Times have changed and so must conservatives

By Gord Gekko
web posted October 1997

These are funny days to be a conservative in the western world. The mainstream of our ideology, as confused as it so often can be, has been taken over by many of our ideological foes. Just two short years ago a new conservative age was being touted across the world, as conservatives swept to power at all levels of government in many countries. The re-election of Bill Clinton, and the elections of Britian’s Tony Blair and France’s Lionel Jospin seem to have put the stake in those grand pronouncements of conservatism for the ages.

With the exception of Jospin, who has moved ever so slightly away from some of his socialist tents after he was elected, several of the left were elected pretending to be conservatives or running on conservative platforms to one degree or another.

England saw the rebirth of Labour under its leader Tony Blair, who ran his party to the right of the Tories and was rewarded with a massive majority. Blessed with the advantage of budget cuts already performed by his predecessors and thereby avoiding any unpleasantness with his constituency, Blair has continued on the right even to the point of irking the unions with some of his intentions.

In Canada the Liberals ran, on all things, their fiscal responsibility. Although they managed to come back with a greatly reduced majority, they successfully stole the centre-right ground away from the misnamed Progressive Conservative Party. Only the populist western-based Reform Party managed to outgun them successfully for the label of conservative.

And in the United States Bill Clinton, despite his impeccable leftist credentials, is seen as a "New" Democrat. It was Clinton, after all, who signed a welfare reform bill. He has, as have Blair and Jean Chr�tien of Canada, stolen the middle ground away from the Republicans. Compared to previous Democrat presidents he's a Barry Goldwater.

So where does this leave conservatives? It means it’s time for them to be conservatives…real conservatives.

For too long our movement has been under the control of one kind of collectivist or another. Whether the so-called moderates who preach government intervention in our lives for their worthy causes, religious conservatives who want Christians in China to be free but not people in North America, or populist conservatives who rant against the free market.

Michael Oakeshott, a philosopher and historian, described two ideas of government that have been in contention for centuries. The first, rooted in ancient Greece, is the state as civil association. On this view, the state's job is to help people live their own lives according to their own ideas, imposing no goals of its own on its citizens. Contrasting with that is the idea of the state as enterprise association. On this view the state has aims of its own (to raise the income of all its subjects, say, to establish economic equality among them, to conquer neighbouring lands, to glorify God): government directs the enterprise in order to achieve these goals. The first view puts individuals at the centre, the second society. From the first view comes classical liberalism -- and from that the constitution of the United States (as it was understood until the 1920s). From the second comes socialism, and many varieties of modern conservatism.
The Economist, September 20, 1997

It is time for the consistent conservative. The conservative whose philosophy is based on a rational philosophy, not one based on tradition or faith. The conservative who is more concerned with their principles then the principal in their war chest. The conservative who is more concerned with freedom than their free parking spots. More concerned about individualism than the individuals who donate huge sums of cash.

One cannot make large-scale changes in society with those changes occurring in all other aspects of society. Those changes often break down the values people hold in exchange for new ones.

Without sounding like the sometimes blindingly optimistic and libertarian Wired magazine, I posit that society is in the early stages of a new revolution based on information one that heralds a shift in values. Hardly a new prediction right? The problem with this stand is that no one knows where it will end up. In hindsight we know where the industrial revolution has led us, but the huge jumps forward have yet to even be conceived, much less planned for.

This revolution, part-Objectivist and part-libertarian in nature, promises to change the very functioning of society much like the Industrial Revolution. A new mindset is slowly creeping its way into our collective consciousness, and it is the belief in liberty

It was a mindset that was once a conservative mindset. For whatever reason, conservatism has moved away from championing liberty to the unenviable task of fighting for the same ground as liberals. We’re championing values that are collectivist in nature thanks to conservatives who pin their politics to tradition and faith. They cede reason without ever knowing its power.

The movement must begin to move back to its roots, back to the championing of liberty. A movement which once proclaimed freedom from the state and society as its ultimate goal. Not the values which are popular in the mainstream, but the ones which led to the creation of the freest nation on Earth. The old conservatism of the United States is the benchmark for all conservatives no matter where they may be.

That liberty is best expressed in the ethos of capitalism. It is the freest form of human interaction ever to be put into play. It only works because it is a system that at its roots recognizes individual human rights, from freedom of choice to private property.

And if conservatives do not champion capitalism, "they stand for and are nothing; they have no goal, no direction, no political principles, no social ideals, no intellectual values, no leadership to offer anyone." (Ayn Rand, Conservatism: An Obituary).

Conservatives have to reassess what it is that they stand for or we will continue to fight the left over what degree of statist intervention we prefer in our lives, and we will lose many times in that scenario.

If conservatives are to "conserve" anything, it is the movement itself. It can only do that by once again championing capitalism, freedom and individualism.

Current Issue

Archive Main | 1997

E-mail ESR



© 1996-2024, Enter Stage Right and/or its creators. All rights reserved.