These are funny days to be a conservative in the western world. The mainstream
of our ideology, as confused as it so often can be, has been taken over
by many of our ideological foes. Just two short years ago a new conservative
age was being touted across the world, as conservatives swept to power
at all levels of government in many countries. The re-election of Bill
Clinton, and the elections of Britains Tony Blair and Frances
Lionel Jospin seem to have put the stake in those grand pronouncements
of conservatism for the ages.
With the exception of Jospin, who has moved ever so slightly away from
some of his socialist tents after he was elected, several of the left
were elected pretending to be conservatives or running on conservative
platforms to one degree or another.
England saw the rebirth of Labour under its leader Tony Blair, who ran
his party to the right of the Tories and was rewarded with a massive majority.
Blessed with the advantage of budget cuts already performed by his predecessors
and thereby avoiding any unpleasantness with his constituency, Blair has
continued on the right even to the point of irking the unions with some
of his intentions.
In Canada the Liberals ran, on all things, their fiscal responsibility.
Although they managed to come back with a greatly reduced majority, they
successfully stole the centre-right ground away from the misnamed Progressive
Conservative Party. Only the populist western-based Reform Party managed
to outgun them successfully for the label of conservative.
And in the United States Bill Clinton, despite his impeccable leftist
credentials, is seen as a "New" Democrat. It was Clinton, after
all, who signed a welfare reform bill. He has, as have Blair and Jean
Chrétien of Canada, stolen the middle ground away from the Republicans.
Compared to previous Democrat presidents he's a Barry Goldwater.
So where does this leave conservatives? It means its time for them
to be conservatives real conservatives.
For too long our movement has been under the control of one kind of collectivist
or another. Whether the so-called moderates who preach government intervention
in our lives for their worthy causes, religious conservatives who want
Christians in China to be free but not people in North America, or populist
conservatives who rant against the free market.
Michael Oakeshott, a philosopher and historian,
described two ideas of government that have been in contention for centuries.
The first, rooted in ancient Greece, is the state as civil association.
On this view, the state's job is to help people live their own lives according
to their own ideas, imposing no goals of its own on its citizens. Contrasting
with that is the idea of the state as enterprise association. On this
view the state has aims of its own (to raise the income of all its subjects,
say, to establish economic equality among them, to conquer neighbouring
lands, to glorify God): government directs the enterprise in order to
achieve these goals. The first view puts individuals at the centre, the
second society. From the first view comes classical liberalism -- and
from that the constitution of the United States (as it was understood
until the 1920s). From the second comes socialism, and many varieties
of modern conservatism. The Economist, September 20, 1997
It is time for the consistent conservative. The conservative whose
philosophy is based on a rational philosophy, not one based on tradition
or faith. The conservative who is more concerned with their principles
then the principal in their war chest. The conservative who is more concerned
with freedom than their free parking spots. More concerned about individualism
than the individuals who donate huge sums of cash.
One cannot make large-scale changes in society with those changes occurring
in all other aspects of society. Those changes often break down the values
people hold in exchange for new ones.
Without sounding like the sometimes blindingly optimistic and pseudo-libertarian
Wired magazine, I posit that society is in the early stages of
a new revolution based on information one that heralds a shift in values.
Hardly a new prediction right? The problem with this stand is that no
one knows where it will end up. In hindsight we know where the industrial
revolution has led us, but the huge jumps forward have yet to even be
conceived, much less planned for.
This revolution, part-Objectivist and part-libertarian in nature, promises
to change the very functioning of society much like the Industrial Revolution.
A new mindset is slowly creeping its way into our collective consciousness,
and it is the belief in liberty
It was a mindset that was once a conservative mindset. For whatever reason,
conservatism has moved away from championing liberty to the unenviable
task of fighting for the same ground as liberals. Were championing
values that are collectivist in nature thanks to conservatives who pin
their politics to tradition and faith. They cede reason without ever knowing
The movement must begin to move back to its roots, back to the championing
of liberty. A movement which once proclaimed freedom from the state and
society as its ultimate goal. Not the values which are popular in the
mainstream, but the ones which led to the creation of the freest nation
on Earth. The old conservatism of the United States is the benchmark for
all conservatives no matter where they may be.
That liberty is best expressed in the ethos of capitalism. It is the freest
form of human interaction ever to be put into play. It only works because
it is a system that at its roots recognizes individual human rights, from
freedom of choice to private property.
And if conservatives do not champion capitalism, "they stand for
and are nothing; they have no goal, no direction, no political principles,
no social ideals, no intellectual values, no leadership to offer anyone."
(Ayn Rand, Conservatism: An Obituary).
Conservatives have to reassess what it is that they stand for or we will
continue to fight the left over what degree of statist intervention we
prefer in our lives, and we will lose many times in that scenario.
If conservatives are to "conserve" anything, it is the movement
itself. It can only do that by once again championing capitalism, freedom