What is Conservatism?

To me, conservatism is about believing in the principles on which this country was founded. Those principles are grounded, not in the unlimited powers of government to regulate every aspect of our lives, but in our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Everyone understands what’s meant by life and liberty, but the pursuit of happiness clause is not always clear to people. The government doesn’t guarantee anybody’s happiness. But what it does guarantee is that each of us has the right to pursue whatever happiness may mean to us, as individuals, in whatever way we see fit, as long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of anybody else. That’s a powerful concept.

What makes this country unique among all nations is the fact that our founding fathers believed so strongly in individualism that they placed the rights of the individual above the rights of the collective society, or the “common good.” From its inception, this country was founded on the precepts of individual freedom and individual responsibility. As an American, you have the freedom to live your life however you choose to live it. But the corollary of that freedom is that you also have to take responsibility for your life, and the choices you make, and the consequences of those choices.

It’s not the role of the government to protect you from yourself, or from your own bad choices, poor judgment, or ignorance. That’s up to you. It’s also not up to the government to provide you with basic necessities, like food, shelter, medical care, employment, recreation, or anything else, save the protection of your individual rights. All those are your responsibility to provide for yourself and your dependents. But, by the same token, neither does the government have the right to take away what is yours to provide those things for others.

The concept of private property is fundamental to the realization of individual freedom. What you earn by the fruits of your labor, your mind, your creativity, talents, and the skills you’ve worked to develop, belongs to you and you alone. You may choose to share what’s yours with whomever you want, but that, too, is up to you. It’s not up to the government to take what you earn and redistribute it to those who can’t, or won’t, or don’t earn.

Our founding fathers recognized that, to maximize individual freedom, you have to limit the powers of government. The only truly legitimate role of the government is to protect your rights from being infringed upon by others. Quite simply, the purpose of government is to protect me from you, and you from me, and both of us from a common enemy. Locally, that means law enforcement and criminal justice. Nationally, that means a strong military. I support both.

I’m not against all taxation. I recognize that you don’t get something for nothing. The protection of my rights as a citizen, and our national sovereignty, is worth a lot to me. And I’m willing to pay for that. But I’m not willing to pay for everything else anybody wants that they can’t afford to pay for themselves. If you want something of value, you have to provide value in return. Just because you can’t afford something, doesn’t give you the right to take it out of my pocket. Nobody owes you anything, except what you earn.

The other fundamental building block of a free society is the free market. Some people confuse the phrase “free market” with “big business.” Those two concepts are orthogonal. A free market simply means that every transaction is entered into by the free will of the participants, with no coercion. A free market transaction is always win-win because, if either party doesn’t believe he’s getting more value than what he’s exchanging for it, he can walk away from the transaction. When the government imposes subsidies, tariffs, price controls, quotas, or other regulatory constraints upon the free market, it only serves to circumvent the free will of the people to choose how best to spend the money we earn, under the premise that the government knows what’s best for us better than we do.

The basic building blocks of freedom are free will, free markets, private property, and limited government. And that’s what conservatism in America is about.

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Paraphrasing Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson said:

“A wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.”

NotYourDaddy says:

“Get your hand out of my pocket and leave me alone!”

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Published in: on January 18, 2008 at 1:15 pm  Comments (3)  
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Will or Happenstance?

In the age old question of nature vs. nurture, where does free will come into play? Clearly, we can’t choose our genetic, biologocal, or physiological characterisitics. Nor do we choose our early childhood experiences. But we choose our jobs, spouses, friends, and how we spend our time. Our choices are not unlimited, but conditioned, among other things, by other choices we’ve made.

Some people would blame a person’s moral shortcomings on an unfortunate childhood or a miserable job or an unhappy marriage. However, regardless of what experiences may have influenced one’s present state, every individual is ultimately responsible for their own life. That’s what it means to be a human being.

If only we could fashion ourselves out of pure will, we could be whatever we want. But we don’t create ourselves in a vacuum. Like water running over rock, every day of our lives, every experience we have, contributes to shaping who we are. When we allow ourselves to be molded by experiences that are not of our own choosing, in ways not conditioned by our own will, we end up becoming someone we never intended to be.

We can’t choose every experience that happens to us, but we can choose how we respond to it, and what we learn from it. Sometimes it isn’t possible to walk away, and an experience must be endured. Enduring a devastating experience can make a person either stronger or weaker, depending on how they deal with it. But it’s our everyday lives that shape us the most, and make us who we are.

Humans are very good at adapting to our environment. Too good, in fact. We do it instinctively, unconsciously allowing our environment to redefine us. The danger is, if we aren’t conscious of the environment in which we spend most of our time, and what behaviors it rewards and punishes, we may adapt in ways we never foresaw, and become someone we didn’t anticipate.

How does one become one’s self, rather than some random person defined by happenstance? By exercising our will. — Not by exerting our will over others, but over ourselves.

  1. We can choose the way we think and feel in response to external stimuli. For example, instead of thinking like a victim and feeling resentment, we can analyze how the situation came about and what options we have to alter or avoid it in the future.
  2. We can choose our behavior. Instead of acting/reacting in our habitual ways, we can consciously behave as the person we define ourselves to be.
  3. We can remove ourselves from a situation that cultivates the characteristics we want to overcome, and find or create a new situation where we can cultivate the traits we choose to hone.

Nietzche said “Become yourself.” Each of us can choose to be the author of our own life, or we can let our lives happen to us and live with whomever we happen to become.

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Published in: on December 25, 2007 at 2:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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