In our culture today, conservatism is often characterized as being overly concerned with tradition, backwards, rigid, focused on the past, opposed to progress, and in some circles bigoted, hateful, and even fascist. Are they right? Is to be conservative to be sheltered or fascist?
Conservatives, contrary to popular belief, are not fascist, bigoted, or trying to hold America back to an 18th century standard. Conservatives are actually attempting to conserve the key elements that create a vibrant, prosperous society and lead to the most happiness for the most people mainly by embracing natural rights and law, economic freedom, and the benefits derived from Western Civilization. History, as well as economic studies, have shown that countries that preserve these three principles are not only the most economically successful, but also the most free and happy.
With that in mind, this article is a reminder to conservatives as to what we stand for and, for those of you who would consider yourselves centrists or even progressives, this is an invitation to understand us, the values and principles we are trying to preserve, and join us in conserving them.
Conservatives are trying conserve natural rights and law. Each of us, as part of our nature, possesses rights that allow us to pursue happiness and prosperity. These rights are extensive and include a right to life, to conscience, to speak one’s mind, to reap the rewards of our labor, to own and control property, and the defense of these rights. You are free to enjoy these liberties to their fullest extent, but that does not give you license to violate the rights of others. This is the natural law. Natural law establishes the truth that you cannot violate the rights of others, and prevents you from using force or the threat of force to coerce others to do your will. Human interaction, be it the exchange of goods and services, contracts for labor, or exchange of ideas, must be done with the consent of both parties.
So how do we protect these rights? Every individual is justified by natural law — and has the right — to defend his(or her)self and his rights. You are the first line of defense when it comes to protecting your natural rights, and we, as conservatives, seek to legally protect that right. The second line of defense is government. Governments are instituted by their citizens to protect their several rights, the citizens transferring their individual right to defend themselves to the government, forming a collective force with authority to act derived from the original rights of the constituent individuals. Frederic Bastiat, a French economist, explained it as follows,
“If every person has the right to defend even by force — his person, his liberty, and his property, then it follows that a group of men have the right to organize and support a common force to protect these rights constantly. Thus the principle of collective right — its reason for existing, its lawfulness — is based on individual right. And the common force that protects this collective right cannot logically have any other purpose or any other mission than that for which it acts as a substitute. Thus, since an individual cannot lawfully use force against the person, liberty, or property of another individual, then the common force — for the same reason — cannot lawfully be used to destroy the person, liberty, or property of individuals or groups…If this is true, then nothing can be more evident than this: The law is the organization of the natural right of lawful defense. It is the substitution of a common force for individual forces. And this common force is to do only what the individual forces have a natural and lawful right to do: to protect persons, liberties, and properties; to maintain the right of each, and to cause justice to reign over us all.”
John Trenchard put it this way,
“Nor has any Man in the State of Nature Power over his own Life, or to take away the Life of another, unless to defend his own, or what is as much his own, namely, his Property. This Power therefore, which no Man has, no Man can transfer to another.
Nor could any Man in the State of Nature, have a Right to violate the Property of another; that is, what another had acquired by his Act or Labour; or to interrupt him in his Industry and Enjoyments, as long as he himself was not injured by that Industry and those Enjoyments. No Man therefore could transfer to the Magistrate that Right which he had not himself.”
Individuals, when they form a government, transfer their individual right to defend themselves to a collective force, giving it the right to defend their rights. This limits the government or the collective force’s abilities to protecting the individual rights of the citizens. I, as an individual, do not have the right to take someone’s life (except in self defense), property, or coerce them to use their faculties. As no individual posses the right to do those things, it is impossible for individuals to transfer the right to destroy the life, faculties, and property of other citizens to the government since we cannot give a right to the government that we never possessed ourselves.
Government protects our rights in 3 main ways:
- National defense via a strong military and secure border
- Instituting and enforcing laws that punish the violation of rights. By making the cost or punishment of violating someone’s rights more than a potential benefit, it provides a deterrent to violating other people’s rights. Criminal and civil tort laws and statutes both fulfill this purpose.
- Police officers and judges empowered to prevent the breaking of these laws where possible, but primarily to enforce the laws after someone’s rights are violated.
By limiting government to these three actions, it remains within the bounds of its purpose and exercises collective force within the realm of justified individual force. With government limited to these bounds, individuals are free to enjoy their rights and in so doing, individuals and the country, as a whole, become more prosperous and happy.
