According to political theorist Russell Kirk (1918-1994), there are two types of conservatism: economic and social.
Economic conservatism was on display during this past election season. Republicans thought a strategy doing away with the government’s debt and deficit was enough to win over Americans and put their man in the White House.
According to conservative columnist David Brooks, the Republicans have pushed this agenda too hard. To get back on track, he says, they need to return to social conservatism.
Social conservatism is a belief that human nature is fixed, and that any artificial attempt to change it should be done cautiously and infrequently. As little government intrusion as possible into the patterns of human life is the preferred course.
For instance, class distinction, says Kirk, is a part of the natural order, and liberal social welfare programs to alleviate these differences will result in more problems not less. According to Kirk, the reality of class distinction is what holds society together. Examples of this would be socio-economic classes that give order to traditional markets of commerce. Without the rich, there would be no high end stable market for goods and services. The poor would cease to have jobs supplied by the rich, etc.
This is a hard headed view of life. It’s straight forward and honest. For many years I embraced this philosophy. It made sense to me, and that is one of the reasons I voted for Ronald Reagan for President.
A Shift In Philosophy
However, I have found my thinking shifting over the past five years. If there was one thing that caused me to change, it was the slow transfer of wealth, away from the middle class, into the pockets of the rich class without any commensurate growth in new wealth for the middle class. During the robber baron days of the late 19th century (1890’s), the richest 1% controlled 5% of the wealth in America. Today, the richest 1% controls 7% of the wealth!!
On the one hand, I have no reason to complain. Personally, I am part of that 1%. On the other hand, I remember my middle class roots. I was the beneficiary of free public education that made it possible for me to continue learning at some of the leading universities in the country. My achievements financially come as a direct result of that education, combined with my personal drive to succeed.
I believe a singular achievement of the American experiment is the novel idea of directly investing in the middle class. Direct investment makes more sense to me than letting nature take its course. New wealth is created more quickly by facilitating thousands of middle class potential entrepreneurs, than it is by letting the small upper 1% continue a slow creep upward in controlling more and more wealth.
Refresh Conservative Philosophy
Nevertheless, I believe conservatives need to renew and refresh their philosophy. This past election showed me that conservative philosophy has run dry. It has been captive to too many extremists like tax and deficit crusader Grover Norquist.
I recommend that anyone who is ready to rethink their conservative views read Russell Kirk’s article on the “Ten Commandments” of conservative philosophy. Liberal philosophy is in for now. But the time will come when that runs its course too, and new conservative thought will be needed.
Cycles In History
For anyone who is interested, I believe in cycles of history. In America, we cycle in and out of liberal and conservative approaches to governing. Right now, America is cycling into a liberal approach. I feel comfortable with this. We need to renew our public services. That includes four critical projects:
One, infrastructure. This includes roads, bridges, energy efficient schools, broadband buildout for every building, and affordable energy efficient housing.
Two, healthcare. All citizens should have a minimum package of medical benefits. Healthy children attend school more frequently. Healthy employees are significantly more reliable.
Three, free quality education. K through four years of college education. Emphasis is on FREE and QUALITY.
Four, pensions. Every senior should have some pension plan they have paid into in addition to social security.
Eventual Rebirth of Conservative Independence
As these projects strengthen, middle class power will grow, again. The result will be more new businesses from middle class entrepreneurs. Engines of wealth creation will rev up creating millions of new jobs. As this happens, self confidence will return, and in so doing hard headed conservatives will be born, intent on governing their own lives without outside interference. But, one step at a time. Right now we’re battling through the birth pains of creating a modern liberal state, again.