A civil war is taking place within the conservative movement. All factions claim to be the true conservatives; many factions have an intense loathing of the other factions. We seek to understand what general principles unite all conservatives. We further seek to establish a future direction for the conservative movement. Let us start with first principles.
Conservatism acknowledges the truth at all times, no matter how unpopular the truth may be. Conservatism seeks the good at all times, no matter how uncomfortable the good may be.
Conservatism has three sources: tradition, experience, and morality. Reason enters into the discussion in the form of practical reason, not pure reason: that is, reason informed by experience, rather than idealism. Therefore, the study of history is of central importance to a conservative.
Conservatism promotes loyalty to God above all, loyalty to country when it does not conflict with loyalty to God, and loyalty to one’s fellow when it does not conflict with loyalty to God and one’s country. Numbers 23:19: “God is not a man…”, and conversely: no man is a god.
Conservatism takes responsibility for its choices. Conservatism sticks to its principles, but is willing to change its mind when new evidence becomes available.
Conservatism avoids any activity or policy that tends to degrade virtue or coarsen character. Rather, conservatism acts in such a way as to promote the voluntary growth of individual virtue and character.
Conservatism learns from the ancient teaching that to improve the world, one should improve one’s country; to improve one’s country, one should improve one’s neighborhood; to improve one’s neighborhood, one should improve one’s acquaintances; and to improve one’s acquaintances, one should improve oneself.
Conservatism encourages wisdom, fortitude, temperance, justice, mercy, modesty, and gratitude. Conservatism encourages love of God, love of one’s fellow, and refraining from actions of which one would not want to be the target. Conservatism obeys the universal ethical code described as the dào (Chinese: the way) in the appendix to C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man, and develops the seven levels of self that are identified with chakras: survival, relationship, appetite, emotion, expression, intellect, and spirituality. More details are given in the end-matter of this book.
Conservatism is manifested in the American experience in the American Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
We fill in some of the details. You are a conservative if you believe all or most of the following:
the three American mottos “Liberty”, “E Pluribus Unum”, and “In God We Trust” are your mottos;
all citizens are equal before God and before the law, and the law must not show preferences for any group;
all citizens have inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as well as self-defense and freedom of conscience;
republican self-government is the best way to secure these rights;
the rights of citizens are protections against government intrusion, not claims upon the government or other citizens;
character, honor, virtue, responsibility and consequences are just as important as rights;
respect for innocent human life, the traditional family, secure borders, national sovereignty, and a unified culture and language are cornerstones of a viable society;
private property, the free market, and a reward commensurate with risk and effort are cornerstones of a free society;
military strength is a cornerstone of a peaceful society;
you love and are proud of our country and our civilization and our accomplishments, you want children to learn the same love and pride, and you want our country and our civilization to survive and to flourish.
Most schools of conservatism subscribe to most of the principles above, which I shall call ortho-conservatism. In this shared core of conservatism, so to speak, there is:
recognition of a transcendent Source of authority: the Creator spoken of in the Declaration of Independence;
a large degree of freedom to think and to act within the Creator’s world, subject to causing no harm to others;
and a recognition that nature is subject to laws. Those laws constrain and direct not merely physical nature, but human nature as well.