"How do Conservative principles impact the happiness and prosperity of all Americans?"
by Morgan Van Alstine
To answer this question, one must first realize what it means to be Conservative. From what I have read, and learned, and from what I have deduced from my own reflection, my definition of a Conservative is someone who acknowledges the past and continues to uphold and cherish policies already in existence in order to make progress in a methodical manner. In his book The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot, Russell Kirk provided an analysis of Conservatism, and how, today, the aspects of idealism and fanaticism break the very foundations upon which this country was founded. “For the Conservative,” he wrote, “custom, convention, constitution, and prescription are the sources of a tolerable civil social order.” Obviously a far better definition than my own. The aspect of prudence also empowers Conservatism. Conservatism itself is a manner of thought, perception, comprehension, and an approach to life. For western civilization, it follows the idea of a Christian moral compass and sets a defined line between good and bad. Conservatism encourages independent thought and discussion, the freedom of speech if you will, and thereby gives the greatest liberty to the peoples of America, “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (The Declaration of Independence)
A Conservative makes change only when it is prudent to do so. This keeps the people safe, and continues to move America forward as a whole without tearing rifts between people of different ethnic, religious, or political beliefs. However, revolutionary ideologues reject gradual change entirely, seeking immediate action without any regard for the consequences. Radical change tears countries apart; it fuels hatred among its people. The French and the Russian Revolutions were both extreme examples of radical change, and both were followed closely by tyrants who, in turn, made the situation much worse than it already had been. Then there was the American Revolution, which was quite revolutionary in itself by invoking conservative principles to secede from the British Empire. For goodness sake, we sent them a letter! And America has prospered for it. Conservatism promotes the public’s safety, cooperation, and keeps tyrants at bay.
Some people state that only non-conservative views promote the preservation of the environment, which is simply not true. Conservatism strives to utilize the environment without harming it, in order to improve our lives; Conservatism recognizes that we are only stewards of the land we possess, not masters. Theodore Roosevelt created the national park service in order to “conserve” a land that was in threat of annihilation from people who could not appreciate its beauty, nor foresee its usefulness to future generations. Many people also tend to define conservatism as rigid, archaic, and living in the past, never wanting to move forward. But, we aren’t moving at all if we aren’t moving forward; and conservatism simply seeks to preserve what we hold as valuable, and change only when prudence suggests we do, as Russell Kirk said in The Politics of Prudence. History has taught that radical change too often, flips society on its head! It can result in civil war, and make attempts to reconstruct societies nearly impossible.
Furthermore, Conservatism provides this nation with a stable economy by recognizing established economic rules which allow the American people to plan their economic activities. In an economy subject to unpredictable change in rules, regulations, and laws, people might not pursue innovative and novel activities which might otherwise prove to be beneficial to all of society. This fear to move forward is a bad economic practice; our economy would dwindle.
There are those who disparage Conservatism simply because it stands as an impediment to their “change at all costs” approach to life. It can be said that the principles of Conservatism reflect moral decisions that a society must make when developing the policies by which it will govern itself. It is an acknowledgement of the value of the lessons learned from those who came before them; as well as recognition of its duty to safely convey these sentiments to the generation that follows them. It is an awesome responsibility which too many today are willfully failing to perform. It reflects the arrogance of a selfish generation. And a long list of social, political, and economic trends which aptly prove the consequences of not following these principles, but that would require a longer paper.
Russell Kirk was an apostle for the practice of prudence in developing social, political and economic policy. He saw in it a power central to the idea of conservatism. Prudence requires a consideration of potential long-term consequences of a policy. In a complex society, imprudent action invariably leads to unhappiness for many.
Conservative principals promote the “American Dream.” They preserve a person’s unalienable rights, without compromising others. America allows people to be free to do whatever they so wish on the condition that they do not infringe upon the liberties of others, and they preserve the greatness of America not only for the citizens of today, but for those who are yet to be born. Conservatism “conserves” the rule of constitutional law, and America will continue to grow and prosper if we remember the words of Rev. William J. H. Boetcker, “You cannot bring prosperity by discouraging thrift. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer. You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich. You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income. You cannot further brotherhood of men by inciting class hatred. You cannot establish security on borrowed money. You cannot build character and courage by taking away man's initiative and independence. You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.” The absence of these long forgotten principles will undermine America’s ability to provide for a greater happiness for her people, which is why we must remember what it truly means to be Conservative, and hopefully rekindle the Conservative way of thought.