Ricochet is the best place on the internet to discuss the issues of the day, either through commenting on posts or writing your own for our active and dynamic community in a fully moderated environment. In addition, the Ricochet Audio Network offers over 50 original podcasts with new episodes released every day.
Conservatives have long struggled to define the term “conservatism.” This makes sense since it’s always been less a political ideology than a life philosophy. Perhaps even an attitude.
When asked to define conservatism, Abraham Lincoln replied, “Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried?”
William F. Buckley updated his answer for the mid-20th century, framing it in opposition to liberalism. In other words, an anti-ideology. In his book Up from Liberalism (1959), Buckley declares conservativism is “freedom, individuality, the sense of community, the sanctity of the family, the supremacy of the conscience, the spiritual view of life.”
A half-century earlier, G.K. Chesterton didn’t so much define the term as identify the action it requires.
All conservatism is based upon the idea that if you leave things alone you leave them as they are. But you do not. If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change. If you leave a white post alone it will soon be a black post. If you particularly want it to be white you must be always painting it again; that is, you must be always having a revolution. [Orthodoxy, 1908]
It isn’t enough to “stand athwart history, yelling ‘Stop.'” Conservatism requires intentional, aggressive work to evaluate the firehose of proposed changes, then promote the good ones and destroy the bad.
Or, as Reagan put it, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
Reagan was prophetic. These days, conservatives spend a lot of time telling younger generations what it was once like to be free. We speak of lost liberties and wonder how best to restore them.
Here’s the plain fact: there’s no need for conservatism when there’s little left to conserve.
That’s why, over at The Federalist, John Daniel Davidson declared, “We Need To Stop Calling Ourselves Conservatives.”
Conservatives have long defined their politics in terms of what they wish to conserve or preserve — individual rights, family values, religious freedom, and so on. Conservatives, we are told, want to preserve the rich traditions and civilizational achievements of the past, pass them on to the next generation, and defend them from the left. In America, conservatives and classical liberals alike rightly believe an ascendent left wants to dismantle our constitutional system and transform America into a woke dystopia. The task of conservatives, going back many decades now, has been to stop them.
In an earlier era, this made sense. There was much to conserve. But any honest appraisal of our situation today renders such a definition absurd. After all, what have conservatives succeeded in conserving? In just my lifetime, they have lost much: marriage as it has been understood for thousands of years, the First Amendment, any semblance of control over our borders, a fundamental distinction between men and women, and, especially of late, the basic rule of law.
We have conserved a few things — gun rights, red-state economic policies, religious liberty (for now) — but it’s hard to argue with the main thrust of Davidson’s assessment.
The right isn’t conserving much but desperately trying to restore our freedom, our family, and our constitutional order.
Words mean things, and in the modern age, so does branding. I agree that “conservative” has outlasted its accuracy, but we need to call ourselves something. To that end…
We are no longer Conservatives; we are Restorationists.
We seek not to conserve the role of tradition in our society but to restore tradition to its rightful place.
Similarly, there are no national borders left to conserve; they must be restored.
The family is shattered and we must reintroduce this cornerstone of civilization. (That includes gender norms promoted from the dawn of time.)
Free speech must be placed back in the academy, workplace, and civil society.
All of this is work. Hard work. As such, it requires all of us to join the effort; neighbors, business leaders, teachers, and our government.
This is no longer the time for Conservation. On to Restoration.Published in