Recently, after listening to various stump speeches on TV, I was recently reminded of why I consider myself a political conservative. It wasn’t even what I heard that caught my attention—it was what I didn’t hear that made me reflect on some of the fundamental reasons for why I call myself a conservative. Here are three reasons (among many, many more).
- The Lack of Identity Politics. Conservatism as a philosophy does not rely on coddling any one particular identity. If a philosophy, it means that conservatism is fundamentally about seeing the world in a particular way that is true regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, or socio-economic class. Now, rightly and inevitably, those aspects of our identity shape how we see the world, but conservatism trumpets the belief that a commitment to shared principle is what unites more than any particular identity; and, relatedly, that our particular situation in life shouldn’t blind us from others’ situations. We shouldn’t set ourselves up for certain entitlements because of our particular identity. Conservatism believes that preferences based on religion, race, ethnicity, or social-economic end up perversely incentivizing or favoring one group over another. I admit, unfortunately, that conservatism doesn’t always abide by its own principles. Conservatism can and does have certain constituencies that can easily collapse into identity politics—the type of identity politics that puts allegiance to tribe above allegiance to principle. But these realities aren’t embedded in conservatism’s DNA; they are actually parasitic to authentic conservatism.
- The Lack of Grievance Politics. Liberalism is awash in the politics of grievance. It is based on the assumption that someone, somewhere has something that has been wrongly taken from them. Listen to any liberal candidate, and the resounding message is that the status quo is always and forever unfair. Life is rigged in a constant struggle over power. No more prevalent is this sentiment than in its economic dimension—people are wronged. Liberalism is the politics of protest because it believes that any state of affairs is inherently unjust, inequitable, and deliberately depriving. Conservatism, on the other hand, doesn’t traffic in outrage and entitlement. Conservatism is a politics of opportunity and investment. It is inherently cheerful because it understands that in a fallen world, success is the exception, and shared misery is the default of human nature. Something rather than nothing is conservatism’s starting point, because everything for everyone is simply fictitious as a condition of our fallen nature.
- The Lack of Divisive Politics. Building on the last two paradigms, if liberalism breeds identity politics and grievance politics, it culminates in divisive politics. Again, conservatism can fall prey to this if not vigilant. But again, divisiveness is an excess of conservative principle, not an inherent principle therein. The politics of division sows discord between neighbor: Class warfare, economic warfare, an emphasis on social stratification. Conservatism, on the other hand, is the politics of civil society, fostering proximity to fellow citizens. Conservatism doesn’t treat citizens as economic predator-competitors in a Hunger Games-like arena of kill or be killed. Conservatism doesn’t slice slice and dice a crowd into groups owed more protections over others. The best of conservatism unites communities not around identity entitlement, but around shared principles of human dignity, the commonality of civil society and shared experience.
Again, I have many, many other reasons I could articulate for why I am a political conservative, but sometimes it’s nice being reminded of why (politically) you are what you are because you walked away cognizant of how alike you are with everyone else. If you’re interested in a short essay on how and why my conservatism flows downstream from my Christian faith, I recommend this essay I wrote in 2013 titled “What Hath Buckley to Do with Barnabas? A Reflection on Christianity and Conservatism.”