Conservativism in America, and why it’s so critical now
By Bill Connor
“[France is threatened by] certain social science theories imported from America.” — French president Emmanuel Macron
“There’s a battle to wage against an intellectual matrix from American universities.” — French education minister
During the past year, the world has been inundated with visions of shocking far-left rhetoric and activism in America. This is shocking to most in the world. Within the Western world, from after World War II until the past decade, America had been perceived as center-right based on who we are. Western European nations became less Christian, more politically liberal, and less capitalist than America during that time. Uniquely liberal France now sees American radical leftism as a cultural threat, with top French leaders warning about the danger of America’s “social science theories” and “intellectual matrix” from United States universities. We have a serious problem that cannot be ignored. It’s critically important to understand American conservativism and why it must become viable again if the nation is to survive.
First, “conservative” is a political identification for those who believe in “conserving” what has been proven to work throughout time and experience. The term was first used in a political context during the Bourbon Restoration after the French Revolution (circa 1818) with the rolling back of the changes of that revolution. In the American context, “conservative” has been associated with the classical “liberal” values of the American Revolution — the value of individuals rights and checks on the power of the government enshrined — along with the value of free market capitalism and respect for property rights, as well as the importance of legitimate functions of government, like the defense of the nation, versus illegitimate functions, like charity. These conservative values are termed “liberal” as the revolution changed the previous prevailing system of monarchy, aristocracy and feudalism.
Beyond the classical liberal American Revolutionary conservative ideals, American conservativism has held to the time-tested Western Judeo-Christian values. Conservatives believe in the importance of religion and specifically the value of Christianity. As John Adams said: “This Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly unsuited for the governance of any other.” Conserving the value of the religious character of America was seen with Eisenhower adding “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” as the national motto. As the family unit of father, mother and children has been proven throughout history as key to the health of society, conservatives value the importance of the traditional family. The conservation of traditional attributes, like motherhood, or the Biblical mandate for a solid work ethos fall in that same line.
Importantly, American conservativism values certain long-held and self-evident “truths.” In keeping with the Biblical understanding of human nature, conservativism holds that people are uniquely made in the image of God and legally equal to each other. Men and women are individual moral beings responsible for their own (and family) thoughts and actions. They are prone to sin and therefore vulnerable to corruption and in need of certain restraints. Lord Acton put it best at the time of the founding: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Conservatives value the importance of checks and balances — checks among the three national branches of government and respect the power of the states as a check on national overreach. Conservativism values respect for the nation-state, proven since the Treaty of Westphalia in the early 17th century.
In opposition to American conservativism, American liberalism (not classical liberalism) has traditionally valued change more than the status quo. Throughout most of American history, the changes sought were relatively incremental, with the understanding of a time for proving the value of the change. American conservatives and liberals generally agreed the nation should not make massive and revolutionary change like with the Soviet Union. Both viewpoints generally valued free speech for both sides and a respect for the sincerity and justifications of the other side. Both sides valued rule following and civility between individuals. Both sides generally agreed with the importance of religion, even as liberals disagreed with the conservative fidelity to Biblical values.
What has changed with rapid speed during the last year or two has been the views and tactics of liberals in trying to bring massive and revolutionary change. Simultaneously, liberals have ended showing any level of respect for conservativism. The media and academia, among other now-liberal institutions, regularly lampoon or denigrate conservativism as worthless. The agreement of the importance of free speech for both sides is gone from the left. Personal destruction of conservatives, now called fascists by the left, is justified by liberals, as the rhetoric moves to the hyperbolic.
It’s time for conservativism to recognize the new playing field and rules established by liberals and adapt. Conservativism must discard “politeness” and even rule keeping if the other side shows contempt for those values. Conservatives must demand free speech for both sides in the most forceful manner possible. Conservatives must show a backbone in fighting hard to bring back a level playing field. The bottom line is that when even France does not want American liberalism to harm their culture, we have moved way too far to the left. Conservativism must not be pushed off the national playing field, as the nation needs it more than ever. It’s time to fight back!
Bill Connor is a 1990 Citadel graduate, 30-year Army infantry colonel (ret.) and combat veteran. He is a writer and attorney and lives in the Charleston area.