Tyrrell defines conservatism as "a temperament to delight in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Part of that pursuit includes the acquisition and exchange of property (not solely real estate, folks, though the word "property" seems to spark that image). Modern conservatism is a temperament, not an ideology or an anxiety. It is a love of liberty, not a mesdemeanor.
Frank Meyer, who left the Communist party in the 1940s and set about fighting against it, wrote a series of "articles of belief" of the conservative movement. I won't impart them all here, but two that so closely fit with my plunge into conservatism are these:
- American conservatives are opposed to state control of the economy.
- American conservatism derives from these (previous) positions its firm support of the Constitutions of the United States as originally conceived--to achieve protection of individual liberty in an ordered society by limiting the power of government.
I suppose, since out of the seven articles, I most closely attached my conservative identity with those two, that I would have sprang from the more libertarian ancestry of the movement. Although, since my belief that freedom is a God given right, I may not have sat at the head table at any libertarian gathering.
I'm not one for memorizing long definitions, so if I were to forced to pull out a quick answer to anyone questioning my belief, I'd have to say: a conservative believes that the central government, as identified in the constitution, should remain small an non-intrusive. A conservative wishes for as much freedom and liberty to be granted to individuals as is possible while still maintaining order. How's that? Still a bit long.
I suppose I could just shout "Liberty!" but I don't think many Americans even know what that means anymore. If they did, and they believed it to be the cornerstone of our constitutional foundation, then they could never accept a government that has grown so unsustainably massive and, apparently, unable to resist any opportunity to dictate how we are to live, what we should drive, where (or if) we buy health care, and what my kids should be taught. I saw one attempt to identify the conservative movement as "the party of leave us alone." I think I like that one. Thought "Don't Tread on Me" looks a heck of a lot cooler on a flag than "Leave us Alone!"
I'm not sure how the Republican Party became the conservative party. In fact, they did a pretty good job of distancing themselves from the conservative movement until Ronald Reagan embraced it fully. It is for this reason (though I didn't figure it out until recent years) that I couldn't justify the actions of Republicans in the earlier half of the last century. Even as late as Nixon, the Republicans were very standoffish. Republican presidents like Hoover and Teddy Roosevelt would actually be classified as liberals. Our recent George Bush, though a proclaimed conservative, seemed to drift from his moorings on the issue of spending and government expansion.
I'm also not sure how the Democratic Party become the home of left-wing liberals, but they seem quite comfortable there. That's a shame. Since a majority of Americans identify themselves as conservative and only a small percentage openly admit to being liberal, one must wonder how Democrats keep getting elected. We know how they get un-elected, though. After campaigns full of patriotic rhetoric, they invariably revert to their progressive ideological nature.
The conservative movement sprang from the realization of millions that Roosevelt's New Deal was an unmitigated disaster (No? Two words: social security). With each liberal intrusion into our lives--Johnson's Great Society, Carter's Dept. of Education, Clinton's first attempt at nationalized health care--conservatives found new motivation. And now we have a president who's level of federal spending dwarfs that of any before him. While many of my Republican friends, the ones who forget that they held all the power only a few years ago, are crying "this is the end!", my conservative friends are rejoicing, regrouping, and mounting the counter-attack. We've been here before, and each time we've emerged stronger, because conservatism is but a reflection of what defines the American idea, and most Americans know that. The few that don't will continue to whine and mourn the loss of their promised utopia.
More on this topic later, when I debunk the myth that liberals are more compassionate than conservatives.