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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Dissecting the Roots of Conservatism

Last weekend, I had a long political debate with my cousin's husband, a liberal. He wondered how Palin, a fiscal conservative, could also be a social conservative. This spawned a long explanation on the tenets of conservatism. The whole conversation got me thinking about the manner in which a conservative comes to believe what they believe.

I for one have a problem with someone that believes in some of the tenets of conservatism but not others. That's because the conservative ideology flows in a natural and consistent manner to form the basis of an entire philosophy. It makes no sense that someone could be a fiscal conservative but not believe in strict constructionist judicial philosophy. That's because one idea bears out the other. As such, I think its time to dissect the roots of conservatism.

To me, conservative thinking starts with the premise that the Constitution is a document is a document that is meant to be read the exact same way today as it was when it was first created. This is the Constitutional theory of strict constructionism.

In its strict sense, strict construction requires a judge to apply the text as it is written and no further, once the meaning of the text has been ascertained (perhaps using tools such as originalism or purposivism). That is, judges should avoid drawing inference from a statute or constitution.[1]

From the belief in strict constructionism, come all of the other tenets of conservatism. The first tenet is the tenet of Federalism. This comes from a strict reading of the tenth amendment.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

A strict reading of the tenth amendment gives only one conclusion. There are certain enumerated powers to the federal government in the Constitution, everything else is left to the states. A Federalist sees the states is incubators for ideas where innovation in government can be tried on a smaller scale and then we can examine these ideas for larger innovations. As such, the idea of national universal health care and nationally legalized abortions are perversions in conservative thought because neither of those ideas are anywhere in the Constitution. Such matters, in the view of Conservative thought, should be left to the states.

The second philosophy that is spawned from strict constructionism is the philosophy of fiscal conservatism. Once again, a strict constructionist would view the powers of the federal government as limited to only those in the Constitution. As such, the bloated government created by entitlement programs and powers that fall outside of what is enumerated in the Constitution would simply be viewed as unconstitutional itself. Barack Obama spoke highly of federal after school programs. A strict constructionist would see such programs as falling outside of the scope of the federal government. Fiscal responsibility is an easy and natural idea if you believe the federal government should focus only on those responsibilities enumerated in the Constitution.

The idea of border security is also one that leads naturally from the idea of strict constructionism. That's because the protection of the citizenry is the main responsibility of the federal government. Allowing a border to be porous and penetrated by a multitude of illegal immigrants is an invasion. The failure to protect the border is a failure to protect the citizenry.

Then, there is the idea of an active and aggressive foreign policy, or what opponents call neoconservatism.

Neoconservatism is a political philosophy that emerged in the United States from the rejection of the social liberalism, moral relativism, and New Left counterculture of the 1960s.[citation needed] In the United States, neoconservatives align themselves with mainstream conservative values, such as the free market, limited welfare, and
traditional cultural values.[citation needed] Their key distinction is in international affairs, where they prefer an interventionist approach that seeks to defend national interests.

This philosophy, too, spawns from the belief in strict constructionism. A well maintained military is another basic function of the federal government. By maintaining an aggressive military posture, the conservative also believes the government is performing one of its few enumerated functions. By limiting the government to only performing those functions which are enumerated, the government also concentrates on said functions, like a muscular military.

Finally, there is the conservative belief in free markets. This idea too is rooted first and foremost in strict constructionism. A conservative believes that a right is something god given that cannot be taken away from the government. As such, the right to free speech is something that a higher power gave to all humans and as such the federal government cannot inhibit that right. A right is NOT something the government or any other person can grant you in the view of a Conservative. As such, the "right" to health care is an aversion to conservative thought since health care is something another human provides.

Once rights are only recognized as those things that a higher power grants, a conservative then views everything else as the responsibility of the individual. They don't view the government as a helper in some one's success, but rather as a force to stand out of the way of some one's success. The idea that it is the government's role to guide the free market is once again an aversion to conservative thought because manipulating the free market is not in the Constitution. As such ideas like subsidies, minimum wage, and price floors and ceilings are all aversions to conservative thought.

Finally, there is the philosophy of social conservatism. Nothing is more tied to strict constructionism than social conservatism. That's because a strict constructionist viewing of the Constitution by extension protects traditional values. Ideas like euthanasia, gay marriage, and federally legalized abortions would never be implemented by anyone with strict constructionist viewing of the Constitution. In many ways, one's personal belief in these ideas is far less important than one's personal belief in the role of federal government in perpetuating these ideas. A conservative could personally believe that ultimately a woman should have the right to choose (though not a social conservative) however there is no way a conservative would believe the federal government should mandate it.

The only place where conservative thought may clash is between the idea of Federalism and social conservatism. A Federalist would believe the idea of "gay marriage" should be left to the states to decide. A strict social conservative believes that there is no way our society should allow for up to fifty interpretations of marriage. Even here though, a social conservative takes a strict constructionist view of the idea. Here, a social conservative believes an amendment needs to be added to the Constitution to define marriage as one man and one woman. Such a belief is well in keeping with the strict constructionist view.


Dave said...

Like it, man. I'm looking for ways to articulate conservatism.

Anonymous said...

This is, perhaps, the least sophisticated and most error-ridden explanation of conservatism that I've ever had the displeasure of reading. One minor example - where in the constitution (and be specific please) do you find any mention of marriage, or abortion, or "pro-active" military intervention? I suspect you got your education in the same places, and with the same effect, as Beck and Hannity.

mike volpe said...

Is that last comment for real? There's nothing in the constitution about abortion so a strict constructionist would say it's left to the states. There's nothing about marriage which is why a strict constructionist would either leave it to the states or to create an amendment, which is in the constitution.

There's plenty about the President being the commander in chief, and protecting the nation. What in the world are you talking about?