Modern Conservatism: Defining One’s Terms

A dear friend sent me an e-mail the other day in which he lamented the incoherence of “modern conservatives” (his well-chosen term), with their endless compromises on fundamental principles, their willingness to support politicians who contradict everything these people claim to believe in, and their unwillingness to defend free markets and property rights with consistency and clarity.

His thoughts, perfectly in line with my own on the subject, put me in mind of the problem at the heart of “modern conservatism,” namely its inability or pragmatic refusal to define itself in concrete terms. 

Here, then, is my modest contribution to solving this problem: the first few entries in a non-existent lexicon of modern conservatism.

“Conservative”: a completely relative term, suggesting a refusal to rush into something, or to relinquish something too eagerly. But all depends on what the “somethings” are in the given context. Do today’s conservatives even know exactly what they are refusing to rush into, or what they are trying not to relinquish? Or do they define their somethings in purely tribal terms? “I want to keep what my tribe’s platform says, and I don’t want to rush into the other tribe’s platform.”

“Government”: the regime or system of governance in any given political entity, OR the collection of individuals who administer the functions of governance at a given time. Does the typical “conservative” of today (see above) even clearly understand the distinction between those two definitions, let alone know what “regime” means, or what a limited republic is (or was)?

“Rights”: the single most abused and overused word in modern politics, meaning, in today’s practice, exactly what used to be meant by the common and correct English word “want,” as in “I want that,” which is now pronounced in political discourse, without exception and without nuance, as “I have a right to that.” Also used to express wants regarding other people, as in, “I don’t want people to refuse to do business with anyone on the basis of skin color or religion,” which is now pronounced, “People have a right not to be discriminated against on the basis of skin color or religion.” If modern conservatives, along with their leftist kin, simply and correctly said “want” in every political context in which they now say “have a right to,” today’s political discourse would be exposed for what it is, namely violence, thuggery, and childish foot-stomping, the goals of which are nothing but forcing other people to act as you prefer, and stealing those other people’s own money to pay for this force.

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