What is a conservative? The word is tossed around like most words are, without much critical reflection on what the term actually means. Is it conservative to support the United States no matter what? To support any war started by a Republican? Just what is it to be ‘conservative’?
I like to start with the dictionary, and mine defines conservative as:
“holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.”
That seems to be a good definition – but is that what the GOP and modern conservatives mean when they say they are conservative? Is it really about conserving the past and the permanent things? In a happier age, Edmund Burke wrote:
“…in this enlightened age I am bold enough to confess that we are generally men of untaught feelings: that, instead of casting away all our old prejudices, we cherish them to a very considerable degree; and, to take more shame to ourselves, we cherish them because they are prejudices; and the longer they have lasted, and the more generally they have prevailed, the more we cherish them. We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason; because we suspect that the stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations and of ages. Many of our men of speculation, instead of exploding general prejudices, employ their sagacity to discover the latent wisdom which prevails in them.”
So the first principles of true conservative thought are a love for, and healthy embrace of, the past.