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    « Because I'm a Conservative--Part Two | Main | The New Terrorism »

    Because I’m a Conservative

    Author’s Note: I’ve been asked more than once why I identify as a conservative and why I think conservatism is valuable and important. I offer some exposition on the topic below. It is not given as any antithesis to alternatives; it is not a “conservative is better” diatribe. It does, however, illuminate a key point: “conservative” is just another word hijacked by those that are anything but….

    Because I’m a Conservative, I believe in a strong separation of church and state. As Eliade wrote in The Sacred and the Profane, “the sacred always manifests itself as a reality of a wholly different order from ‘natural’ realities.” We do a disservice to the truly sacred when we force it into Caesar’s world. What is sacred to me is between myself and my Maker—and forcing that into the public square diminishes both of Us.

    Because I’m a Conservative, I care about the environment. Whether prompted by the Bible or by our own sense of morality (itself a part of the sacred), we are stewards of this earth, and we owe it to ourselves and our children—and to the plants and animals who cannot protect themselves from us—to provide not just good stewardship, but as perfect a stewardship as we can conceive.

    Because I’m a Conservative, I support gay marriage. I believe that a family with two loving parents is a benefit to children—and to parents. Kids get to see loving interactions (important to their development and world view) and parents can both join with—and rescue, when needed—each other, having a close friend with whom to share the thoughts, feelings, joys, and stresses of life, amplified even more with children.

    Because I’m a Conservative, I care about personal responsibility. Too often, though, the term has been re-interpreted to mean “taking care of #1” when personal responsibility should also include ownership and accountability for what goes on around me. That means I have a responsibility to understand the plights of others, to recognize when and how I might contribute to such ills, and to do what I can to correct them, to create a fair and level playing field where everyone has the same chances given the same efforts.

    Because I’m a Conservative, I care about reasonable gun control. For me, a key component of traditional conservatism is feeling safe and secure, knowing that risk is minimal, and understanding what to expect of my neighbors. Randomly politicized gun-waving does nothing to further this cause, instead making us feel less safe, less secure. There is nothing “conservative” about walking into a store armed with semi-automatic weapons; it is egocentric, narcissistic, and dangerous.

    Because I’m a Conservative I care about knowledge. Through the ages much has been learned, discovered, explored, and revealed. Not all of it has been good for us, but much of it has. And learning begets learning, all of which raises us up. To be conservative is not about the worn-out equation of ignorance and bliss, but about recognizing that our greatest assets include both our souls and our minds, and encouraging the growth of both equally. They are, after all, both a part of us, and handcuffing the one in favor of the other only insults each.

    Conservatism, I strongly believe, is not a bad word or a bad ideal. It is, however, a term misunderstood. Those who label themselves conservative today seem most often not to be conservative at all. They have, in reality, a highly radicalized agenda, one set on taking us backwards. It is that direction which seems to imply conservatism, but it shouldn’t. Radicality lacks a vector, and should be known only through the severity of its proposed changes. To roll us back to a time when religion alone led us, to a time when white skin alone defined the rules, to a time when only the few owned nearly everything, is radical and not, axiomatically, conservative.

    For those of you who embrace the roots of conservatism, I urge you to continue to do so. For those who seek to call out conservatives, I ask that you recognize the difference between those of us who are, and those who have stolen the terminology from us and bastardized it for their own specious use. And for those of you who claim the role of conservative but so clearly are not… well… I ask nothing of you, for you have already shown us who and what you are.

    NOTE: I recently put up Because I'm a Conservative, Part 2, which may also interest you....

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    Reader Comments (69)

    Your definition of Conservative is almost 180 degrees away from the contemporary definition. I wonder why that is?
    Also, would you care to define Liberal, as you see it?
    Thank you.

    March 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Hatch

    Thank you for your thoughtful reflection on true conservatism. I'm wondering, though, why those of you in the "true" conservative movement, the movement I remember in the late 1950s to mid 1960s as part of a healthy dialogue between liberal and conservative views, have allowed allowed the right-wing radicals to claim it? It is the great tragedy, I think, of American politics in the last 50 years that there is no longer a vibrant, relevant conservative voice in our mainstream discourse. What do you think could change this?

