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We Are No Longer Conservatives; We Are Restorationists
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 Politics, Religion & Philosophy
I’ve read thousands of thoughts expressed by typing here, and these didn’t strike me that way at all.
On the contrary, the typing seemed to clearly convey profoundly true thoughts.
Yes, we liberals have long thought them. But till now, none of us seem to have written them down and sent them.
Hold, please, Gary.
I’m looking for my diary.
We are getting the freedoms leftists want but not the freedoms
The difference is their commentary. Isn’t that obvious? Glen goes on his usual rant – he hates the Right, he hates the Left, he hates this country….he seems to hate everyone except, presumably, himself. I don’t have much patience for America haters – it’s just boring after a while, and I don’t like ingratitude.
Libertinism as opposed to ordered liberty. The two aren’t ultimately compatible as the former corrodes the latter.
Reagan, who was not a status quo advocate, would probably agree with the OP. He drew a lot of criticism from George Will for not being truly “conservative.”
Will supported the kind of conservatism that would leave things alone even after the left has screwed them up.
I dare say we should Make America Great Again.
I’ve touched on this before, as have others:
I love the idea of ‘restoration”. We need to restore the Rule of Law under our Constitution. That is paramount.
• Arguments about “Freedoms” to do this or that not enumerated in the Constitution are following a Lefturd circular argument where all meanings have been shucked aside for political expediency.
• I am not too sure what a “Conservative” is these days anyhow. If David French or George Will are “Conservatives”, count me out.
I really love this quote.
Great post, Jon. Much to think about.
“Status Quo is Latin for the mess we’re in.” – Ronald Reagan
Perhaps someone who understands these things can help sort out the difference between liberty and license.
Your graciousness knows no end.
Could have been the other way around, too.
This is an important post. Thank you Jon. It reminds me of my post on Ricochet almost a year to today on a review of Roger Scruton’s book, Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition.
Scruton, great conservative that he was, defines conservative as “a set of customs, values, and institutions built by a community over time that have proven to sustain, preserve and “ensure [the] community’s long-term survival” and that give it a sense of identity and unity. Conservatism in the modern sense is a counter to the Liberal emphasis of reshaping society as radical individualism that rose out of the Enlightenment. “Tradition,” as Scruton observes from Edmund Burke, “is a form of knowledge.”
I cannot emphasize this enough: conservatism is not an ideology or an economic theory or a political philosophy but a way of life. In my review I stated that, “Yes, there is an intellectual process that ultimately undergirds that inclination, but foremost is that our culture is our home, which we have ordered through love, and to tear down that home is to violate that love.”
Ultimately conservatism is a term we use to describe our attempts to preserve our heritage, our culture, and the essences of what has defined us as a collective people. It relies on revering our first principles, which for us Americans are the Judeo-Christian morals, our Greco-Roman-European values, and our American founding documents and principles. As Scruton says, these things are “our home,” and we wish to preserve our home because it is tied to our hearts. We love our first principles and how we have developed out of them.
This is the essence of conservatism.
That’s a good comment. What Liberals want is radical liberty, liberty untied to responsibility and morals. Edmund Burke called for “ordered liberty.” Here’s his great quote:
Ordered liberty is what conservatism is built on.
Great post. The language of Restoration is better for our times, too: the act of conserving sounds passive and backward-looking, but there is dynamism in restoration.
What ever happened to that guy?
We should – we are, I suppose.
But ‘MAGA’ has been tarred and probably won’t serve in the future.
The left is quite good at this.
I like the idea of Restoration, but the word itself doesn’t ‘sing’.
And no, I have nothing better to offer. Wish I did.
It’s going to be so much fun when the monetary / financial system implodes. Really great planning.
Glen makes all of his arguments in strictly negative terms in how the GOP is terrible and we are all doomed with no hope. That’s a recipe for despair and paralysis.
that’s a lot better term then “compassionate conservatives”
The label will emerge if there is a measurable movement of people. It may be that the rivals who will give it the (often derisive) name. If the people are good, the name may not matter.
As a therapist, I don’t pull punches, I tell people how it is, even when they are in denial.
“Christian” and “Methodist” were not only used derisively, but coined for that purpose.
That’s what they taught me, anyway, and I am sticking to it til I learn differ’nt.
“Methodist” is becoming once again a term of derision, by the way, but it’s because of the radical change in what Methodists believe.
St. Pope John Paul II said: “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.” Also: “Man’s free creative forces will only develop to the full if they are based on the truth, which is given to every man as an unshakable foundation. Only then will he be able to realize himself fully and even outgrow himself. There is no freedom without truth.”
I think the words freedom above should be replaced with license, for none of those “freedoms” are based on truth.
More JP2: “For freedom on the one hand is for the sake of truth and on the other hand it cannot be perfected except by means of truth. Hence the words of our Lord, which speak so clearly to everyone: ‘The truth will make you free’ (John 8:32). There is no freedom without truth.”
We have a problem with too little truth in our society.
Further reading from where these quotes were pulled:
John Paul II And The Truth About Freedom
John Paul II Was Right: There Is No Freedom Without Truth
We need to Restore Truth in our society.
Conservative was never the right word. Socialists and fascists took the word liberal when real liberals almost died out. TR and Wilson attacked the concept from both sides of the political aisle and by FDR they’d won. Buckley and Reagan brought us back but we’d lost the word liberal. Now that they admit to being fascists and socialists we could take “liberal” back but not enough folks understand who we were and why. “Constitutionalist” is descriptive as well but “conservative” was never the right word, and if we can win the next two elections, it certainly can’t describe what we’ll have to do.
I assume your joking.
Why would you assume that? It should be at least interesting to observe the Elites as the institution the closest to them crashes and burns like all the institutions they have destroyed that served the proles.