Over at the The American Conservative Alan Jacobs asks a somewhat rhetorical question: is he a conservative? He makes the claim the he doesn’t know and doesn’t really care but goes on to offer some data so to speak.
I am not and never have been a Republican. I feel roughly as alienated from that party as I do from the Democratic Party. I hold a number of political views that strong-minded Republicans typically find appalling: I think racism is one of the greatest problems in American society today; I am not convinced that austerity programs are helpful in addressing our economic condition; I am absolutely convinced that what many Republicans call free-market capitalism is in fact crony capitalism, calculated to favor the extremely wealthy and immensely powerful multinational corporations; I think that for all of the flaws of Obamacare, it was at least an attempt to solve a drastically unjust and often morally corrupt network of medical care in this country; I dislike military adventurism, and believe that our various attempts at nation-building over the past decade were miscalculated from the outset.
But Jacobs goes on to lay out his “three overarching political commitments” that I believe count for far more that the above caveats:
- “The first is that I strive to be a consistently pro-life Christian.”
- “My second steady commitment is to the principle of subsidiarity.”
- “My third leading political conviction is that the wisdom of our ancestors is both deeply valuable and tragically neglected.”
I will let you read the paragraph descriptions of the above commitments for yourself but I think those three are deeply conservative and still very much relevant to today’s politics.
The problem is that conservatism is less and less defined by philosophical commitments and more and more by short term political and specific policy commitments. The typical triptych for modern conservative Republicans is limited government, “family values”, and a strong national defense. This usually means low taxes, less regulation and America as the lone super power and an activist one.
But I have often argued that conservatism is diverse and complex not something that can simply be defined by politics and policy dogmatism. You can be conservative philosophically and temperamentally without being a “conservative Republican.” You can be conservative on some hot button social issues without seeing your self as Republican let alone conservative. The same can be said for theology and other areas.
After all, consider Rusell Kirk’s Ten Conservative Principals:
First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order.
Second, the conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity.
Third, conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription.
Fourth, conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence.
Fifth, conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety.
Sixth, conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability.
Seventh, conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked.
Eighth, conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism.
Ninth, the conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions.
Tenth, the thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society.
Having read some of Jacob’s books and followed his writing, I can’t say that any of these jump out as obviously inapplicable or incompatible to his way of thinking.
A lot of political activists and journalists see conservatism through the lens of current events and direct politics (elections, legislation, party politics, protests, etc.) but this is not the only way to approach public life and conservatism. There are plenty of people who are not that plugged into day-to-day politics and who don’t see themselves as activists nor are they tied to either party. As a result their opinions on policy, electoral politics and partisan tactics don’t line up with a conservatism defined by Republican politics of the last decade or so.
I happen to be involved in partisan politics and believe that it is a necessary work. But I am confortable recognize that people can be conservative philosophically, or even ideologically, without fitting neatly in to current partisan politics. I think Alan Jacobs is one such person.