conservatism, read on. This article and its companion, “What is a Liberal”, are good starting points for anyone trying to find a footing in the world of politics.
Any legitimate political position has two dimensions: principle and policy, similar to cause and effect. Principles are the concepts upon which we base our normative goals—our conceptions of the way things should be. The policy aspect dictates what the government should do to abide by such principles. This article covers the principles and policies of the Conservative ideology.
But first, a short note on what Conservatism is not. Conservatives are not stodgy, heartless bigots. On the contrary, there are Conservatives of every race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and economic background. They are at every gathering and every big event, and believe it or not they can party hard. They are compassionate—Conservatives believe strongly in charitable giving and volunteer work. The fact is that despite the unfair stereotypes, real Conservatives are regular people who want a better world.
Now, on to what Conservatism actually is:
Each individual has an inalienable right to life.
Law and Order:
The state should actively and aggressively protect its citizens from violent criminals. The state’s highest function is to make sure people are reasonably safe, in and out of their homes.
A well-functioning judicial system—operating on clear and consistent laws that legitimately protect people—as well as effective law enforcement are essential to the maintenance of law and order.
Of course, criminals are not the only source of danger in the world. Plenty of groups seek to do harm to the United States and its citizens. The state must maintain an effective military force to protect against these groups.
Conservatives favor a strong military, ready to protect the nation’s interests at a moment’s notice anywhere in the world. The United States should never be vulnerable to the whims of madmen or the designs of evil organizations like Al Qaeda. It should never be dependent on other nations or supranational associations to provide for its own defense. It should never apologize for the steps it takes to keep itself free, independent, and safe.
National defense is inextricably intertwined with foreign policy, and of course the United States should always deal with other nations in the spirit of honest friendship. It should support its allies and honor its international commitments, and should always exhaust all diplomatic options when dealing with enemies. However, in the unfortunate event that war is unavoidable, America should fight to win.
When the troops come home, they should be treated with the utmost respect and be accorded all the benefits they have earned through their service. Veterans are heroes.
From the moment of conception on, a human being is a person with the right to life. The right to life cannot be negated by another individual’s free choice, meaning that while a woman has the right to choose what to do with her own body, she cannot choose to end a life developing inside her. Doing so would violate the rights of the unborn child.
Many Conservatives derive their pro-life stance from religious beliefs, but there is also a case to be made on scientific grounds. Consider this: a single-celled amoeba is considered to be living. Since no human has ever given birth to a giraffe, it can be safely assumed that the fetus inside a pregnant woman is a human life from the time the first cell develops (my apologies for making light of a serious issue—my intent is to illustrate in plain terms the Conservative frame of mind here). Conservatives believe it is morally reprehensible to deny unborn babies, who are clearly living and clearly human, the right to life.
Conservatives generally believe abortion should be outlawed nationally, in keeping with the federal government’s mandate to ensure its citizens the rights listed in the Bill of Rights. Others within the Conservative movement believe that since abortion is not explicitly mentioned by the Constitution, the issue should go to the states, which should craft their own abortion policies.
Conservatives stand for freedom, both social and economic.
Fidelity to the Constitution:
Conservatives support a strict interpretation of the Constitution. The Constitution keeps government power in check and protects everyone’s rights. Only by preserving it can we hope to enjoy liberty.
This Constitutionalism includes states’ rights, too often a concept erroneously associated with racism. Some would have us believe that support for states’ rights means support for the Confederacy or some similar ridiculous position–don’t be fooled. To be clear, it never was and will never be the right of a state to take away the rights of its citizens. Having made that distinction, let us remember that the states created the federal government, not the other way around, that our system of dual federalism means state governments and the national government have clearly defined powers, and that those boundaries should not be transgressed. All powers not explicitly reserved for the Federal government by the Constitution are, according to the Tenth Amendment, reserved for the states or the people.
Judges should not make law, only interpret it in a manner that is faithful to the text of Constitution.
You can find the full text of the Constitution here:
The greatest threat to human rights is the encroachment of an ever-growing government. Human history is basically a record of evidence in support of this truth. The “conserve” aspect of Conservatism means preserving the tradition of small and limited government, that maintains a safe, free, and just society, and that otherwise leaves people alone.
Democratic decision-making—that is, majority rule—is the best way to decide matters of public policy. However, there are certain issues that should never be up for a vote: individual rights and the decisions people make based on those rights. Preachers, protesters, and press who obey the law cannot have their free speech silenced by majority rule, for example. So, in a democratic republic like the United States, the government should stay within the bounds of the Constitution, and leave well enough alone all the areas of life it was never intended to touch.
Free Enterprise/Free Markets a.k.a. Capitalism:
Capitalism is economic freedom. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines Capitalism as “an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market”. Economic decision-making is the proper realm of the individual, not the collective. You should decide how to use what you earn—in other words; you are entitled to the fruits of your labor. Every credible study of economics in history has revealed that Capitalistic countries are freer and more prosperous than countries that run on authoritarian models.
Conservatives, therefore, support a free-market approach to economics. This means:
- Low, Flat Taxes: Keeping taxes low allows everyone to keep more of what they earn, allows entrepreneurs to invest more into the economy, and allows businesses to expand. Keeping taxes flat means no one is punished for being successful (to be clear, the rich still pay a larger amount in taxes than the poor, but the rate is the same for everyone).
