The Classical Conservative Definition:
A classical conservative values tradition and freedom over governmental power. Conservatives, under this definition, advocate a free market economy without governmental intervention. Conservatives tend to view government as a necessary evil, whose primary responsibility is to protect people from violation of their rights and freedom by others. Conservatives distinguish this from government taking action to guarantee people’s rights and freedom (a subtle, but important distinction). Conservatives think of morality as something that binds people into groups through loyalty and authority (in certain cases, substituting religion for authority). Conservatives tend to be tribalists.
There is likely not as much difference between the two philosophies as you may have thought. The distinctions are subtle, but they do lead to a different philosophy of both the purpose, and responsibilities of government. Distinctions between the two philosophies shift and morph to suit the politics of the day.
Conservatives are usually regarded as associated with the Republican Party, liberals with the Democratic Party. This is an over-generalization.
Both parties embrace certain conservative and liberal tendencies. Moreover, it does not account for those that do not affiliate with either party, standing as independents, a very large segment of America’s political society.
FOUNDERS OF CONSERVATISM
Edmund Burke is often regarded as the founder of the conservative philosophy. Burke stated in 1791 that it was not necessary to tear apart society to cure its evils:
“An ignorant man who is not fool enough to meddle with his clock, is however sufficiently confident to think he can safely take to pieces, and put together at his pleasure, a moral machine of another guise, importance and complexity, composed of far other wheels, and springs, and balances, and counteracting and co-operating powers.
Men little think how immorally they act in rashly meddling with what they do not understand. Their delusive good intention is no sort of excuse for their presumption. They who truly mean well must be fearful of acting ill.”
Burke professed that change should only be made when fully aware of the consequences of the actions. Society is complex and interconnected, so changes must be made with deliberation and knowledge of history. The damage from miscalculated changes can be too disastrous to society, to do otherwise.
This is not to say conservatives oppose change. Conservatives recognize that change is necessary in society; however, conservatives move at a slower pace than liberals.
The Modern Conservative Movement
Many credit Russell Kirk’s 1953 book, “The Conservative Mind” with the birth of the modern conservative movement in the United States. In 1957, Kirk condensed he beliefs in “The Essence of Conservatism:”
“…The conservative is a person who endeavors to conserve the best in our traditions and our institutions, reconciling that best with necessary reform from time to time…Our American War of Independence…especially in the works of John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison, we find a sober and tested conservatism founded upon an understanding of history and human nature. The Constitution which the leaders of that generation drew up has proved to be the most successful conservative device in all history.”
In this statement, Kirk restated that the U.S. Constitution is an instrument that protects people from abuse by government; in that regard, the Constitution must be strictly interpreted to guarantee that protection.
Barry Goldwater was the first politician to waive the modern conservative banner. His book, “The Conscience of a Conservative” was required reading at Harvard, at least for a while. When running for president in 1964, Goldwater promised to enforce the U.S. Constitution.
However, it was Ronald Reagan that legitimized the conservative political philosophy as President in 1980. He ran on a platform of cutting government, as he did when governor in California, where his main reform was in welfare.
As President, Reagan cut taxes in his first year. Whether as a direct result or not, the U.S. economy began an unprecedented economic boom in 1982 that lasted until 2001. However, Reagan will also be remembered for not only his economic forecast in 1982, but his prophesy that: “The march of freedom and democracy … will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash-heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people.”
The fall of the Berlin wall came in 1989, followed by the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
In looking at the above comparison of conservative and liberal values, it is apparent that arguments can be made for the value of either position. However, such a limited view misses the point. Combining both philosophies can take the best from each to provide solutions to our problems.
As an example, take the issue of trust as to whether government is the best answer to our problems. Conservatives are wary to trust government as the answer; liberals tend to see government as a necessary evil, but still the best answer to solve our problems. Both are appropriate views. Our Founding Fathers recognized this dilemma and developed a system of checks and balances, a separation of powers for an effective government, but one that never developed too much power over its citizens.
The Founding Fathers listened to both sides of the conservative and liberal argument to try to find a system that meets the needs of all.
Today, our society needs to move forward to meet new challenges; liberals say we need new solutions to those challenges; conservatives say we need to trust proven solutions because miscalculation could make our problems worse. Again, both views have value; and a blending of both is likely the best answer: learn from the past, while we forge the future.
Unfortunately, our politics have become too polarized and too divisive. People take positions rather than work together. Political parties provide those positions. Many Republicans revert to religion as a bastion, while many Democrats turn their party into a religion.
The French Revolution was the result of a culmination of ideas. Philosophers introduced new ideas to the literate elite. The elite put those ideas into motion. It resulted in a period of radical social upheaval and genocide that changed the course of civilization.
The mass murders and guillotining of people in the Vendee district of western France were unparalleled at the time and not to be exceeded until the genocides of the 20th century.
The French Revolution was a direct result of the philosophical period called The Enlightenment. Historians date the Enlightenment to roughly the middle decades of the 1700s. The major philosophical shift that occurred in the Enlightenment was a turning away from revelation (the Bible) as the authoritative source of absolute truth and the embrace of human reason as the source of truth. It is often called the age of reason although there was much illogic and anti-reason about it.
The Enlightenment philosophers embraced Natural Law as the principle way of understanding human relations. The philosophers believed in God but by rejecting propositional (Bible) revelation they limited themselves to revelation in nature.
Natural Law is the concept that God’s laws are embedded in nature and if we just observe man in the primitive state we will see the behaviors that are universal among all people and we can enact laws based on these principles. That idea sounds practical but the way the Enlightenment philosophers pursued it was flawed from the start.
