Built on Shifting Sands
By Richard Girard
" All conservatives are such from personal defects. They have been effeminated by position or nature, born halt and blind, through luxury of their parents, and can only, like invalids, act on the defensive."
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803--82), U.S. essayist, poet, philosopher. The Conduct of Life, "Fate" (1860).
Conservatism in general, and modern conservatism in particular, is an edifice built atop shifting sands: without demonstrable moral certainty, or the requisite framework to hold it against a tide of change and the ever increasing requirements of a human race that is growing exponentially in its physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs. To say that something worked in the past always begs the question: From whose perspective? It may have worked quite well for the privileged and powerful, but how well did it work for the destitute and defenseless?
This is not to say that true conservatism is totally without redeeming values. It sometimes acts as an important brake for some of our more impulsive actions: from wanting the government to slow down before we undertake a program that might bankrupt the treasury trying to solve the nation's or the world's problems; to forcing us to take a second look before we change the essential ideas underlying our Constitution, especially our rights as citizens. Republican Presidential Candidate Ron Paul is disastrously wrong for the country on so many things, but his positions on Afghanistan and the repeal of the Patriot Act are absolutely correct, and on these particular subjects, he has taken a principled, traditional, conservative position.
When I say we, it is because I sincerely believe, like our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt, that, "The government is us; we are the government, you and I;" (speech, September 9, 1902, Asheville, N.C.). Or if you prefer the wisdom of our Third President, Thomas Jefferson, " The hand of the people... has proved that government to be the strongest of which every man feels himself a part;" (Letter to Edward Tiffin , 1807; The Complete Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Memorial Edition; volume 11: page 147; 1904).
What is practiced by the modern conservative movement is in fact not truly deserving of the name "conservative." Modern conservatism is not about slowing the tide of change, but rather reversing history to--for the modern conservative--a more comfortable past, where their power was uncontested in any serious fashion.
The modern conservative seeks a return to the laws and customs of a time when the rights and needs of the lower classes were a matter of convenience , of noblesse oblige, and not the demand of inconvenient law. Edmund Burke wrote of such a time in his 1756 monograph, A Vindication of Natural Society, "The whole business of the poor is to administer to the idleness of the rich." People with such a belief system today should more properly be called reactionary, not conservative.