Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

“There is no maxim, in my opinion, which is more liable to be misapplied, and which, therefore, more needs elucidation, than the current one, that the interest of the majority is the political standard of right and wrong.”     James Madison

December 20, 2006

What Conservatives Believe (Today, At Least)

by Kevin

In Human Events, Terence P. Jeffrey outlines the latest definition of principles of American Conservatism.

1. God’s Law Governs Nations as Well as Men.

The Ten Commandments should not only be enshrined in our courthouses, they should be engraved in our hearts and minds as guides to all behavior, public and private. As the Founders acknowledged in the Declaration of Independence, laws and policies that violate the natural law are abuses of government power that must be resisted and reversed.

Jeffrey confuses the Deism of our founding fathers with the “Judeo-Christian” beliefs that American conservatives seem to love so much. Natural rights can be derived either from our Creator or from reason. The United States was not established to be a Christian nation and Christ’s teachings were not targeted to nations, they were targeted to individuals. While it is important that the state acknowledges our natural rights, it is a stretch to claim that posting the Ten Commandments on a courthouse lawn is part of them.

2. Life Is the First God-Given Right

It’s always wrong to deliberately take an innocent human life. When this principle is abridged, violence escalates. Thus we have aborted 47 million unborn babies in the past three decades, begun to accept euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide, and stand at the threshold of cloning human beings for the specific purpose of killing them.

While the right to life one of the most important rights we have as human beings, I would argue the right to liberty is the most important. While I do agree it is wrong to deliberately to take an innocent human life, the state is equally wrong to violate the right to liberty to prevent the loss of life through self-inflicted stupid acts (such as drug overdoses, suicide, obesity, etc.). This would lead down the road to a nanny state.

3. Marriage and Family Come Before the State and Deserve Its Protection

The marriage of one man and one woman is the natural foundation of all human society, and the means by which children ought to be brought into the world and taught the basic values of our civilization. Government has a duty to recognize and protect the family and must not grant alternative relationships the same status and privileges.

The actions of the state are more harmful to marriage and the family than any actions of homesexuals could ever be. The state undermines the family through government education via the government schools, an unbearable tax code, no fault divorce laws, and finally through the state sanctioning of marriage itself, among other things. If Jeffrey is concerned about protecting the family, he should be screaming from the rooftops that government should get out of the marriage business and that the church should resume its role as the guardian of marriage. While the state should not be in the marriage business, the state should not descriminate on the basis of gender and sexuality in legal contracts allowing couples inherit property, hospital visits, and other legal procedures.


4. Freedom of Conscience is the Soul of Liberty

Understanding that freedom of conscience is at the heart of liberty, the Framers protected freedom of religion and assembly in the 1st Amendment. Movements to force the Boy Scouts to accept homosexual scout masters, or to compel religious individuals or organizations to distribute birth control or abortion drugs against their beliefs, directly attack these freedoms.

I would add to this allowing our lawmakers to swear their oaths on whichever holy book they believe in.


5. Private Property is the Servant of Freedom

The more that individuals, families and businesses can acquire and control the goods necessary to sustain and advance themselves, the more autonomy they will have from the state and others who may wish to unjustly restrict their freedom. The free and responsible use of private property tends to create greater wealth and greater freedom for greater numbers of people.

6. Government Dependency is the Seed of Tyranny

The more that individuals, families and businesses are dependent on the state for the goods necessary to sustain and advance themselves, the less autonomy they will have from the state and others who may wish to unjustly restrict their freedom. This is why expanding the welfare state is bad, and Social Security personal retirement accounts, Health Savings Accounts and school choice are good.

These could two ideas could not have been stated better.


7. The Constitution Means What It Says

Believing in the God-given rights of man and understanding the imperfect nature of human beings, the Framers crafted a Constitution designed to protect the former from the latter. Many of the problems in U.S. government would be resolved if the President, Congress and Courts limited themselves and each other to the authority the Constitution actually grants them.

I think this is one of the main reasons why conservatives and libertarians have always been more or less aligned politically; we both understand the imperfect nature of human beings and we have a natural distrust of government.


8. Taxes Are Justified Only to Fund Necessary Government Spending

A massive and complex tax code has become a powerful weapon politicians can use to pressure citizens to behave as the politicians, or the interest groups that support the politicians, wish. The correct function of taxation is to equitably collect only that revenue needed to fund the legitimate activities of a constitutionally limited government.

I’m curious to think what Jeffrey thinks about Faith Based programs that the current “conservative” president loves so much.


9. National Defense Is Just That

The first duty of the federal government is to defend the American people against foreign enemies. While advancing freedom in the world is good in itself—and, where it prudently can be done, would advance the interests of the United States–ultimately, the mandate for our national leaders is to use whatever moral means they can to carve out that path in our relations with foreign powers that is most likely to lead to enhanced security, prosperity and freedom for this nation.

The Weekly Standard’s contributors won’t like this one very much.


10. We Should Strive to Give Our Children a Better Country

America is more than just an expanse of territory or a set of laws. It is a culture, whose art, architecture, journalism, music, movies, television, schools and universities, should reflect and reinforce the traditional values that made this country great. We owe this to our children, who will build the America of tomorrow on the foundation of the America we teach them to love today.

Unfortunately, this principle lays out what I believe some of the contradictions of the conservative philosophy. Conservatism attempts to be a philosophy of both politics and life. The conservative value on tradition unfortunately at times contradicts and compromises their belief in limited government. Whereas the classical liberal philosophy is purely a political philosophy and there is no contradiction that would compromise the belief in limited government.


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