What Do Conservatives Believe?
By Arnold Kling
Tyler Cowen draws up a list. I liked his last point:
Responsibility is a more important value than either liberty or equality.
The other night, we had a dinner party where my wife and I were the only ones who did not vote for Obama (if you recall, I voted for Barr). There was much discussion of health care policy, and one of my friends said that he got the email from Moveon.org to boycott Whole Foods and was happily complying. But most of the conversation he spent complaining about poor people’s lack of responsibility. For example, he suggested that a kidney transplant would be wasted on a poor person, because that person could not possibly follow through on the rigid instructions for post-transplant care, and thus would die. I did not say so at the time, but I was struck that his was a very conservative outlook.
Anyway, I continue to believe in a simple model of the differences between C, L, and P. The conservative thinks that wisdom resides in long-practiced cultural norms. The libertarian believes that wisdom resides in individual choices. And the progressive believes that wisdom resides with progressive elites.
But Tyler asks for a generous interpretation of conservatism. Here are a few thoughts that are not captured by Tyler’s list. Again, these are what I think of as conservative beliefs, not what I believe.
1. Human culture is going down hill. Where a progressive is ashamed of our past and hopeful for the future, a conservative is proud of our past and worried about the future. Everywhere a conservative looks, he sees decay: sexual morals, education, political leadership, civic responsibility. Unless we can somehow revive our lost virtues, our past greatness will fade into a perilous future. [UPDATE: For the counter-argument that culture is on a downward trend, listen to the latest podcast featuring Tyler Cowen and Russ Roberts.]
2. Christianity is the key to civilization and, dare one say it, the most progressive force in history. Ultimately, it is to Christianity that we owe the idea of the dignity of every human being. From this source comes recognition of the evils of slavery, tyranny, poverty, war, and violence. Humans are evil, but thanks to Christianity they are less evil.
3. Markets are preferable to government to the extent that markets are more consistent with family responsibility. Too much government leads to dependency and loss of virtue. However, cultural solidarity and virtue are more important than small government. Markets are amoral, and market processes can produce change that is too rapid for a culture to absorb. Markets promote individuality, at the expense of group cohesion. It is better to have government redistribution programs and regulations that hold society together than to allow markets to foster a total breakdown in social norms.