Friday, May 22, 2009
What's In a Name?
I used to be a conservative; I still am, though some would say otherwise. When I was in high school, early into the Bush administration, people called me conservative. I was basically “Mr. Conservative.” I was outspoken, debating liberals, and standing up for this country’s first principles of liberty and individual rights. Now people often ask me questions implying a lack of conservatism like, “Aren’t you more of a libertarian than a conservative?” But still I call myself a conservative because that's what I am (as well as a libertarian), but others are less and less calling what I am “conservative.” It isn’t that my positions have changed that much. Though I admit, they have changed some, but this change has been even more toward conservatism--more toward liberty.
Sadly, the “compassionate conservatism” of the George W. Bush Administration has done much harm to the name of conservatism and has confused many. Neoconservatives and fascist-light Republicans have tarnished the good name of conservatism by acting as modern liberals but still calling themselves “conservatives.” In order to remedy this confusion over labels, it is prudent to address the issue of political identifiers.
In the United States today we have two basic camps: modern liberalism and conservatism. Do not let the liberals fool you, modern liberalism has nothing to do with true “liberalism.” It is not liberal at all; its statist. In truth, it is modern American conservatism that is “liberal” in its makeup. The reason I can claim this is that the labels of liberalism and conservatism no longer hold the same meanings they once did. At the time of our nation’s founding, the ideas we formed around were guided by “liberalism,” but it was not the liberalism we know today. Rather, it is what we now refer to as “classic liberalism” (or what some would call paleo-conservatism or libertarianism) that provided the spark for the flame of freedom. This classic liberalism focused on the rights and freedoms of the individual with a emphasis on private property, individual responsibility, and personal liberty. Moreover, going along with this was a belief in free market capitalism and small limited government. If a people were to be free, it was up to them to foster a society through their own individual responsibility and initiative. If a people were to be slaves, it was big centralized government and those who relied on it that would provide the shackles. Clearly, this type of thinking is that of modern conservatives and libertarians, not liberals or even neo-conservatives (whom I consider to be merely modern liberals who don’t care for taxes). Though modern liberals do share a nominal attachment to our Fathers of old, this titular similarity is all that holds.
You see, modern liberalism is a reversion back to the ways true Liberals fought against. Modern liberals do not believe in personal responsibility, they believe in government mandates and control. They claim to desire individual freedom, but place Man under the shackles of the Sword. They claim to want individual rights, but instead, embrace corporatism, which subverts the individual to the masses and has no respect for minority rights. And in the place of limited government these “liberals” demand broad statism. Moreover, we see from this corporatism and statism a desire to do away with capitalism and private property in the guise of bringing equality. This equality, however, is not based one’s opportunities or faculties as supported by classic liberals, conservatives, and libertarians. Rather, it is a call for equality in failure. In a modern liberal’s system there is little room for meritocracy, hard work, and reward. Rather, the achievers must be beaten down to parity with those who lack achievement. No longer is there a protection of private property, but a pillaging of the “haves” to give to the “have nots.” Moreover, instead of protecting the inalienable rights of the individual, phony “rights” are fabricated and demanded in their stead. In the process, we all lose our rights.
What is even more appalling is modern liberalism’s success in demonizing conservatives and libertarians while claiming a connection to the classic liberalism of our Founding. They assert that they are for the individual and that they rely on the government because it is the only means to achieve the “rights” of society. These rights, however, bear no resemblance to the inalienable rights our Founders fought to protect. Our Founders understood there was no right to health insurance, housing, and others such things. They did want people to have many of the things these modern social liberals desired, but they understood that the state was not the actor to employ the ends and it was the free market and a free society that was to supply the means.
It is clear that modern liberals are not classic liberals and that true conservatives and libertarians are. But do we need a name change? Why do people with libertarian beliefs call themselves “conservatives?” Shouldn’t Ron Paul stop calling for a return to true conservatism and instead call for a return to libertarianism? Shouldn’t Barry Goldwater’s watershed book The Conscience of a Conservative be called The Conscience of a Libertarian? Why don’t we, as conservatives, call ourselves “liberals,” for truly we are?
Well, it is obvious that the title “liberal” has been hijacked by illiberal statists and corporatists on the left. Regretfully, the current nominal distinctions have been burned into the psyches of the masses. Therefore, we are bound by the knowledge of others. For example, I am a classic liberal, a Jeffersonian, a libertarian, a paleo-conservative, etc. My political convictions are firmly in the individual liberty camp, but when asked by most, I respond simply that I am a conservative because conservatism is a modern label given to classic liberalism. What I think is important is that we let people know where we stand rather than just bombarding them with labels. This has been the problem of the last eight years. People have been presented liberal policies in the name of conservatism, leading to confusion. Therefore, one can easily say, “Wait conservatism isn’t for liberty, it is for a nanny state and legislating one’s personal behavior!” But they would be mistaken; conservatism is for neither of these things. Sadly, neo-conservatism and a lot of what is going on in my own Republican Party do fit this accusation and have led to a tarnishing of the conservative brand. We must realize that just because someone calls themselves a conservative that does not mean that they are one. Already, we have seen that illiberals have no problem calling themselves liberals. Therefore, we should not be surprised when they just as easily adopt the name “conservative.”
So why is it still okay for conservatives to embrace their title, and why do I call libertarians (though not all of them) conservatives? The find the answer we must look to the Constitution. We must ask ourselves, “What are conservatives seeking to conserve?” Are they seeking to conserve statist policies and the large governments of empires? No; that would be modern liberals. Are they trying to preserve the rule of mobs (no) or of law (yes)? And most of all, are they trying to conserve the Constitution? Yes! In seeing this truth we find why I maintain true conservatives are classic liberals and in most cases libertarians. You see, if one is truly a conservative, he or she is a constitutionalist. The very thing a conservative tries to conserve is the Constitution of the United States, and the thing that Constitution seeks to protect is libertarian values—such as protection of individual liberty, private property, and other inalienable rights. Because of the libertarian values held in our Constitution, every constitutionalist (i.e. true conservative) is a libertarian to a degree. Ronald Reagan put it best:
“If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. I think conservatism is really a misnomer just as liberalism is a misnomer for the liberals–if we were back in the days of the Revolution, so-called conservatives today would be the Liberals and the liberals would be the Tories. The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is.”
So you see the labels have changed, but the facts remain. On one side are those who love freedom: conservatives, libertarians, classic liberals, or whatever label you choose. On the other side are those who would subvert freedom and put in its place the State: modern liberals, statists, and corporatists.
Before I leave you I would like to point out that not all libertarians are conservatives. Only those constitutionalist libertarians fall into this group. There are some libertarians whose general beliefs cause them to act inconsistently with our constitution based on broader ideological concerns, but those who truly want to protect life, liberty, and property for all as laid out in the founding documents of our Republic fall within the conservative camp. Moreover, we must always be wary of those who call themselves conservatives. Not all "conservatives" are classic liberals because not all so-called “conservatives” are actually conservative. Some are mere nostalgic liberals who seek to preserve tradition rather than conserve the Constitution.
Therefore, instead of labels, let us look to actions and support those who support our Constitution and all it protects.