Principled Conservatism

“At its principled best, conservatism holds that liberal ends—the right of the individual to enjoy the maximum degree of freedom compatible with the right of his neighbor to do the same—are best secured by conservative means.”
– Bret Stephens, New York Times, 11/2/20

Let’s examine that statement and ideal through this lens MLK’s vision of society:

I’m not a political scientist nor historian, but it seems to me that conservatism is by definition about preserving (conserving) the status quo and resisting change (progress). If the arch of the moral universe bends toward justice, then relative to the evolution of the moral universe, conservatism is simply clinging to a past that was less just. It is resistance to progress leading to equity, individual freedom and opportunity as society makes a more perfect union.

Conservatism appears to be about preserving an antiquated system built on a foundation of racism, genocide, and a even a feudal society structure in which the ruling class held power and wealth accumulated and preserved via the labor and subjugation of the working/peasant class or even slave labor. How can that ideology ever be seen as enhancing the arch of the moral universe bending toward justice instead of bending toward fascism and subjugation of the majority?

The likes of Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham have revealed that principled conservatism is a lie. Honestly, if you examine resistance to any progress/policy that improved the daily lives of the majority, that resistance has always been about preserving the concentration of wealth for a few at the expense of many. There is no such thing as “principled conservatism” or “compassionate conservatism.” The only principle of conservatism appears to be profit and greed.

As we have seen, the maximum freedom of some often comes at the restriction of freedoms of others. One’s liberty (religious or otherwise) should not include condoning the limiting of another’s liberties. That is not freedom. It is tyranny. It is apparently foundational to conservatism as well.

Ultimately, a just society is more than just maximizing one’s own freedom and competent self-governance for the purpose of personal enrichment. It is also about responsibility to and for one another to bend this arch of justice via continued creation of a more perfect union so all may experience a life of liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As Paul Wellstone said, “We all do better when we all do better.”

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