Saturday, August 04, 2007

Am I (still) a conservative?

Over the last few years, concurrent with my dissatisfaction with and departure from organized religion, I've been laying a number of presuppositions to bare in my life. Where once I strongly identified myself with conservatism, I wouldn't do so readily today.

So when The Conservative Principles Poll showed up on Andrew Sullivan's blog today I figured I'd take it for a spin and see where I ended up. Here's the ten conservative concepts that one is asked to agree or disagree with in taking the poll :
  1. Enduring Moral Order: A good society depends upon citizens who have a strong sense of right and wrong, good and evil, justice and honor.
  2. Custom and Convention: The devil you know is better than the devil you don't.
  3. Principle of Prescription: We stand on the shoulders of giants; the collective wisdom of those who came before us is superior to our own individual reasoning. The individual is foolish, but the species is wise.
  4. Prudence: Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity.
  5. Equality Before the Law Only: The only true forms of equality are equality at the Last Judgment and equality before a just court of law; all other attempts at levelling must lead, at best, to social stagnation.
  6. Human Imperfectability: Human nature suffers irremediably from certain grave faults, the conservatives know. Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created.
  7. Private Property = Freedom: Conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked. Separate property from private possession, and Leviathan becomes master of all.
  8. Community and Federalism: Conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism. In a genuine community, the decisions most directly affecting the lives of citizens are made locally and voluntarily.
  9. Balance Authority and Liberty: The conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions.
  10. Balance Progression and Permanence: Permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society. The conservative is not opposed to social improvement, although he doubts whether there is any such force as a mystical Progress, with a Roman P, at work in the world.
You know, that's not a bad list. It's foundational as opposed to topical; I can see that one could hold to all ten of these and still oppose much of what the current administration is up to.

But where do I come down? I'll take them one by one.

Enduring Moral Order
No question about it: what distinguishes good people from bad people are the values they live out in their lives. Not all values are created equal. One culture holds that men and women should choose their mates; another kills women for choosing in opposition to their families' desires. This one's a no-brainer. Check.

Custom and Convention
On this one I've done a one-eighty. I recognize that customs and conventions evolve for a reason, but I think it fair to say that many of them have grown out of ignorance, prejudice, and the preservation of power. I say, Question Authority.

Principle of Prescription
Not entirely distinct from Custom and Convention, I would say that one should pause to examine why we have arrived at where we are before we abandon a path, but I wouldn't just assume that prior wisdom dictated the path. The path could have been blazed by selfish assholes for all I know. Feudalism, anyone?

Well, duh. For the record, I do actually think that prudence is a good thing but I don't suspect that many liberals would say that prudence is a bad thing. Check.

Equality Before the Law Only
While I definitely believe that in principle we should not try to achieve an equality of result, I do believe that society benefits from an equality of opportunity as long as it's strived for rationally and sensibly, recognizing that a great many people don't better themselves because they don't have hope and motivation even in the presence of opportunity. Because when the rubber meets the road I would probably be considered by most in-the-main conservatives to be left of center on this issue, I'll not check this one off.

Human Imperfectability
I'm no utopian. Check.

Private Property = Freedom
While I think libertarians easily go overboard on this one, I am a firm believer that the three-legged stool of liberty rests on political, personal, and property rights. Check.

Community and Federalism
Federalism and decentralization works because those closest to the problem are the best ones to solve it. Check.

Balance Authority and Freedom
This one's a lame one. Everybody, even Hitler, would agree that there should be a balance between authority and freedom. I say when in doubt liberty should prevail, but in the current national security climate many conservatives would lean heavily towards authority... so I'll pass on this one.

Balance Progression and Permanence
Given that I don't believe in the Inevitability of Progress (take a look around the world: see much progress these days?), I would agree that reforms should be undertaken with caution and an understanding that to the extent a reform's success relies on people to be on their best behavior and acting in the best interest of society as opposed to their own narrow interests, then that reform is doomed. Many liberals fail to understand this, so I'll identify with conservatives on this one. Check.

Final score: 6 out of 10, or 60%. So yeah, I guess I am still conservative by principle if not by politics these days.


At 7:23 AM, Blogger dorsey said...

I don't know, man. You sound kinda libertarian to me.

I'll bring the stash if you provide the munchies.

At 7:31 AM, Blogger Zeke said...

I went through my Ayn Rand/libertarian phase in college. Libertarianism ends up being a weird brand of utopianism. Ever read Atlas Shrugged? That was as fantastical as any communist pipe dream.

That said, I have my sympathies. And some kickin'garlic parmesan potato chips in the pantry.

At 4:35 PM, Blogger dorsey said...

Yeah, you're right. While I enjoy my libertarian disposition, I realize that, left unchecked, it will ultimately backlash into anarchy. I guess it's easier to have libertarian tendencies so long as conservative and liberal ideals remain in tension for power.

Sort of like how easy it is to be a pacifist when you have the most powerful army in the world defending your right to be one. hehe.


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