Conservatism and Liberalism as Defined by Dinesh D’Souza

March 8, 2008

This post is an excerpt of one of my favorite books, Letters to a Young Conservative, by Dinesh D’Souza. If you don’t have it I recommend getting it. This is an important explanation of the differences between Liberalism and Conservatism and how they differ from European definitions. Here goes:

We need to understand the big changes that have come over liberalism. The term “liberal”, in its Greek meaning, refers to the free man, as opposed to the slave. Liberals were originally the partisans of liberty. The American founders, for example, were committed to three types of freedom: economic freedom, political freedom, and freedom of speech and religion. In their classical liberal view, freedom meant limiting the power of government, thus increasing the scope for individual and private action. The spirit of this philosophy is clearly conveyed in the formulations of the Bill of Rights: “Congress shall make no law…”

This classical liberalism underwent two dramatic changes in the last century: the revolution of the 1930s, and the revolution of the 1960s. The revolution of the 1030s, the FDR revolution, was based on the assumption that rights are not meaningful unless we have the means to exercise them. As FDR himself argued, people who lack life’s necessities are NOT FREE. FDR believed that to give citizens true liberty, the government should insure them against deprivation, against the loss of a job, against calamitous illness, and against an impoverished old age. Thus the liberal revolution of the 1930s introduced a new understanding of freedom that involved a vastly greater role for government than the American founders intended.

The second liberal revolution occurred in the 1960s. Its watchword was “liberation,” and its great prophet was Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Before the sixties, most Americans believed ina universal moral order that is external to us, that makes demands on us. Our obligation was to conform to that moral order. Earlier generations, right up to the “greatest generation” of World War II, took for granted this moral order and its commandments: Work hard and try to better yourself, be faithful to your spouse, go when your country calls, and so on.

But, beginning in the sixties, several factions – the antiwar movement, the feminist movement, the gay activist movement, and so on – attacked that moral consensus as narrow and oppressive. They fought for a new ethic that would be based not on external authority but on the sovereignty of the inner self. This is the novel idea that received its most powerful expression in Rousseau’s writing. To the American founders’ list of freedoms, Rousseau argues that we make major decisions – whom to love, what to become, what to believe – not by obeying our parents, teachers, preachers, or even God. Rather, we make such decisions by digging deep within ourselves and listening to the voice of nature. This is the idea of being “true to yourself.” It is the new liberal morality. […]

Modern American conservatism is very different from European conservatism, or from conservatism traditionally understood. For one thing, conservatism in this country is “modern,” and for another, it is “American.” Ours is not the “throne and altar” conservatism that once defined European conservatism, and that is still characteristic of many Europeans on the right. These conservatives were true reactionaries. They sought to preserve the ancien regime and the prerogatives of king and church against the arrival of modern science, modern capitalism, and modern democracy.

American conservatives are different because America is a revolutionary nation. For the founders, the ancien regime was the world they had left behind in Europe. Ours is a country founded by a bunch of guys sitting around a table in Philidelphia and deciding to establish a “new order for the ages.” Being a conservative in America means conserving the principles of the American revolution. (One of the most conservative groups in America calls itself the Daughters of the American Revolution.) Paradoxically, American conservatism seeks to conserve a certain kind of liberalism! It means fighting to uphold the classical liberalism of the founding from assault by liberalism of a different sort. […]

The conservative virtues are many: civility, patriotism, national unity, a sense of local community, an attachment to family, and a belief in merit, in just desserts, and in personal responsibility for one’s actions. For many conservatives, the idea of virtue cannot be separated from the idea of God. But it is not necessary to believe in God to be a conservative. What unifies the vast majority of conservatives is the belief that there are moral standards in the universe and that libing up to them is the best way to have a full and happy life.

I hope you all read this in its entirity and I hope you all grasp the concept of what conservative stand for. Thank you for reading and remember to vote for the only conservative left in the race when you vote on Feb 5; Mitt Romney.

May conservatism be with you all.

David Cooper (C)


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