The fatal flaw of Enlightenment philosophy was that by rejecting the Bible they rejected the concept of original sin and this caused them to conclude that man is “basically good” and the reason for social vice is man’s corruption by civilization. This is the myth of “The Noble Savage”
Prominent among the Enlightenment philosophers was Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). Ironically he was born to a Calvinist father. His mother died when he was an infant. Calvinism is very conservative Christian theology. Rousseau apparently rejected Calvinism from an early age.
He gives details on his many extramarital affairs in his autobiography titled, “Confessions.” He had five children by one mistress and he abandoned all five into a Paris orphanage. This was at a time when conditions in orphanages were such that eighty percent of the children did not live to adulthood.
Rousseau’s major works were numerous and included “Discourse on the Source of Inequality,” “The Social Contract” and the novel “Emile” among others.
His novel Emile is his philosophy of education expressed in the fictional story of a boy named Emile. This book got him into serious trouble because one of his characters in the novel is a priest who abandoned Christianity and embraced natural religion. The natural religion was essentially Deism which looks to nature rather than the Bible as the source of moral guidance. Emile was banned by the Parisian authorities and Rousseau was forced to leave France.
Rousseau’ writings were immensely popular and radically influenced a generation of thinkers and political leaders. Rousseau is considered one of the foremost Enlightenment philosophers yet in many ways his writings can be seen as anti-Enlightenment or postenlightenment. The Enlightenment purists confined their thinking about nature to viewing it as governed by laws of mechanics and mathematical principles. Rousseau viewed nature in a bit more of a subjective and fluid way. He did not confine himself to rigid logical reasoning.
Rousseau in some ways could be seen as a Romantic philosopher. Romanticism came along in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Romanticism rejected reason in favor of emotion. Its return to nature was more subjective, passionate and radical.
Rousseau died eleven years before the revolution but his writings greatly influenced the radicals who brought on the French Revolution and their attempt to remove Christianity from France. The revolutionaries took over Notre Dame Cathedral and displayed a French prostitute there as “the goddess of reason.” They also abolished the seven day week and instituted a ten day week with every tenth day as a day off. Their Reign of Terror in the early 1790s was a loathsome picture of human nature that had rejected Christian morals.
Rousseau had very little influence on the American Revolution which was raging at the time of his death. The founding fathers of the United States rejected the Enlightenment notion that man is basically good. The American founders quoted the Bible far more than any other source in their writings.
The American founders believed in original sin and wrote a constitution that separated the powers of government into three branches to prevent too much power being concentrated in one individual. The French Revolution by contrast ultimately gave all power to Napoleon who went on to try to conquer Europe.
Rousseau greatly influenced Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). Conservative Christian theologian R. C. Sproul has called Kant one of the most influential philosophers in all of world history. Kant really bridged the Enlightenment and the Romantics. Karl Marx, a political philosopher of immense and tragic influence, was also heavily influenced by Rousseau.
Rousseau’s legacy was a major contribution to the philosophical optimism that asserts that man, through the advance of science and art, can perfect himself and build a perfect society on earth. This optimism continued for more than a century until it crashed on the shoals of the World Wars, Hitler’s genocide and the abject failure of communism to succeed as a social experiment.
The Enlightenment rejection of the Bible has had tragic consequences that reverberate down to our own day. The Bible is God’s revelation to us. In the Bible God’s wisdom and truth is clearly stated. Furthermore the Bible is confirmed by more than 2,000 predictive prophecies that have been fulfilled or are being fulfilled down to our own day.
No other sacred writing of any other faith has anything to compare with the Bible’s record of prophecy and fulfillment. The prophecies and their fulfillments give logical proof that the Bible is inspired by God.
The Bible gives clear guidance through commandments that lay the basis for orderly civil society. The Bible’s commands regarding family life are particularly wise and essential for protection and care of children. The social chaos of western civilization today is a direct result of abandoning God’s wisdom expressed in the Bible. I’m happy to say that many are returning to the Bible and receiving spiritual rebirth through Christ.
Anarchism is the political belief that society should have no government, laws, police, or other authority, but should be a free association of all its members. Anarchist Philosophy is, in essence a continually debated philosophy with a broad range of viewpoints. One example of of such a point of view is that of William Godwin, a well known and popular anarchist philosopher who lived in Britain in the late 18th century, who believed that the “euthanasia of government” would be achieved through “individual moral reformation”.
Anarchism is a philosophy on a political plane that takes into consideration ideals and opinions which view the state, as an instated governing force, to not be required, oppressive, and harmful to the further liberation and evolution of mankind.
Particular anarchists sometimes have more or less ideas for what anarchism means to them, many anarchists philosophize with each other on whose ideas, or which strain of anarchism is purer. Really, this is anarchism in its most basic form – an ever changing and very personal set of ideas that can constantly change and adapt to however the person wishes to apply them to his or her own life.
According to The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, “there is no single defining position that all anarchists hold, and those considered anarchists at best share a certain family resemblance.”
Anarchism can be a political theory which aims to create anarchy, “the absence of a master, of a sovereign.” (P-J Proudhon, What is Property, p. 264) In other words, anarchism is a theory for a political system that encompasses a society which people can freely co-operate with whom they choose, on an equal field. As such, anarchism opposes all forms of hierarchical control – be that control by the state or a capitalist – as harmful to the individual and their individuality as well as unnecessary. This idea is contrary to many peoples interpretation of anarchy as something equivalent with disorder or the breakdown of society. Such publications as “The anarchists cookbook” have not helped this perception.
“Anarchism” and “anarchy” are widely regards as some of the most misunderstood and poorly represented ideas in political theory. Taken in a general sense, these words to many people equate to “chaos” or “without order” and due to this – as a case of “guilty by association”, anarchists want chaos in a social sense and even a return to a more devolved time.” This, generally is not always the case.