What does it mean to be a conservative? American conservatism is different from conservatism in the classical sense. It is uniquely American. Conservatives are actually more classical liberals. Classical Liberalism is a belief in liberty. According to Dinesh D’Souza, “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.” This is not to say that today’s liberals do not believe in these freedoms (although I would argue that liberals don’t really believe in free speech. If they did, they wouldn’t constantly complain that conservatives shouldn’t be allowed to express their views). The liberals today follow this new philosophy of digging deep within yourself to find out who you really are. Their morals are based on being “true to yourself.”
Conservatives believe in these freedoms, but have added a different element. Dinesh D’Souza says that the added element is “a concern with social and civic virtue.” He says that “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 […] What unifies the vast majority of conservatives is the belief that there are moral standards in the universe and that living up to them is the best way to have a full and happy life.” On the other hand, modern liberals have the different kinds of virtues that they feel are important and determine a good life: “Equality, compassion, pluralism, diversity, social justice, peace, autonomy, and tolerance.”
Now, regarding the virtue of equality: It’s not that conservatives don’t believe in equality, it’s that conservatives believe in a different kind of equality. Conservatives believe in equal opportunity, success by merit, and equality of rights. Liberals believe in the equal outcome; that some are not as capable to succeed as others and they are more than willing to take from people who earn more to give to people what haven’t. Conservatives speak of the same type of freedoms, but mean different things. “Conservatives emphasize economic growth, while liberals emphasize economic redistribution. Conservatives like to proclaim their love of country, while liberals like to proclaim their love of humanity. Conservatives insist that force is required to maintain world order, while liberals prefer the pursuit of peace through negotiation and dialog. Conservatives are eager to preserve moral standards, liberals cherish personal autonomy.”
Conservatism to me is a philosophy of life, not a government position. I believe that conservatives understand that there are two types of forces in the world: good and evil, while Liberals believe that human nature is in root good. They believe war is a result of blunders and misunderstandings, and poverty and failure are a result of societal placement.
I am a conservative because I believe that conservatives understand that people are flawed and there is evil in the world. Ultimately, I believe that conservatives and liberals both want to achieve the same thing: a good and prosperous society, but I believe that liberals go about achieving a good society the wrong way (by redistribution), while conservatives want to achieve it the right way (by merit).
If you had to label me with a governmental position, it would be a sort of libertarian. But even then that would be difficult to explain entirely, because libertarians are economic conservatives without the moral standards. I would be more of a conservative libertarian: because I have a conservative world view while having a sort of libertarian economic position.
The quotes used in this post are from Dinesh D’Souza’s Letters to a Young Conservative. I used D’Souza’s words often, because he expresses his points so well, that it would be a disservice to him to try and paraphrase them.