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Conservatism: A Critique

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Most scholars believe, and aptly so, in my opinion, that it is almost impossible to pin down the fullest extent of the role which conservatism has played in American political history, or even just exactly what the term means in the first place.

Nonetheless, if taken in the literal sense, “conservatism” is simply to conserve something. Whether this be specific traditions, physical items, ideas, or the environment is inconsequential; essentially anyone can claim to be a conservative simply by virtue of being a collector. When brought into the political arena, conservatism, at least in its post-1980s incarnation, usually relates to the steadfast retainment of many economic principles held by classical liberalism, social views derived from often rigid interpretations of Judeo-Christian morality, and national security stances of hawkish origin. It is, in short, an eclectic mixture of laissez-faire and interventionist ideals, all sewn together through the notion of “peace through strength”, as championed by former president and conservative standard-bearer Ronald Reagan.

As is obvious, conservatism has boundless positive contributions worthy of addition to several aspects of United States public policy. Particularly when it comes to fiscal and defense issues, its acknowledgment of a minimally regulated free enterprise system acting in harmony with strong, well funded military and police agencies equating in long term national prosperity is unrivaled by any other major school of thought. On social matters, however, it tends to turn away from reason and favor authoritarian approaches to handling the private affairs of private citizens.

This most unfortunate development is commonly manifested in actions and legislation crafted for the purpose of promoting “moral order” and whatnot, with those spearheading such movements believing that their opinions on any given subject are superior to those of others. Ironically, it is these people who find themselves in situations where their supposedly deeply held moral codes are not only broken, but in fantastical form. Relatively recent examples include now-retired Utah Senator Larry Craig and resigned Indiana Representative Mark Souder, both of whom were strong social conservatives, often stopping at virtually nothing to impose their beliefs on others, and each had his respective career foiled due to engagement in acts whose nature totally paralleled all that they preached. Craig, as luck would have it, was caught in a sting at a Minneapolis airport while practicing, shall we say, fancy footwork in a men’s restroom stall. Not long after, Souder was essentially shamed into leaving Capitol Hill after it was revealed that he was engaged in an ongoing affair with a female staffer who was herself married.

These sad stories are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, but you get the general picture. Conservatism provides far too many opportunities for faux moralists to exercise power over not only their constituents, but the entire country as they set a decidedly different set of rules for themselves. Fortunately, a growing number of self-described conservatives have realized the ramifications of this insanity and consequently eased up on social issues as of late. Will the trend continue? I certainly do hope so, as conservatism is far too valuable to our national dialogue and policy-making process to be inhibited by such arrogance and small mindedness.

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About Joseph F. Cotto

  • Baronius

    This isn’t really a critique, Joseph. It’s more of an endorsement followed by an ad hominem attack, or rather an endorsement of the aspects of conservatism you like and a cheap shot against those who support the aspect you don’t like. It’s not grounded in anything but your opinion. I have a feeling that I’m not going to be agreeing with this new approach of yours, but I don’t want to turn into a troll; I just hope you flesh out the foundations better.

  • Boeke

    IMO modern conservatism has discredited itself by embracing radical rightism (which is nothing like conservative), overextending our defenses with unwise radical foreign adventures, destroying the economy with unwise untested radical economics notions, and totally strayed from conservative history.

  • Rachel Maddow [I know, I know] has been making the point that there is libertarian conservatism and authoritarian conservatism — often contradictorily embraced [at least in part] by the same individuals and groups.

    The very strong [draconian, in at least one case medically ignorant] anti-abortion laws being brought up in state legislatures are examples of the authoritarian type, even though many of those legislators got elected with strong tea party [i.e. libertarian] support.

  • That’s funny too! The, I know, I know part I mean. You know that people are gonna give you a ration because of who you reference, but you reference her anyway. Love ya man!!! Really!