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Rhoads: What is a Conservative?



By Mark Rhoads - Proud conservative

Many people who visit this site call themselves "conservatives." But do they really understand the true political meaning of that term?

A summary of what great conservative leaders of the past did agree on when they used the term would include first, a love of individual freedom and a rejection of excessive government power.

Second, conservatives admire and support the ideals of American founders. In particular, they love the Constitution of the United States because it was the best instrument to protect our freedom for many decades. The genius of the authors was the separation of powers and checks and balances among three branches of the national government and dividing power again between the national government and the state governments.

Third, conservatives believe in the free-market economy that allocates resources by the free play of supply and demand because it has proven itself to be the most productive supplier of human needs. Free market principles are also the most compatible with personal freedom when they are transparent and  governed by the rule of law.

But when some people use the term "conservative" too carelessly, they might confuse the term with the view that the Left has of what they call "conservatives."  The Left portrays conservatives as selfish and greedy just because we want to save some of the benefits of our own labor to provide for our families.  We think we know best for our own families but the Left clings to different premise.

The Left would much rather have their Leftist elites in charge of the very powerful government and all human activity so they can achieve Utopia on Earth and if you have to give up your freedom for their idea of Utopia, that is just too bad.  The Left pretends that an international perspective rather than enlightened self protection through sensible patriotism is morally superior to what they regard as mindless  "flag waving."  

But it is the Left that is mindless in its slavery to an ideology of collectivism. They want government to be your parent so you will be completely dependent on government for your wants and needs.  They believe in the secular god of government to substitute for the God of Abraham, Isaac, Moses, and Jesus. If you buy into the supremacy of the state over the individual you are most likely not a conservative. 


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  1. I do not agree with your third premise. Conservatives are people who wish to preserve the culture and civilization built by their ancestors. Small government is generally a good way to do this. It does not require a belief in free markets though. Lincoln, McKinley, Harding, Coolidge certainly didn’t believe in them. They were great protectionists. I would call all of them, with the exception of Lincoln, conservatives though.

  2. Well when you have a “big tent” party that is actually comprised of various, and sometimes completely opposite, factions held together for so long by virtue of being the alternative to Democrats, you’re bound to run into some confusion in terminology eventually. And keep in mind things change; people have redefined liberalism, libertarianism, and socialism too.
    Conservatism now is kind of a garbled mess. When one talks of social conservatism they are talking about certain restrictions which isn’t limited government. Conservatism can also refer to conserving things, but the modern right fails that test in many regards. Where the conservatives in Europe want to conserve their welfare programs, even the nationalist groups do, you see conservatives in America who want to roll things back 60, 90, 120, or 240 years.
    Conservatives also tend to be very nationalistic which usually goes against individual liberty, something they’re supposedly for. And how is someone supposed to be a nationalist in certain aspects but a free marketer? How are they supposed to be for conserving American culture and immigration? How are they supposed to be for individual freedom but support the drug war? What is conservative about our foreign policy?
    Democrats have a more cohesive message in my view. If the difference between a Democratic and Republican budget is only a few percentage points and one wants to allocate more towards programs that help people, while one wants to cut social welfare and increase the military I have a pretty good guess about who is going to win. Republicans have lost the popular vote in 5 out of 6 of the last presidential elections. Because, contrary to what liberals say, the Republican Party is too ideologically diverse. There is no glue that holds it together and the jig is up. Taken as a whole, there are too many contradictions in what the American right stands for.
    I’ve heard people say everyone from Hobbes, to Burke, to Locke, to Rand, to Plato were conservative. Good cases were made for all, but clearly these are very different philosophies. I have a book by Gottfried called “The Conservative Movement”. I have another one called “Varieties of Political Conservatism.” Or you can go on Wikipedia and I’m sure there is a conservatism portal. From what I can tell, people have been using the word conservative in a variety of ways for a long time.
    I consider it a meaningless word unless I understand what context it’s being applied in. What are sometimes referred to as ‘paleoconservatives’ are now being called “not real conservatives”, but isn’t it strange that one would call someone with the prefix ‘paleo’, which implies an old or a more original position, “not real conservatives”? Even reading your arbitrary definition, I find contradictions. Preferring sensible patriotism to internationalism, but wanting resources to be allocated by the laws of supply and demand. Some could interpret the first as an excuse for protectionism.
    Reading this article just reminded me how the Republican Party in its modern form is soon to be done for. They’re going to either change from what they’ve been over the last 30 years or they are going to fade into irrelevance. Possibly both.

  3. Personally, I see both forthcoming.
    The professional political class Republicans will continue their migration to the left and will alienate as many as they attract.
    Until finally, hopefully sometime very soon, even the old hardliner/do-or-die/Republican-to-the-death types give up the ghost.
    I’m certain that will take many, many more thrashings at the polls, however.