    March 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRenie Campbell

    I agree with John Hatch. Your definitions of Conservative are much closer to what the current day definition of Liberal is.

    Today's Conservatives don't want separation of Church and State, unless that church is non-Christian.

    Conservatives don't care about the environment if it gets in the way of corporate profits.

    Conservatives shudder at the prospect of gay marriage. As far as they are concerned, marriage is only one man and one woman, even though the Bible has many instances of polygamy.

    Conservatives believe that the 2nd Amendment means they can have whatever arms they can dream up. They seem to think they need these weapons to eventually overthrow a tyrannical Government, even though there is no way that could ever happen. They preach fear that the Government is going to take away their guns, even though no such proposals have been considered.

    Conservatives seem to prefer ignorance over knowledge, as they tend to edit textbooks to revise history to what they want it to be, not what really happened. Their politicians rely on the ignorant to believe their lies to get them to continue to vote for them.

    Conservative's idea of personal responsibility is "I got mine, to hell with you." They would rather continue corporate subsidies at the expense of helping the poor. Rather than weeding out any fraud out of a Government program, they would rather just kill the whole program, especially if that gives them the money to buy a new bomber that the Pentagon doesn't want.

    Conservatives want to fuel the war machine as that helps the weapons manufacturers. To heck with diplomacy, let's just nuke 'em.

    So, I too am interested in what your definition of liberal is, because by what you have defined, I would suggest that the Democrats are Conservative and the Republicans are fascists.

    March 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Mencik

    I have been conservative half my adult life and now ID as an independent but have thrown my weight behind progressives primarily in response to conservatives attacks on voting rights. (This must be stopped). This articles typifies why I switched from being a con; one, the words are dramatically differ from their actions and two once I stopped drinking the con koolaide I could see why this is. Based on their actions cons seems to be the party of protecting the bastions of white privilege.

    March 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

    I grew up the son of a Naval Officer so naturally I gravitated towards the Republicans growing up. I did reject Religion early on, but I did not go out of my way to let everyone know. How you define Conservatism in this piece was the Republican Party I grew up and supported. I left the Party during the 90s when the Christian Coalition started to take over the Party. It felt like they were trying to legislate Morality which I just could never support. I identify myself now as a Left Leaning Moderate. I am Liberal in Social Change, but I understand that we need to pay for it too. If a Republican candidate came out saying what you are saying here, rather than pandering to the Radicals on the Right, I would listen and perhaps even vote for him or her. Sadly, I do not see that happening soon.

    March 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher King

    Well Michael Charney, welcome to the new Democratic Party ... more conservative that Reagan.

    March 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Smith

    Early this morning, I was lying in bed, mulling over random thoughts, as I so often do. Curiously enough, these were about the hijacking of socio-political terminology that I will (for lack of a better word) call "traditional". How I got to the topic is a mystery. But, being called a "liberal" by some, as if it were the opposite of "conservative" struck me as particularly strange.

    As far as I know, they are not opposites. The best I can do, in that department, is "progressive". Curiously (again), that easily available expression is seldom used by anyone other than those who self-describe themselves as such.

    A product of Cold War era public schooling, my political indoctrination was decidedly ....and there my vocabulary starts to fail me. The urge to say "conservative" is immence, but that wouldn't do my orientation adequate justice in any type of public discussion. Being careful not to jump into uncontrolled social, political or economic experimentation without thoroughly weighing the projected dangers against the potential rewards, is what I learned that the term meant. "Liberals" were those who were willing to consider minorities and immigrants (geographic and cultural), as well as social experimenters, as equals. Middle class Jewish kids who marched for the rights of black Americans, are an example. Men, who supported women's demands for equal rights, are another example.

    Since I grew up in the middle of all of that, the meanings of those designations stuck particularly well. They are, however, nowhere to be found in the rhetoric being circulated today. In fact, one would be hardpressed to find anyone who had considered the problems of a public discourse, where participants are forced to guess at meanings, based on the perceived agenda of the person speaking.
    For that reason, I was particularly enthralled to read this article.

    Thank you for your reminder, that the world has more than windmills.

