This article was originally written for YoungCons. It can be viewed on their site, here
“Where there is no vision, the people perish” - Proverbs 29:18
There is no doubt that ‘Conservatism’ is perishing, in many respects, across the cultural and political landscape in America, but there doesn’t seem to be any honest attempt to discover why it is perishing - and more importantly, what can be done about it. The conservative powers that be continue on in their blind stupor with the same worn talking points, the same failed strategies, and the same aimless passions -- like sailors on a sinking ship who refuse to acknowledge the water licking at their heels, in the desperate hope that not seeing it will make it not real. But now is not the time for fantasies - we need to face reality. The ship is sunk. It is time to rebuild, and the first step to be taken is to honestly evaluate what went wrong to begin with.
Let us start by asking what exactly it is that Conservatives wish to conserve in the first place. What is the aim of Conservatism? What are its goals, its motives, its vision? An honest survey of the modern landscape will tell you that Conservatives have no vision. The only goal (if it can even be called that) of the modern Conservative seems to be: to oppose the Liberals. What is a Conservative? He is one who opposes Liberalism. What, then, would a Conservative be apart from Liberalism? Who knows?
Don’t get me wrong. Opposing Liberalism (as it is today) is vitally important. It must be opposed. And it must be replaced. The trick is that it can only be opposed by that which should replace it. Conservatives agree that Liberalism is evil, but none of them seem to be able to define the good which should replace it -- and only the good can destroy what is evil. To be sure, there are some prominent (though varied) approximations of ‘the good’ among conservatives today, but loosely held approximations will never suffice against an enemy with passionate (though twisted) convictions. These approximations are like ‘blind visions’ leading the way of Conservatives today. The are going somewhere, but no one knows where, or why -- and they are trying to fight an enemy which knows with absolute certainty where it wants to go, and why it should go there. If Conservatives (or anyone, for that matter) ever hopes to be effective in opposing the Liberal vision for America, they must first reject the false (and blind) Conservative visions of America in order to grasp the real thing. Let us evaluate some of these faulty visions of Conservatism in order to expose them for the blind guides that they are. The first is Tradition.
Many Conservatives see their duty as one which involves conserving traditions -- particularly (if they’re of the healthier variety) the traditions associated with the founding of America as a nation. This typically involves reverence for the founding documents (the Constitution and Declaration of Independence), as well as, often, admiration for the founders, themselves. The Founders were indeed some of the wisest and bravest men in political history -- and our founding documents are, without contest, the greatest known to man. But we must ask ourselves what was so great about these men and the documents upon which they founded this great country?
They may have had good and interesting character; they might have had sharp intellects and keen writing ability, but none of these things (or even all of them together) guarantees such a great political foundation as that which we have inherited. The wisdom of the Founders was their ability to see and understand certain fundamental principles; their bravery was their dedication to fight for those principles, regardless of the costs; and the greatness of their documents was the extent to which they expounded on and applied those principles to the nation.
The principles which they held, and which they labored to instill into America’s founding, were the elements which made them great -- which is to say that it wasn’t really about them to begin with; it is about the principles. And therein lies the problem with tradition: a principle cannot be transmitted via tradition. This is because a principle, in order to be grasped with the conviction necessary to unleash it’s greatness, must be adopted by an individual based on his own rational assessment of it -- and nothing is more detrimental to an individual’s ability to think on his own - i.e. to develop his own convictions - than the thought that he must blindly accept the convictions of those who came before him.
“The plea to preserve “tradition” as such, can appeal only to those who have given up or to those who never intended to achieve anything in life. It is a plea that appeals to the worst elements in men and rejects the best: it appeals to fear, sloth, cowardice, conformity, self-doubt—and rejects creativeness, originality, courage, independence, self-reliance. It is an outrageous plea to address to human beings anywhere, but particularly outrageous here, in America, the country based on the principle that man must stand on his own feet, live by his own judgment, and move constantly forward as a productive, creative innovator.
The argument that we must respect “tradition” as such, respect it merely because it is a “tradition,” means that we must accept the values other men have chosen, merely because other men have chosen them—with the necessary implication of: who are we to change them? The affront to a man’s self-esteem, in such an argument, and the profound contempt for man’s nature are obvious.”
“Conservatism: An Obituary,” Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 198
The Founders, themselves, rebelled against centuries of “tradition” in order to act on their own convictions. The thought that their political progeny would fossilize their actions with dead tradition, rather than emulate their courageous intellectual independence, would surely have them spinning in their graves. If we truly admire the founders, and wish to follow in their true greatness, than we ought to reject tradition, as such, and become passionately obsessed with seeing - and being convicted by - true and enduring principles. We should stand courageously on our own independent judgement as we analyze reality with intense scrutiny in order to be convinced ourselves of what is true, and good, and right; in order to fight to restore America as the greatest country on earth.
The country needs a vision - a vision which not only opposes the Liberal utopia, but which decimates it with the power of the superiority of reality. Such a vision cannot be seen second-handed, through the actions of the men of old - however valiant those men and their actions may have been. The only vision which will save America is the vision of eternal principles, grasped by individual men with their own independent convictions.