Conservatism, what is it and what does it mean to you? This simple question should be at the heart of all conservative thinkers, How you answer that question and how you continually re-answer that question sets the tone of your intellectual narrative and rationale, it also influences how you portray conservatism and conservatives.
Conservatism itself is often argued at a shallow intellectual depth because conservatives often never question or define what it means to them. Many conservatives, including those in the public eye never come to adequately explain either the intellectual underpinnings or innate importance of their views and values as conservatives as a result. This is a reflection in part on the modern trend of Americanisation of conservatism and the separation of conservatism into factions and the grouping of often less than desirable elements of extreme or far right elements into the increasingly broad idea of conservatism.
What is conservatism and what does it mean? This simple question should be simple to answer, alas it isn’t. That is in-part difficult to answer because conservatism is not one single thing or idea nor is it a grouping of related ideas and ideals in the way progressivism and socialism are both groupings stemming from the same ideological lineage.
The modern idea of conservatism stems from the French Revolution where-by those deputies who wished to conserve the monarchy in some form, symbolic or semi-symbolic were called conservatives. That is the genesis of modern conservatism, of-course conservatism as an idea dates back well before the violence of Robespierre and the rise of Napoleon. What we define as culture is conservatism at work, the process by which social norms are continued over time and transferred generationally to preserve them is the basis of social conservatism. The societies of Greek Antiquity although extraordinarily liberal in some ways were deeply conservative and managed to preserve much of their culture over a millennia or more because they understood the importance of conserving what they believed to be the good in their ways.
How that differs from today is that conservatives have largely capitulated to the progressive notion that society must change to suit a current or currently held ideal if it can be shown to be popular. By giving ground to the progressive socialist ideal and retreating to a simply economic position or diverging to the extreme fringes of social argument conservatives and conservatism risks irrelevance. By failing to challenge the progressive socialist idealism with sustained intellectually sound argument it has eroded the credibility of the ideal of conservatism as a whole.
If conservatism is to survive it must move beyond the emotive and often poorly conceived religious based arguments that are often put forward by conservatives in the public domain. By attaching one ideal to another the risk is your ideal becomes tainted by the negative perceptions of the other, by attaching conservative ideals to or attempting to draw them from religion has only served to shackle conservatism to the negative perceptions of religious ideals and institutions.
Moving beyond the old arguments conservatives must attempt to recapture the social space it has vacated and it must go back and refight the battles it lost. By ignoring the truth that the journey of progress is only of value if the destination is worth reaching, conservatives have failed to adequately draw the connections from the battles it lost to the current and future consequences for society and the individual.
Conservatism must also begin the process of withdrawing from its fringes and conservatives must themselves begin to understand that in the social media age what they say in that space has consequence. How conservatism is presented to the world is just as important as what it is presenting, it is of no value to whatever cause you may have if your message is lost or dismissed out of hand due to how it is presented. This must also include a process by which conservatives take ownership of their ideals and decide what is and what isn’t of importance to argue, what social space is no longer necessary to occupy, what causes are absolutely lost.
Conservatism and conservatives must also learn how to argue the other-wise inarguable, and not shy away from declaring some things beyond question in the same way those who occupy the opposite end of the spectrum of ideals have done. Conservatives must not shy away from absolutism when and where there is an absolute, by accepting compromise in those areas conservatives risk accepting defeat.
The range and scope of intellectual battlegrounds that exist between either ends of the ideological spectrum is near infinite, but starting from those of most importance and working through them as a collective there is no reason why conservatism can not re-establish itself.
Firstly, conservatives must put forward a substantive case why progressive socialist economic models don’t work, the evidence is there, history is truth and must be argued as truth. Secondly, conservatives must argue why the social values it has long held are not only valid but are a necessary guard against social decay, and do so without falling victim to the cultural relativist counter-argument. Thirdly, conservatives must begin the process of re-defining the values it holds based on their historic principles and explain why they’re of important for the future, and do so without drifting to the fringes of the ideological spectrum. Finally, conservatives need to accept they do not need to form consensus to gain critical mass, only occupy so much of the centre to render the opposite end of the spectrum impotent.
To conclude, conservatives must start to be honest with themselves about what conservatism is, what it means to them and what space in the ideological spectrum they themselves occupy. They must begin to understand the social space they occupy and that how they portray their views as conservatism has an impact on how conservatism is viewed by others, and that the conservative argument can only be won through intellectual depth, not simply trying to out-last the opponent.
I thank you for your time,