Conservatism is a word that associates with an attitude of preservation, restraint, and caution to change. It reflects attitudes common throughout history although the modern definition of the word was coined around the time of Edmund Burke, a conservative philosopher.
History shows that societies, governments, and cultures have been susceptible to change. In today’s world, as we become more globally connected, we reach across cultures and explore new ideas while critiquing others. It is important that conservatives know how to deal with this rapid change and identify the freedoms that we’d want to preserve.
With globalization occurring and technology advancing, religious dogmatic thought is on the decline and secularism on the rise in today’s most developed nations. Technology has progressed to the point where the world’s information is accessible to a four-year-old with a smartphone. This technology allows US citizens to research and form our sincerely held beliefs and insert our own criticisms of the opposition.
Today’s conservatism will undoubtedly face a struggle taming the influx of radical ideas that are detrimental to the preservation of our freedoms. However, there is still a light at the end of the tunnel as long as Americans seek the roots to which their freedoms are bestowed upon them.
Despite some belief of the religious right, preserving our freedoms does not require the god of the Bible or that of any holy scripture for that matter. Conservatism is simply a means of preserving prior systems that have worked in supporting the populace and have been found sustainable. America, though undeniably founded on Judeo-Christian teachings, does not need the supernatural to create a moral society; it simply has to conform to nature, relate to experiences that kept our freedoms intact, and promote organic change.
Edmund Burke (1729-1797) was an Irish statesman, alive during both the American and French Revolutions. In his views of the revolutions, he established the basis for modern-day conservatism. Burke supported the American Revolution because it was a separation from a power that was no longer of service to the people and the colonists were self-sufficient because they had gradually evolved their system of governance into a sustainable republic.
The French, contrastingly, had not yet formed a stable replacement for their governing body during their own period of instability known as the Reign of Terror. After their king was beheaded, they reinstituted a dictatorship under Napoleon because it leaned to what the subjects were most familiar with and because they were unable to efficiently create a strong enough republic directly from the system they already had.
Burke noticed the need for organic change to occur. He saw the need for order under a stable and familiar governing body based on the successes found in history. This view of conservatism lacks the necessity for a supernatural force to guide policy, or for that matter any one particular scripture. All required was a pragmatic solution to effectively maintaining a content and free society.
Our fundamental rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are endowed by nature. It’s not necessarily that we enjoy these rights as gifts from a supernatural deity, rather, we have discovered a natural, alternative governance in which we can live in a society together while remaining respectful of others’ lives and beliefs.
It is a fragile system, for if objective morality is jeopardized in either a religious or secular environment then the system will tank culturally and/or will submit to an authoritarian governance. There are only brief moments in history in which true periods of freedom emerge; the development of American society has been one of those periods.
As we progress into the future and society changes with the times, it is essential that we remain focused on principles concerning our rights and freedoms rather than on specifics in dogma or relation to the supernatural. However, if we are to be conservatives, we mustn’t neglect the traditions we find deeply supportive of our rights just because of their socially-constructed ties to the “divine.” Radical change away from these essential values will inevitably lead to the loss of our freedoms to the collectivists or authoritarians.