Steven J. Allen's
"Definition of a Conservative"
I am often asked what I mean by the term "conservative." Different people, in this time and in earlier times, have assigned wildly different meanings to the term. Indeed, the term has been used in the past to describe advocates of policies and attitudes, such as racism, that we now associate with Progressivism. The term appears a lot on this site and in "The Gentleman from Lickskillet," so it's important for me to give a clear definition to the term "conservative" as I use it. -- Steve
* A conservative believes in the motto quoted by Henry
David Thoreau, “That government is best which governs least.” A
conservative's vision of good government was put forth by Thomas
Jefferson: “a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men
from injuring one another [and] shall leave them otherwise free to
regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement.”
* A conservative believes that individuals and families are the basic units of society, and that anti-family policies (such as the current ultra-high tax rates on working families) should be ended.
* A conservative believes that, however unattainable the goal of moral perfection, people should strive to act with morality and to love their families more than themselves.
* A conservative supports charities that are legitimate -- that
is, that reject coercive government policies, that reject government
aid (including the fruits of coercive lawsuits), and that reject
government subsidies (including the provision of phony "volunteers"
who receive government benefits for "volunteering"). A
conservative believes in the separation of charity and state.
* A conservative shows compassion for the poor and opposes policies, such as those based on socialism and on opposition to new technology, that cause or extend poverty.
* A conservative believes in strict limits on government spending, with the intermediate-range goals of bringing spending down and into balance with revenues; of reducing spending as a share of national income and on a per-capita basis; and of bringing the budget into balance, including liabilities that are currently unfunded.
* A conservative believes in the free trade of goods and services, and rejects the idea of mercantilism (bailouts, “stimulus,” “crony capitalism,” and “welfare for corporations”). A conservative rejects fascism, which is the “public-private partnership” between government and Big Business.
* A conservative believes that great weight should be put on the
wisdom expressed in the founding documents of Western civilization
and American society, including the Bible, the Declaration of
Independence, and the U.S. Constitution with its Bill of Rights.
* A conservative believes in the Rule of Law – that a law means what it says, as the language of the law was understood when the law was written. A conservative rejects the idea of a Living Constitution, under which lawyers and judges can change laws by undemocratic means. A conservative agrees with Jefferson that if judges are allowed such power, the U.S. Constitution “is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the Judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please.”
* A conservative believes that public policy should encourage advancement based on ability and achievement, not on membership in an actual or concocted group. A conservative abhors the concept of Identity Group politics.
* A conservative opposes Progressivism – the creation of a caste system in which privileged, credentialed elites, with the support of those who vote for a living rather than work for a living, impose their interests and values on people in the working class and small business class.
* A conservative understands that “the public interest,” as determined by governing elites, is not really the public interest – because governing elites define their own interests as “the public interest.”
* A conservative has respect for those who have made sacrifices
in the cause of freedom, and for those who put their lives in peril
to protect others, including the military and those who serve in
intelligence agencies. A conservative has respect for people who
work hard and play by the rules.
* A conservative believes that military force should be used with care, in limited circumstances in which the cause of freedom and the just interests of the United States are at stake. A conservative believes that government officials should not put American servicemen and servicewomen in harm's way without giving them a clearly-defined mission and the resources they need for victory.
* A conservative believes that national security policy should be oriented toward defense in the literal sense, not toward the false, brittle “peace” maintained by threats of Mutual Assured Destruction.
* A conservative believes that the United States should avoid entangling alliances and the trappings of empire.
* A conservative has compassion for the oppressed and seeks peacefully to free them from oppression.
* A conservative respects international law giving
legal enemy combatants (such as uniformed soldiers) protections that
are not afforded to illegal
enemy combatants (such as terrorists).
* A conservative believes that people have the right to protect their families and businesses from criminals.
* A conservative sees the United States of America as a special place because of its history as a beacon for freedom-loving people from around the world. A conservative believes the United States is blessed by the presence of people from countless nations and cultures when those people are hard-working, law-abiding, and eager to interact with other Americans through a shared language.
* A conservative believes that people should be treated fairly – that, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., they should “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” – and that racism, anti-Semitism, ridicule of groups such as Southerners and rural people, hatred of Christians (or particular groups of Christians), cruelty toward the disabled, and other forms of bigotry are unacceptable. A conservative rejects the false classification of human beings into discrete groups called “races,” whether such racism is motivated by fantasies of racial supremacy or of permanent racial grievance. A conservative considers policies based on “race” to be pseudoscientific, unethical, and immoral.
* A conservative rejects the worship of government power that is reflected in such totalitarian ideologies as communism, fascism, national socialism (Nazism), and theocracy. A conservative believes that communists, fascists, national socialists, theocrats, racists, and other advocates of oppression and hate should be ostracized.
* A conservative abhors violence and rejects the initiation of
force in settling political disputes.
* A conservative is part of the majority that voted against Clintonism (corruption in the name of liberalism) in 1992 and 1996. A conservative is one of those who, in the congressional elections of 1994-2004, voted Republican in the belief that they were voting against Big Government corruption.
* A conservative identifies with the political movement led in
the 1960s by supporters of Barry Goldwater, in the late '70s and in
the '80s by Ronald Reagan and his supporters, in the early '90s by
the framers of and advocates for the Contract with America, and in
2009 by peaceful, respectful Town Hall and Tea Party protesters.
* A conservative believes in free argument and debate, not unthinking uniformity of opinion. A conservative opposes the Progressive vision of “political correctness” – the idea that truth, law, and art must be twisted to serve a political agenda.
* A conservative seeks to reduce the size, cost, and intrusiveness of government, and says to bureaucrats and politicians: “Leave us alone!” and “Mind your own business!”
* A conservative opposes coercive efforts to overturn traditional values and traditional culture. A conservative opposes efforts to eliminate religious expressions from public life. A conservative opposes the use of religion as justification for the empowerment of bureaucrats and politicians.
* A conservative acknowledges the failure of liberalism, socialism, and Progressivism to solve society’s problems. A conservative supports the use of scientific analysis to measure the success or failure of government programs.
* A conservative supports a wall of separation between the pursuit of scientific truth and the formulation of public policy, i.e., the elimination of the conflict of interest that occurs when bureaucrats and politicians seek to impose their values on science and when scientists seek to impose their values on politics and policy. A conservative opposes the politicization of science and the substitution of pseudoscience for real science.
* A conservative believes that the United States is the leader of the Free World.
* A conservative supports the spread, by peaceful means, of constitutional democracy.
* A conservatives believes that grassroots citizens should have
much greater influence over the government and the culture, and that
the power of privileged elites should be reduced.
A conservative is highly skeptical of policies favored by
pseudo-intellectuals and by elites in Washington and Hollywood.
A conservative agrees with the late William F. Buckley Jr.’s
comment that he would rather be governed by the first 300 people in
the Boston telephone book than by the faculty at Harvard.
* A conservative believes that economic growth and economic opportunity (the chance to improve one’s station in life) are keys to solving many of society's problems. A conservatives believes that, in general, the advancement of technology liberates mankind from drudgery and tyranny.
* A conservative believes that the United States is a special nation with a special role to play in human history. A conservative opposes the integration of the United States with countries where freedom is on the decline and with multinational organizations dominated by dictators and thieves. A conservative is not a Eurocentrist.
* A conservative believes that the United States, unlike other nations in history, is not (necessarily) destined to fall. A conservative believes that the ultimate fate of the country is in the hands of the American people.
This document is a work in progress. Comments and suggestions are welcome. E-mail them to the author, Dr. Steven J. Allen.
Links to Dr. Allen's writing samples are here.
Dr. Allen's resume is here.