The protection of natural rights creates a situation of economic freedom or free markets. A free market system is based on consensual contracts and transactions, with government protecting private property, preserving individual rights, and enforcing the contracts. By basing the economy on voluntary contracts and transactions, individuals are incentivized to innovate and compete with each other to attract others to want to make contracts with them. This innovation and competition results in the quality of goods and services increasing and prices for those goods and services decreasing. Individuals are free to employ their talents as they choose and to fully enjoy the fruit (income) of their labors, providing additional incentive to use their talents and abilities to their fullest to improve their lives and pursue happiness. Not only does this system of voluntary transactions and contracts respect rights, but the incentives to innovate and compete drive the national economy to greater prosperity and growth. No other system in history has been shown to create economic growth and prosperity more than the free market of consensual transactions. Conservatives seek to conserve and push the American economy towards a free market system, as government interference via regulations, mandates, licensing, and other restrictions have limited the ability of individuals to freely use their talents, enjoy the fruit of their successes, and make voluntary transactions and contracts on their own terms. These regulations and restrictions by the government have not only resulted in this loss of economic freedom, but have led to the stagnation and economic problems facing the country today. Conservatives hope to remedy the economic stagnation and return economic freedom to the American economy, conserving within the American people this attitude:
“I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon. I seek opportunity to develop whatever talents God gave me — not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. I want to take the calculated risk: to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for a dole. I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence: the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia. I will not trade freedom for beneficence nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any earthly master nor bend to any threat. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud, and unafraid: to think and act myself, enjoy the benefit of my creations and to face the world boldly and say– ‘This, with God’s help, I have done.’”
Through conserving this attitude of personal responsibility and restoring free markets, conservatives hope to maintain the economic freedom of individuals and restore the US economy to its dynamic, vibrant potential.
The final thing conservatives are attempting to preserve could be the most important, as it supports and maintains within the minds of the people the first two principles (natural rights and economic freedom) , and that is Western Civilization. Now I may have triggered some of you and you are preparing to click away from this article murmuring “bigot” or “racist” under your breath, so before you go I’d ask you to hear me out and let explain what this means.
Western Civilization isn’t a racial group but is an idea. Western Civilization is essentially the Judeo-Christian tradition that every individual has inherent worth, dignity, and rights that demand respect and protection. Western Civilization, also known as the “civil society”, is based on the importance of tolerance within the public square. Not the mindless demand for “acceptance” and embracing any and all lifestyles, but individuals respecting each other’s rights and not harming one another despite differences. The Judeo-Christian worldview also teaches a moral code which enshrines the idea of respecting the rights of others, especially their lives and property. The Founding Fathers, while confident in our ability to reason and discover natural law and rights, also felt that human nature was flawed in permanent ways — such as our proclivity towards factions and violating other people’s rights when it is easier than working hard. Government is then instituted to use collective force where individual force would be justified — protecting rights. It also codifies the punishment or cost of violating other people’s rights, making the “costs” of violating rights more painful than labor, thus acting as a deterrent. But the Founders also recognized that punishment wouldn’t be enough to fully deter violations, so they used the government’s civic platform to encourage religion or Western Civilization, as it teaches respect for the rights of others, specifically life and property. Thus you have a two-pronged approach by government to protect rights: use of collective force and laws to deter, prevent where possible, and punish violators, as well as promoting religion and Western Civilization via speeches and discourse in the public square,allowing religious people to freely express their convictions, thus developing a society that respects the rights of others. Conservatives seek to preserve Western Civilization within our society so that individuals are taught respect for the rights of others that isn’t dependent on the deterrence from the government. It is Western Civilization that teaches it isn’t right to silence speech or use violence against others because you disagree with them, to use force to get others to do business with you even if it violates their beliefs. That it is wrong to steal from others, to enslave others, but right to live in peace with those who believe differently. If society doesn’t have these truths ingrained within them, it is likely that the deterrent effect of law will not be enough to prevent crime and eventually the laws themselves will become corrupted — becoming the violator of life, faculties, and property instead of their defender.
I may write a future piece outlining how we conserve these things, but briefly, these important pillars of the civil society are currently being defended as conservatives attempt to return our current government to the bounds and form outlined in the Constitution; supporting laws that protect natural rights such as property rights and free speech, maintaining religious liberty, lowering taxes, limiting government’s use of tax money to it’s proper role of protecting rights, keeping government out of the market by eliminating costly regulations and subsidies, pushing for free trade, protecting our sovereignty, protecting life, and supporting prudent immigration policies. Each of these issues and more are rooted in defending individual rights, economic freedom, and Western Civilization.
It was America’s foundation on these principles of natural rights, economic freedom, and Western Civilization that allowed it to grow from a colony to the most powerful and prosperous country the world has ever seen. The execution of these principles hasn’t always been perfect and we’ve had to correct ourselves, such as with slavery, protectionism, and Jim Crow, and at times we have outright rejected them such as with FDR’s entitlement programs, the welfare state, Obamacare, the undermining of property rights, and civil forfeiture. But when we’ve trusted these truths enough to return to them, we’ve grown in prosperity, happiness, and goodness. Let us restore these principles where they’ve decayed and conserve them where they remain, that America may prosper and be the city on the hill, an example of freedom and prosperity to the world.