- No bailouts: If you are free to succeed, you must also be free to fail. No one should be able to make irresponsible decisions and hand the bill to taxpayers.
- Minimal regulation: No group of bureaucrats has ever run an industry better than the private sector. The government should regulate interstate and international commerce as little as possible, setting rules that protect peoples’ rights and then getting out of the way.
- Social Security: Conservatives support free-market reforms to retirement that increase individual choice and promote financial security, including such innovations as personal savings accounts to allow people to take advantages of all the opportunities the current system robs them of.
- Healthcare: Again, Conservatives support reforms that increase economic freedom, including (but not limited to) allowing insurance companies to sell policies across state lines, allowing people to create personal health-savings accounts, and reforming laws that lead to frivolous lawsuits against doctors (this measure, called “tort reform”, is not intended to deny the victims of medical malpractice their just compensation, but to curb the explosion of baseless claims against medical professionals).
- The Federal Reserve/Monetary Policy/Credit: Conservatives advocate measures that hold the Federal Reserve accountable and increase its transparency. The People have the right to know more about our nation’s central bank, and should have more power to prevent the devaluation of their savings by irresponsible monetary policy.
The People have a Constitutional and moral right to self-defense, and must be free to exercise this right through responsible gun ownership, as provided for by the Second Amendment to the Constitution.
Conservatives oppose attempts by gun control advocates to unreasonably limit the right to own guns. Overall crime statistics go down in areas with a large number of gun owners. It often turns out that the only ones deprived of guns by ludicrous gun control measures are responsible, law-abiding citizens who have every right to protect themselves. It stands to reason that only criminals would ignore laws prohibiting gun ownership. This creates an upside-down situation in which the bad guys have guns and the good guys do not.
Finally, guns are the last line of defense against tyranny. To acknowledge the admittedly miniscule risk of foreign invasion or violent domestic usurpation of our natural rights is not an extremist position.
Principle: The Pursuit of Happiness
Life is beautiful, and each individual should live it fully, according to his or her goals and values. So long as a person’s actions in pursuit of happiness do not infringe on the rights of others, the state should stay out of that person’s way. For this reason, Conservatives favor the smallest government possible consistent with defending the rights of all citizens, maintaining an active foreign policy to keep the nation safe, and enacting policies that ease the operation of the market and promote prosperity.
School Choice/Fixing Education:
Conservatives want to fix our education system so that it provides all children with the opportunity to learn and succeed. The best way to improve education is to increase the amount of choice parents and students can exert. Publicly funded school vouchers would provide parents with the funds to send their children to the best schools possible. In other words, the money goes to the student, not the school. Rather than forcing kids into underachieving schools, vouchers would allow students to be more mobile, and to choose better quality schools. Schools would have to compete for students, and through competition educational quality would increase across the board.
America is the land of opportunity, and Conservatives welcome those who want to build a better life for themselves and/or their families in the United States. A viable Guest Worker program is essential to allow non-permanent residents to both contribute to and benefit from American society.
Americans do have a right to secure borders. No one wants to persecute immigrants, the vast majority of whom are honorable, hard-working people. However, considering the risk of terrorism and the escalating drug wars in Mexico, it is clearly necessary to stop illegal immigration and protect our borders.
Conservatives want an immigration policy that encourages legal immigration, stops illegal immigration, and secures the borders. Since the government’s first responsibility is to protect its citizens, the borders must be secured before other steps toward a better immigration policy can even be discussed. Conservatives oppose amnesty for illegal immigrants.
Conservatives hold varied views on the environment, but everyone agrees on one thing: we want the cleanest planet possible. Statistics have shown that pollution is decreasing as a result of free market operations, and Conservatives both applaud and encourage such developments. Furthermore, Conservatives support providing incentives for taking steps toward a green society. These incentives, however, have to be implemented carefully—sometimes a subsidy can send a researcher down a wrong path. At all times, the integrity of the free market and the sanctity of property rights have to be taken into account.
Strong States, Strong Local Governments:
The level of government most responsive to the people is, unsurprisingly, the level of government closest to the people. States have to retain all the powers not enumerated for the Federal government by the Constitution.
(Also covered under the Liberty principle.)
America should deal with other nations in a spirit of honest friendship and from a position of strength. When its security is threatened, it should not be afraid to act. The United States should not apologize for its ideals or its citizens’ way of life. Our involvement in international organizations should not include giving up parts of our sovereignty.
Family and Religion:
Real Conservatives do not want to push their views on anyone—everyone is entitled to his or her own religious beliefs (or lack thereof) and his or her own views regarding family. However, Conservatives do demand that the traditional family be respected and that public policy strengthens families. As for religion, there is a necessary and proper separation of Church and State—no one should be forced into a religion. However, public officials have a right and duty to act in accordance with the values of their faith, and to respect the Judeo-Christian ethic upon which our nation was founded.
Conservatives support policies that encourage and reward charitable giving, and believe that the best way to help those in need is to help those in need! We cannot shrug our responsibility to help each other onto our government’s shoulders.
In conclusion, Conservatism is clearly a complex ideology and this summary of positions is by no means exhaustive.
A good place to find more information on Conservatism is The Heritage Foundation. You can find their website here:
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