Leftism is not the opposite of conservatism

Is darkness the opposite of light?

In a conversational and practical sense, you could answer yes. You can live your life treating these as opposites and you would function just fine. Yet you would be factually, scientifically wrong.

Darkness is the absence of light. You may think that’s a ‘distinction without a difference’. Walk with me and I’ll show you otherwise, and why the distinction is at the very heart of what makes our conservative struggle so epic, so grand in both scale and importance; a struggle for all time.

The Dark Sucker

You know about the Dark Sucker Theory, right? It’s a humorously offered proposition that light bulbs don’t actually emit light: instead, they suck the darkness out of the immediate area (thus, ‘dark suckers’). Others have expanded it into a more robust, and still more hilarious, treatment of the physics of darkness and light (for example, instead of photons, there are ‘darkons’ whose paths bend in response to gravity).

The dark sucker hypothesis is an application of the the Limbaugh-patented device of illustrating absurdity with absurdity to point out that darkness is not the opposite of light; it is the absence of light.

Conservatism is the anti-ideology

Political Conservatism is not an ideology, nor is it properly the opposite of leftism, marxism, statism, socialism, fascism, communism, or any other insipid, failed ism.

Conservatism is not much more than the principle that government should jealously protect the citizens from itself, and from each other. Ideologies, as the first order of business, implicitly sacrifice the freedom so jealously guarded by conservatism. They seek to define, construct, and design a government-managed system based on some beliefs or notions, imposed more often than not for the supposed good of the citizens subjects.

How we more specifically define conservatism is subject to some debate. Even the great Russell Kirk struggled with a compact definition, leading him to his Ten Conservative Principles that were his best shot.

The attitude we call conservatism is sustained by a body of sentiments, rather than by a system of ideological dogmata. It is almost true that a conservative may be defined as a person who thinks himself such. The conservative movement or body of opinion can accommodate a considerable diversity of views on a good many subjects, there being no Test Act or Thirty-Nine Articles of the conservative creed.
It is not possible to draw up a neat catalogue of conservatives’ convictions; nevertheless, I offer you, summarily, ten general principles; it seems safe to say that most conservatives would subscribe to most of these maxims.

At an even lower level, it boils down to this, really. Conservatism is the style of governance of a nation that supports the imposition of enough order, and no more, to secure the basic rights and the maximum sustainable liberty of individuals. Facing outward, it supports a foreign policy robust enough, and no more, to secure the internal system.

Flowing from that I believe comes the core thoughts of of Kirk’s Ten (my paraphrase).
–There are absolute right and wrongs, that dictate both basic rights and basic duties.
–Man’s ability to govern without ruling is less than assured.
–Freedom is paramount.
–Untested new is not often better than established old.

Take away conservatism, what do you get?

All these isms — leftism, marxism, statism, socialism, fascism, communism, fascism, or just plain old-fashioned totalitarian dictatorship — are just various manifestations of the absence of conservative principles. Most of these are built on some misguided notion that if the state can control enough factors of human civilized life, it can bring about a superior reality. Even well-meaning systems are horribly flawed, and make the fatally stupid assumption that the people in power will guide their actions for the best of their citizens subjects.

Conservative principles are uprightness and liberty with order. In the absence of conservative principles, the guaranteed result is powerlust, tyranny, human slavery, oppression. In whatever organized or disorganized form it takes, and whatever motives might have inspired it, the end — the inevitable, inescapable end — is unbridled power, license, and excess for the rulers, and poverty and oppression for everybody else.

Don’t believe it?

Let’s play the absence-of-Kirk game

Let’s take away all ten Russell Kirk principles, and see what it leaves us:

1. No enduring moral order.
With no intrinsic right and wrong, then there can be no expectation that people with their hands on the levers of governmental power will act with honesty or integrity, or with the needs of their constituents in mind. Ah, who cares!

2. No adherence to custom, convention, and continuity.
Old-school is just old-fashioned. There is no value in things being done the way they were before. New ideas are cool.

3. No principle of prescription.
There *is* no wisdom of the ages. Family is unimportant. The Constitution should be “living” because those people could not anticipate the modern world. Schools, not family, should be the source of a child’s values.

4. No principle of prudence.
I have a brand new idea! And I think we should totally remake the fabric of society to conform to my new idea. I haven’t really thought about unintended consequences, but hey, I’m smart and popular, so I must be right.

5. No principle of variety.
We must impose equality! It’s unfair that some people are better at what they do, work harder, went through a grueling training process, made sacrifices. Everyone should make the same amount of money, there should be no punishment for bad investment or bad decisions, no child should be left behind, and everybody should have universal health care, paid for by those greedy, cheating rich!

6. No principle of imperfectability.
We really should be more lenient on criminals. They’re misunderstood, we should focus on rehabilitation, they had a rough childhood.

7. Freedom and property are not closely linked.
You can be free, even if we confiscate most of your money through taxes. We can impose all manner of ridiculous regulation on businesses and individuals without seriously infringing on your liberty.

8. Voluntary community is not required, involuntary collectivism is acceptable.
The government can regulate, at its discretion, what groups you can and cannot belong to, what kind of neighborhood you can live in. Further, we can even force you into communities, and dictate exactly what social and professional relationships you must have.

9. No need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions.
People who hold power for long periods of time are never corrupted (unless they’re Republicans, of course). There are no needs for safeguards like the threat of impeachment, Senate confirmation hearings, judicial review, veto power, veto override, checks and balances, and separation of powers.

10. Permanence and change need not be recognized and reconciled.
Just forge on! Change!

The absence of conservatism. Looks pretty fun, doesn’t it?

Why they call it conservative

Outside of politics,Merriam-Webster defines conservative as:

a : tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions : traditional
b : marked by moderation or caution
c : marked by or relating to traditional norms of taste, elegance, style, or manners

It’s not so hard to see how the term came to be embraced. It’s not an exact match, to be sure. Conservatism is cautious about change, but not overly so. It respects the wisdom of tradition. While the normal definition fails to account for the central theme of conservatism it’s not a far stretch to say that conservatives seek to “conserve” the core freedoms, the fundamental rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is not the perfect word, perhaps, but it’ll do.

And it is the perfect political philosophy.