Conservatism for Dummies
The word “conservative” currently means anything from “classical liberal” to “backwoods hick.”
Most self-identified conservatives take conservatism to be composed of support of small government, free markets, the Constitution, fiscal responsibility, moral traditionalism, and love for American history.
I identify as a conservative, but I don’t think the usual conservative talking points go deep enough. Conservatism is really about conserving the conditions in which humans by their timeless nature can best pursue a happy life.
That’s pretty abstract, but it is rooted in the philosophical belief that humans do everything for the sake of a happy, good life and they have a rational nature which is involved in that pursuit of a happy life. As a result, humans are best fit for self-government with minimal interference from any other governing body. That way, they are able to pursue what they think will bring about a happy life.
The need for limited government follows from the need for self-government, and other political positions follow without too much trouble. It’s a good thing for humans to be safe, therefore the government should protect against crime and foreign invasion. No government can totally protect against crime while allowing for self-government, therefore self defense is also important for a happy human life – hence conservative support for the 2nd amendment. Being able to work and provide for oneself through honest gain is important to a happy life, therefore conservatives tend to support free markets and personal property.
It’s a good thing that humans live under a stable, just government. The American Constitution makes prudent provisions for a stable, just government. Therefore, conservatives tend to be supportive of the Constitution.
The issue with modern day conservatism is that it takes things like free markets, the Constitution, and gun rights to be goals in and of themselves. But it fails to emphasize the reason those things are important in the first place – happy, fulfilled human lives.
There are still plenty of other conservative positions to hash out, but that is the general outline of it – an attempt to conserve the conditions in which humans may live happy lives. It’s not about backwards hatred towards any group. It’s not about glamorizing or slandering American history. It’s not about AR-15’s. It’s about making sure the government moves forward in a way maximally conducive to human happiness.
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K. William Huitt
K. William Huitt is currently an M.A. student in Western Michigan University’s philosophy program. He graduated from Hillsdale College in 2019 with a B.A. in philosophy and a minor in history. He has spoken at various Christian apologetics events and writes regularly about religious and political issues.