This is an opening post to kick off a series based on my favorite conservatives and their thoughts...it may be a short series, depending on how may corpses I can dig up that fit the bill. I will be taking a look at some of my favorite conservatives, some of their representative quotes, and most importantly, as this is not about hero worship or idols, their ideas and ideals that may have some relevance today. First though, some explanation and definitions.
In my lifetime, there has been a noticeable dearth of people who self-identify as conservatives, or whose political leanings seem conservative, who are worth listening to at all. While many normal working folks are conservatives, not very many of them are any good at defending their beliefs or even explaining them in any coherent way. Most of the self-identified conservatives I know do little more than fill up my facebook feed with idiotic "liberal conspiracy" theories, pure, seething, rabid hatred of Obama(but they are NOT RACIST...not at all...no, really, not at all, I know because they keep telling me so), and the conviction that any social, governmental, or community solution to a problem, no matter how necessary or beneficial, is the feared specter of oppressive communism rearing it's head. Very few of them are capable of talking about any kind of systemic problem realistically, or ever admitting when a social solution is the best solution to a problem. But...they're not really evil. To me it seems that most conservatives, like most people everywhere, are good-natured, hard-working, morally upright, well-meaning idiots. And, as with every group of people, at least a few are small-minded, ignorant, and bigoted idiots as well. But there are in fact more than a few conservative people with good ideas, and there are more than a few good ideas that happen to be considered "conservative" these days. It seems to me that many people aren't even aware that many of the ideas and ideals now considered politically "conservative" in America, are actually ideals first seriously championed during the European Enlightenment, are the philosophical and political foundations of both the United States and of most of the modern West, and are known generally as "Liberalism" in the history of Western politics. Funny how words change, innit?
- The right to own private property (instead of a King or a Government or a Church "owning" everything)
- Freedom of speech & press
- Freedom of religion
- Freedom of association
- Free markets as a basic starting point of economies
- Freedom from unnecessary government coercion
- Free and fair elections of government actors, and the basic ideal that government power derives from the consent of the governed, not from "divine rights" or brute force.
- A philosophical belief in the virtues of self-determination, rather than "fate", force, or duty to a king, church, or government determining the courses of people's lives (for those of you who only know very serious conservatives who enjoy blaming people for things whenever they can, this one also goes under the name "personal responsibility", which is the only phrase some conservatives seem able to say)
Personally, I think all of these are great fucking ideas, a rational meeting of both our human nature and our human potential, and I have yet to see a single fully "collectivist" society do any better in terms of individual freedom or basic quality of life- or honestly, anywhere even close, though I must admit that some of this affluence and freedom for the masses is also the result of limited socialism introduced over time.
Back when "Liberalism" was a new thing, kings and churches, with the support of their enforcers and followers pretty much ran the show all over the developed world. "Conservatism" back then, was the belief that "traditional" power structures were necessary for civilization to exist and to keep people from evil, barbarism, and chaos. These "traditional" power structures were largely made up of monarchies that had absolute or near-absolute power that was passed down in families, and ecclesiastical authorities, i.e., whatever church happened to have conned it's way into power at the time. Brute force, a belief that some humans were inherently better than others and chosen by God to lead, and the promotion of crippling fear and rank superstition among the people were the ideals and deeds of "conservatism" then. In many ways, I think that the modern "religious right" and Neo-conservative movements, which are the guardians of "conservatism" in the minds of many today, have returned to this old and tempting mode of holding on to power. They are the "Old-Time Conservatives", those who worship power over others and will do literally anything to achieve it.
So then...when I'm talking about "Conservatism" in this series, I will be referring to modern American conservatism, which is pretty much "Enlightenment Liberalism" but with a renewed and strong small-government, low-tax stance, and opposition to the collectivist thought of communism and strong socialism. I mean people who favor limited government power, low taxes, limited welfare state, continuing self-education, and self-determination. I will therefore NOT be talking about George Bush, Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Sarah Palin, or any of the other batshit-crazy religious would-be tyrants or Neo-conservative corporate-welfare loving war profiteers. Those are religious traditionalists and neo-cons, IMO, and not necessarily "conservatives" as the term is commonly used today.
That's it for definitions and background. Later today, my first actual profile in the series: My Favorite Conservatives