Why I Am a Conservative

In The American Conservative, Bill Kauffman has a typically engaging piece, along the lines of Hayek’s “Why I Am Not a Conservative.” Unfortunately, you have to be a subscriber to read it, but here is the heart of his argument:

[F]or half a century, “conservative” has been a synonym of — a slave to — militarism, profligacy, the invasion of other nations, contempt for personal liberties, and an ignorance of and hostility toward provincial America that is Philip Rothian in its scope. The conservative movement, like the empire whose adjunct and cheerleader it is, is a daisy chain of epicene dissemblers and vampiric chickenhawks who feast on the carrion of our Republic. The c-word is quite simply beyond reclamation.

While I agree with Kauffman’s analysis of the modern militarist Right, I think, nevertheless, that he is making a mistake in throwing away the term “conservative.” Quite simply, the people he describes — the Bushies, the Buckleyites, the neocons — are not, nor ever have been, conservatives.

Real conservatives, the ones Russell Kirk described in The Conservative Mind and Bill Kauffman has described elsewhere, are worlds away from contemporary Republicans. They intend, like their name says, to conserve, and stand for tradition, culture, and community, which are naturally opposed to war and the state. Thus, conservatives are the natural allies of libertarians: To be free, we must learn to be like the true conservatives, to understand the virtues of limitation and tradition.

That is why, despite everything so-called “conservatives” have done, I still consider myself a conservative. I would be interested, however, to hear what other YALers think of the term.

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