    March 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLewis Johnson

    I agree to an extent about a big turn off being legislation of morality however this too can not be applied in a blanket fashion. I believe slavery is immoral but it required laws to abolish it when our own morals were not enough to change hearts.

    March 16, 2015 | Unregistered Commentermikoniko

    I'm not the author, but he is using the traditional definition of conservative. In the spectrum, liberals can be defined either as people whose ideology moves them to the left, or alternatively, people who have ideals consistent with classical liberalism (think Jeffersonian democracy). Conservatives like to protect the status quo, or the very recent past. Reactionaries, want to go back to an idealized time in the past. By these definitions, most of today's self described conservatives are actually reactionaries, but might also be concurrently a classical liberal, in the sense that the vast majority of westerners are liberals in that way (pro democracy of some type, share some belief in freedom of speech, and so on).

    So in today's vernacular, the definitions have taken on a life of their own. Not to mention, would be very different from country to country. Angela Merkel, who is a conservative in her Germany, would be centrist to liberal here in the US. Implementing Obamacare would be a system far to the right of what most western democracies have today. etc....

    March 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBodhisagan

    I agree with most of what's been stated here in previous comments. It would seem that Mr, Charney's definition of Conservativism is diametrically opposed to the vast majority of those who currently claim allegiance to Conservative beliefs and ideals. That being said, I just have couple of questions for Mr. Charney.

    1) Can he perhaps call to mind a few widely known, currently Conservative politicians/leaders, either on the national or state level, who still manage to hold office despite the vehement opposition of the so-called Conservative 'base', and who would openly agree with him on his definition of what it means to be a Conservative?

    2) As a 'Conservative', and knowing the current, ruling mind-set of today's GOP, does Mr. Charney support that party, or does he now officially identify as an Independent?

    Just wondering....

    March 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEric Kramer

    You're concerned about the environment, support gay marriage, and reasonable gun control. That isn't even close to modern day conservatism. That makes you a moderate/liberal. (Not that there's anything wrong with that,)

    March 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJack D.

    Because you're a conservative... you're a liberal! (and that's cool).

    March 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLarry Frank

    Let me just say it is refreshing to find decent discourse over this article. This is how people learn and can reflect instead of all the hyperbole one usually encounters in comments.

    March 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterTrica F.

    I second Mr. Kramer's question - who do you VOTE for? If you were to be voting for these values here in Georgia, you would be voting for the "Liberals".

    March 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterErik Johnson

    Wow! What a refreshing discussion. I would love to see more information on the factual definitions of "conservative" and "liberal". As far as I know, I have always been a "liberal" in that I approve of liberty to do as you will unless your liberty interferes with someone else's liberty. Based on what you wrote in this article about being a "conservative," I definitely need to understand more about the words and their meanings! Thank you for this thought-provoking article and discussion!

    March 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMark Lull

    I believe that the author is pointing out that it might be accurate to say that Republicans have taken convervatism, as a brand, into directions that do not match the word's definition.

    March 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJim k

    A hodge-podge of drivel. If Conservatism is, as the author defines it, then it is unique to him. Very unique. If you fancy taking a term and twisting it two or three different ways to create a unique definition, go for it. I'll get the popcorn.

    March 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterClearThinker

    This is likely the best site I have seen since I've started regarding comments on the internet. I think your definition of conservative is more one of a liberal, which, like others, I would like to see you define. But the level of discourse is amazingly civil, no berating, name calling, or foul language. A pleasure to be on this site.

    March 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMarcia

    It's refreshing to read something that clearly defines what true conservatism is. I realize there are many "conservatives" out there who won't recognize it, but that is because they have taken on a label that belonged to another set of beliefs. They have no real experience with what the term really means. Those who have been around and remember what it was about before it was hijacked need to be willing to speak up and educate people.
    I, too, wonder why the true conservatives allowed their political party to be hijacked. I wonder if they vote for Republicans because 'that is what conservatives do' or do they step out and vote independently now...
    Even more, I wonder why those who have hijacked the label "conservative" weren't creative enough and strong enough to come up with their own terminology. Did they not have enough faith in their beliefs to think people would support them if they created their own label?

    March 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

    Own it. You're a liberal.
    You just described all the reasons why many Dems say "I'm a liberal"

    March 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBrad

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