PostHeaderIcon What is a Conservative?

Here is another take on how nebulous the word “conservative” is:

I know what the Democratic Party stands for, what does the Republican Party stand for?

I know what the modern meanings of the terms “liberal” and “progressive” mean, but I have no idea what the modern meaning of the term “conservative” means. I have recently seen polls which ask the following question:

The Republicans lost the election because
a. The Republican Party is too conservative
b. The Republican Party is not conservative enough

I find this question to be impossible to answer!

If by “conservative” one means a party which appeals almost exclusively to white Christian male culture warriors whose primary agenda is using the police power of government to accomplish desired political goals, then my answer would be “a.”

If by “conservative” one means promoting the rights of life, liberty, and property then clearly, my answer would be “b.”

I do not believe the ambiguity of the term “conservative” is by accident. “Conservative” is every bit the nebulous term as we have heard ad nauseam from the Obama campaign (i.e. “hope” and “change”). Because these terms are so under defined, each person who hears these buzzwords assigns his or her own meaning to them. I seem to recall every candidate in the Republican primary refer to himself as a “conservative” or even a “Reagan conservative” at one time or another. How is it possible that candidates with philosophical differences as stark as that of Ron Paul and Rudy Giuliani both claim to be conservative?

I had not considered that the ambiguity was deliberate; but thinking about it I suppose it is. It is sure convenient to the Republican Party that Reagan libertarians and the Piously Correct moralists both call themselves conservative, even though they mean very different things when they do. I loved the Reagan quote Stephen cited:

If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism […] The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is. -Ronald Reagan (1975)

Now, if I can just convince Orrin… 🙂 â—„Daveâ–º

One Response to “What is a Conservative?”

  • I’ve been distancing myself from the term. It is both loaded and imprecise. It suggests that the answers to our problems lie in the past.

    I keep my eyes focused firmly on the future. History is a reference material, not an endangered culture.

    I stand for progress through free enterprise. About the only thing I want to ‘conserve’ is the environment, which ironically would make me a minority among conservatives.

    I tend to think progressive would be a better term than liberal for the opposite of conservatives, but if that graph on the secular right a few days back was true, then the so called progressives don’t have much love for science.

    I’m starting to use as many specific labels as possible and avoiding the overly general ones. A few examples:

    There are dozens more. You can cram all you want, but they don’t fit on a two dimensional chart. The use of ‘conservative’ has been relegated to being used by recruiters claiming they represent the ‘true conservatives’. I also think it is important for people to know where they really stand. It is ok to say you are a progressive libertarian, or an environmental nationalist. If people don’t get it, explain it to them. If you are blogging, link it to an explanation.

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