What does it mean to be conservative?

(Originally published 2/22/2021)

George Will in his book “The Conservative Sensibility” answers the question “What is it conservatives want to conserve?” with the best answer I’ve ever heard: “The Founding”.

For me, being a conservative means a literal reading of the Declaration of Independence and of the U.S. Constitution. That individual rights are the most important to preserve, that they predate government, and that government exists to secure them.

The Left seems to believe in “group” rights or collective rights. I submit that individual and collective rights are mutually exclusive – they can not coexist. Embracing collective rights is the path to tyranny – history so proves.

Being conservative means embracing the fact that we have a government of enumerated powers and that powers not given to the federal government (as described in the Constitution) are reserved for the states and/or the people.

The Constitution does not “grant” anyone rights. People intrinsically have rights. The Constitution places specific limits on what government can do and singles out specific individual rights that government can not abridge. Most of the Bill of Rights are admonitions – “Shall not”, “Shall pass no law”, etc. – what government may not do rather than what individuals can.

I think many on the Left, when they hear conservatives talk about limited government, hear “money” or “taxes”. They aren’t listening. What we mean is limited government authority, that government should stay within the enumerated boundaries, and that government ought not involve itself in things which are none of its business and/or things it is not competent to undertake.

Socialists believe government should run the economy. It shouldn’t – because it can’t – it is not competent. The federal government can’t even keep Social Security solvent – it is axiomatic that government can not run the entire economy – again, history so proves.

I think most conservatives recognize that we as Americans have collective wants and even needs. We recognize that we need to fund the military, we want some social safety nets such as Social Security, we need some regulation to ensure public safety and health, and we need to fund those organizations that enforce the law – to secure the rights of the people. But they are just that – collective wants and needs – not collective rights.

And finally, conservatives are very wary of the tyranny of the majority. The purpose of a republic (as opposed to a democracy) is to ensure that certain things are beyond the reach of the majority – this is the very reason the anti-federalists insisted on the Bill of Rights. You can not deprive anyone (for example) of freedom of speech no matter how many people vote for it.

So ends my first attempt at a blog post – cheers,


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