Today’s neo-conservatives stray far from principles - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Today’s neo-conservatives stray far from principles

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Posted: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 3:30 am

What does it mean to be called a conservative?

Certainly not that one is a member of any particular political party, despite some strong correlations. Are Libertarians conservatives? Rand Paul ran for Senate as a Republican; his father Ron ran for president. And today, few conservatives would express any strong ties with either Nelson Rockefeller or Mike Bloomberg. Are Rockefeller and Bloomberg not conservatives?

Social conservatives talk about family values, right to life and protecting traditional marriage. Yet log cabin Republicans, many of whom are gays or lesbians, sponsored that Riverside California court challenge to "don't ask, don't tell."

Fiscal conservatives champion responsible spending, while hawks - those who would make the world "safe for democracy" - ran two wars off budget. Certainly hawks are not among the fiscally conservative.

Years ago after Democrats had reigned supreme for 24 years, voices sprang up to define conservatism. Among the most vocal were William F. Buckley Jr. and Barry Goldwater, Mr. Conservative embodied. A Buckley protege helped write Goldwater's "Conscience of a Conservative." Another protege, an academician not a media personality like Buckley, authored books on the subject and gave numerous lectures. In 1953 this man, Russell Kirk, altered the American political landscape by describing the conservative way of thinking. In "The Conservative Mind," Kirk set forth six cannons of thought - principles for approaching problems:

1. Providence: A transcendent order or body of law rules society as well as conscience.

2. Enjoyment: Life is filled with variety and mystery, not the narrow uniformity of radical systems such as liberalism or socialism.

3. Ordered society: Civilized society requires order and class. Equal treatment does not equate with equality of condition, either economic or social.

4. Property and freedom: These are inseparably connected. Individual ownership of property is the only foundation on which true liberty may be established. The right to enjoy the fruits of one's labor is one of the few genuine rights of man that conservative thinkers recognize.

5. Faith in tradition: Customs and traditions are a check on those who would seek power and control or radical change.

6. Change: Change is not necessarily the same as reform. Society must alter itself slowly, avoiding the embrace of radical innovation.

Kirk disavowed any narrow prescriptions for what a conservative believes. His work described historically how conservatives thought about and approached problem solving.

Today's neo-conservatives may have strayed far from the Buckley/Kirk philosophy, having been taken over by a band of pundits who now face challenges from a considerably less well-organized tea party, which has yet to fully describe all of its principles. Shortly before his death, Kirk spoke out critically of neo-conservatism and throughout his career condemned Libertarianism. None of these movements have much in common with Buckley and Kirk.

So what does it mean to think like a conservative? Based upon these six criteria, not unlike "beauty," conservatism may be in the eye of its beholder. And as a way of thinking about problem solving, it defies precise definition. Rather, it is a way of moving into the future while still respecting and giving reverence to the past.

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Dale Whiting is a Chandler resident

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