Why We Need Conservatives

The government is rapidly making policy changes that deal with marriage, guns, the military, immigration and nearly every other facet of our public and private lives. These changes are taking place rapidly because Republicans seem to be giving into the demands of Democrats with recent speeches by Eric Cantor and other Republicans whose positions on immigration and same sex marriage have quickly “evolved” over the past few months. These developments illuminate the need for conservatism and its role in balancing the liberal desire for rapid change.

Change in and of itself is not always a bad thing. The problem is not with change necessarily but with the nature and rapidity of the change. If you have ever worked for a company that changed management you might know the feeling. When new management comes in and introduces immediate changes, there is backlash among the employees. The same thing happens with rapid government reform. Our understanding of what to expect and what is expected of us is disrupted with abrupt and radical change. This unsettles the existing order as well as the individuals within it to the point where society’s order is thrown into question. If these sorts of changes are instituted on a regular basis, the existence of the society is put at risk. Our understanding of marriage, education, constitutionally protected rights and healthcare are under assault from a government that thinks it knows what is best.

The liberal establishment’s desire is rooted in a view of the world that defies reality. Liberals are the contemporary adherents to the principle of modernity that places man above nature and nature’s God; they assume that they and they alone can construct a society which leaves nothing to chance and can be planned according to their view of what is good. This is what can be termed the hubris of modernity. Positive law and institutions, according to this view, can overcome traditional constraints and the traditional order by simply instituting reforms. This view thinks of tradition as a hindrance rather than a constructive way of ordering society which limits the need for government intervention.

To counteract this liberal philosophy, one needs to embrace and understand the counterbalancing force of humility. Humility provides a block against the hubris of modernity. Through humility we recognize the limitations of human reason and individuality and come to embrace the wisdom of the traditional order as revealed through faith, family, and community.

My view of humility mirrors Erasumus’ worldview. Erasmus was a Dutch priest and scholar who was influential during the Reformation. Though Erasmus admitted humanity’s tendency to carnal corruption and lampooned its manifold foolishness, he still believed in the essential goodness of a human nature made in the image of God and in the human ability, with the help of grace, to come into harmony with the divine purposes evident in creation. The Hobbesian contractor (which is to say liberal modernity), on the other hand, had to impose order on a chaotic natural world. The desire for control and uniformity will bring us under greater constraint from a central government. Only our humility can prevent a shift in that direction.

In The Conservative Mind Russell Kirk wrote, “We ought to understand conservative ideas so that we may rake from the ashes what scorched fragments of civilization escape the conflagration of unchecked will and appetite.” The U.S. is in dire need of conservatives who can articulate this idea both through rhetoric and policies. If such a voice cannot be found our politics risks losing its counterbalance to progressive reform.

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