An Unlikely Conservative

I grew up in a working class home.  Well, actually, it would have been working class if someone in the family actually worked.  Dad stayed drunk.  Mom had five kids to raise and no marketable skills.  We lived mainly off the government dole.  It is not something I am proud of.  It just is. 

My folks both idolized FDR.  He could do no wrong.  I had no particular political leaning.  I was just taught that I was a Democrat.  Everyone in our family was a Democrat.  It was like being Catholic.  I was born into it.  In fact, everyone I knew was a Democrat.  I remember my 5th grade teacher telling us we are Democrats.  I didn’t know I had a choice.  I don’t know that I ever met a Republican before college.  They were all rich people, so I was told.  I definitely didn’t know any rich people, though my uncle was a plumber.  I heard he made a lot of money.

I underwent a metamorphasis with the advent of Ronald Reagan.  I first came into the conservative fold as a card-carrying member of the Religious Right, whose primary tenet was the elimination of the evil of abortion.  Reagan was our hero. Still is.  Francis Schaeffer made me aware of the evil nature of abortion.  Somehow it had not occurred to me how wrong it was to kill infants in the womb.  After all, they hadn’t even been born yet.  What right did they have!  Schaeffer, and others made it clear for me.  Reagan came along at the right time.  I became an enthusiastic supporter.  I have not encountered a politician since with the courage of his conviction that Reagan held.  Some have come close.  None could match his ability to communicate his worldview.  Yes, it was more than his “vision.”  He conveyed a consistent Weltenschauung, informed by the Scriptures and the Constitution.  He was the genuine article.

The more I read conservative writers such as George Will, William Rusher, William F. Buckley Jr., George Gilder, Irving Kristol, Thomas Sowell, and others, the more I was convinced of the overall rightness of the right. It all hangs together.  The economic priniples of conservatism go hand in hand with the moral principles.  We hear much talk these days about the factionalism on the right.  Religious conservatives don’t get along with the economic conservatives who can’t get along with the national defense conservatives, and on and on.  I happen to think the divisions have been overblown.  For, as I said, I find they all go together.  Ronald Reagan brought all these groups together.  He embodied a full-orbed conservatism.  That is where I landed.  That is where I reside.

A full-orbed conservative understands that the economic principles championed by the economic conservatives make sense.  So to, the national defense principles.  It makes sense that the first duty of the federal government is to assure the safety and tranquility of its citizens.  The more I read of the various stripes of conservatives the more it all seemed to make good common sense.  I now realize that common sense is the thread that holds these all together and that each holds in common.

On the religious side we have an authority to which we look.  The Bible is my guide and final arbiter for faith and practice.  In matters of state, the U. S. Constitution, based on the precepts of the Scriptures, is the rule. 

The underlying idea of conservatism is that people should be free to do what they want within the context of constitutional law.  As long as their behavior does not adversely affect their neighbor, the rule is: “there is no rule.”  Similarly, Jesus said that the one who loves God and loves his neighbor has kept the whole law. 

Likewise in economics.  With whom do you wish to do business?  Do it!  Make as much money as you can.  Sell your goods and services to the highest payer.  Everyone acting in his own self interest will make life better for everyone.  That may seem counter-intuitive.  But it works.  It has always worked, even before Adam Smith canonized the principle.  Smith talked about the invisible hand that guides the economy.  In a free market economy, people will eventually get what they want.  If there is a market for it, some entrepreneuer will rise to fill that need.  Why?  Because he is a great humanitarian?  No.  He will do it because he plans on making a pile of money.  If his is the only game in town, and you want what he is selling, you will pay for it–to a point.  He will have to keep his price low enough that people will actually buy it so that he might maximize his profits.  Again, not because he cares about making your lot better.  He will keep the price affordable so that he may make more money.

And soon enough, someone else will come along who figures out a way to make that thing better, faster or cheaper.  Now there is competition for your dollar.  You can negotiate your best deal, based solely on your own needs and wants.  Competition will force prices down and quality up.  It always does.

The free market is amazing in that it takes into account the nature of man.  It has that advantage over socialism.  Socialism needs to change the very nature of man for it to function effectively.  It never has.  It never will.  Man will not change his nature.  He is self-centered.  He will act in his own best interest and that of his family.  He will often act in the best interest of his neighbors, primarily because his neighbors interests so often coincide with his.  He is capable of doing great works of charity once his own needs are met.  He will give willingly and generously.  He does not want to be forced by a capricious overlord to give his hard-earned wages to prop up another who has not earned and does not deserve them.  He wants to choose whom to support with his charity.  In sum, the free man is a sinful man, who is interested in taking care of himself, just as the Bible describes.  He is, ironically, also capable of performing great acts of charity as he deems fit, just as the Bible enjoins.

This is conservatism.  A limited role for the government: protect us from foreign invaders and domestic crooks.  Let men be free to think and to speak and to assemble and to engage in commerce with whomever, whenever, wherever they choose as long they violate nobody else’s life or property. 

This is my conservatism.

  1. Jim Langford says:

    Nicely written Kevin. I had different family dynamics than yours, but almost the exact same social-political heritage ( mom was working class Dem) – finally waking up in the late 1980’s.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s