|What Americans Believe
here to continue on the main path)
|Conservative Group: Fred Speaking
conservatism is complicated. It might be best to say that
there is a family of conservatisms that resemble
each other in various ways, but also have differences.
We'll say more about the family in a minute.
First, I want to try to define American conservatism. The
best I can do is to pick out one package of ideas and
attitudes from the family of conservatisms. Of course, I'm
going to focus on the conservatism that I believe in, but
I think it is also a conservatism that many thoughtful
Americans accept. In very general terms, I would say that
my conservatism consists of a generous dose of classical
liberalism combined with a tablespoon of Edmund Burke.
Here's a list of some of the important concepts:
Conservatism: Basic Concepts
- Respect for tradition
- Cautious reform of social
- Belief in God and fixed moral
- Natural rights, including strong
- Limited constitutional government
- Respect for the autonomy of the many
intermediate institutions that make up civil
- Fiscal responsibility
- Equality before the law
- Free markets
- Limited plasticity of human beings
Each of these concepts is fundamental. They can be
embodied in principles that give us the essence of a
conservative social philosophy.
American Conservatism: Principles and other
- The belief in individual rights is
fundamental for most American conservatives.
It is incorporated into the Declaration of
Independence, the main body of the
Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The
classic liberal rights to belief,
expression, movement, and association are of
- Citizens are equal before the law.
That means that all citizens have the same
legal rights. It does not guarantee equal
chances to succeed or equal outcomes in the
competition that characterizes American
- Many conservatives stress belief in
God and fixed moral principles. Many deplore
what they call the "moral relativism" of
some secular intellectuals.
- Conservatives have great respect for
traditional institutions and values.
Traditions that have developed slowly over a
long period are assumed to fit the character
of the people and to fulfill important
functions in society. Abstract plans
designed to achieve perfect justice are to
be regarded with skepticism. "Organic"
change is preferable, partly because it
maintains stability and reduces conflict.
- Change and reform are not to be
rejected, but should be carefully considered
and carried out slowly. The plasticity of
individuals and institutions is limited. The
best plans often have unintended
consequences that are highly undesirable.
- Private property and free markets
are important not only because they allow
the profit motive to spur economic progress,
but because they balance and limit the power
- The Constitution should be narrowly
interpreted. This means that the powers of
the federal government should be limited,
the powers of the states should be expanded,
and the power of the Supreme Court to
loosely interpret the Constitution is
- Power should be dispersed in many
ways: between the federal and state
governments, between branches of government,
between public and private institutions, and
between large and small enterprises.
Government should not control the
institutions of civil society more than is
necessary to maintain order and liberty.
- Fiscal responsibility implies low
taxes, modest deficits, and a modest
- Communism is to be opposed and the
welfare state at home should be kept to a