conservatism and society
CONSERVATIVE, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others. ~ Ambrose Bierce
People prefer simple explanations to complicated ones which is why ideology is so sweet to so many. Unlike ideas, ideology is something we don’t have to work at but can merely accept as our own. This is not to say that people who accept an ideology haven’t thought it through. Many have and many haven’t.
As an advocate of limited government and individual liberties I find it especially interesting when the anti-statists show up with their die-hard anti-statist arguments, attributing all the world’s maladies to the growth of the state. Now, you won’t find an argument from me when it comes to the problems of centralization. D.C. has become far too central to our politics. New York has become far too central to our finance, and Los Angeles far too central to our culture. I say bring back the local as much as possible – culturally, economically, and politically. But it’s hardly the answer to all of our problems as so many profess it to be. (Again, simple explanations to complicated problems….)
For one thing, it’s an immature argument. If you take a look at the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Liberty, the top ten countries include the city-state of Singapore and the Euro-socialist countries Denmark, Switzerland, and the UK – not to mention Canada. It find it telling that even countries with robust universal healthcare can still make the top ten despite heavy government involvement and despite the fact that the Heritage Foundation is a conservative organization.
It must be that this very simple explanation – that any and every move by the government into our lives is bad and infringes upon our liberty – is simply not true in the way that these people believe it to be. Certainly government can restrict choice, and there’s always some tit for tat involved because any time you bring the state into something it has to be paid for, and so we pay taxes. But this universal demonization of the state seems to be more counterproductive than anything.
I’m often painted as some sort of trying-to-please-everybody “centrist” but I don’t think that I am. I think that’s a nice little dodge to discredit anything I have to say. If anything, taking the positions I take pisses off as many people as it pleases. It’s not easier to take a more nuanced view of the world. If I could paint all my opponents as enemies, I think I’d have a much easier time. If I could lay out a narrative for myself that was full of black and white, good and evil, I think that would be a fine thing indeed. But the world is never so simple, and pretending that it is gets us nowhere except to a place of self-satisfaction (and self-delusion).
Conservatism is not only about limited government, and where it seeks to limit government it does so because it sees government as a force of instability. But what about those times when government is instead a force for stability? Defense leaps to mind. Conservatism, I would argue, is first and foremost about preserving or regaining a stable society. Liberty and prosperity are two of the most profound ways we can achieve a stable civilization. Limiting government often leads to both these things, and thus it is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. And when limiting government actually brings about social chaos rather than social stability, then it’s outworn its use. Perhaps this is why anarchy is such an impossible goal. At some point the benefit of removing the state from the equation no longer outweighs the cost.