Tuesday, February 26, 2008

American Thinker: The Misnomer of Conservatism

Rush talked about this article yesterday and it truly made me think.

Consider the silliness of words like "conservative" and "liberal," if we actually give those words their commonsense meaning.   Which American would most conservatives view as one of their own?  Thomas Jefferson would be high on the list.  He supported  states' rights; he dreaded an imperial judiciary; we believed that the government which governed least was the best government; he believed strongly in the American Dream (he is recognized as the father of American Exceptionalism); he also deeply revered Western Civilization and its contributors.  Thomas Jefferson would be considered an arch-conservative on most issues today.

But what was Jefferson, if we use the ordinary meaning of the words we have been given to describe politics?  He was a liberal, because he believed in freedom (the ordinary meaning of the word relates to Latin libera.  He was a conservative, because he sought to conserve those traditional rights which Americans had possessed as subjects of the Crown under English Common Law.  He was a radical, who wrote the transformative Declaration of Independence and who made the radical gamble on America implicit in the Louisiana Purchase.  He was a reactionary, because he sought to "turn back the clock," when the British tried to redefine the status of colonials by depriving them of rights which Englishmen had under Common Law.  He was a revolutionary, because he reached the conclusion that only a revolutionary war could do justice to the American cause.  He was a moderate, because he sought a tranquil, limited, apolitical government.

What Jefferson "was" ideologically was defined by the particular events happening at the time and upon the context it which those events happened.  Yet Jefferson was not inconsistent it his political views:  he was very consistent.  He did not change, but rather the meaningless terms to define his actions and words had to change to meet the consistency of Jefferson.  It is not unimportant that Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers never used terms like "liberal" or "conservative" or "progressive."  And, despite the fact that his Presidency came after the French Revolution, Jefferson never used the term "Left" or "Right."  Jefferson, one of the most brilliant and learned political thinkers in history, never used the silly language that we do today to describe political thought.

Did that mean that Jefferson did not write about politics and government?  Quite the contrary:  He wrote extensively, brilliantly, lucidly, and deeply.  What he wrote about was not ideology, but rather specific principles that he believed were essential for good government.  Jefferson believed in very limited government.  He believed in strong individual rights.  He believed in strong states and weak federal government.  He believed that America was unique and vital to the world.  If someone wanted to use a name to describe what Jefferson believed, that was his right, but Jefferson defined himself who he was.

Read the whole thing: American Thinker: The Misnomer of Conservatism