Preserving Traditions, Property, Liberty, and Justice

What Makes a Conservative Person?

A conservative person values traditional values such as religion, patriotism, family, loyalty and hierarchy. They also value property, and they do not like change.

It’s very fashionable today to identify as a conservative, but the term is used in many different ways. So, what does it really mean? The answer is: it depends.

1. Preserving Traditions

A conservative believes that the world is rooted in an enduring moral order. This includes the inner order of one’s soul and the outer order of society at large. Order must be based on transcendent moral norms, which can be articulated only through tradition and culture. Otherwise, society will degenerate into a chaotic organism. Conservatives therefore oppose revolutionary Jacobinism, which seeks to reconstruct society without the aid of tradition and culture.

For a conservative, traditions are “the permanent things,” and they must be treasured. These include the laws of God, moral principles and cultural norms that are a part of a civilization’s heritage. A person who is a conservative also supports the preservation of historic buildings, art and music, and rejects those who want to destroy or change these traditions. A person who is a conservative may be in favor of lowering taxes, for example, or they may be against social programs that inhibit a free market economy.

2. Preserving Property

Unlike liberals and radicals, conservatives believe that private property and a family’s ability to control their economic lives are fundamental principles for the building of great civilizations. The more widespread the possession of property, they argue, the stronger is a culture’s ability to resist tyrannical invasions and develop a healthy, prosperous commonwealth.

A conservative distrusts the rational blueprints of social improvement offered by a liberalism or a radicalism and trusts instead in a force they call “the Permanence.” This is a force of enduring interests, convictions, and values that gives stability to any vigorous society.

The conservative knows that change is essential to the body social, just as it is essential to a living organism, but the changes must be regular and harmonic with its form. This means that a conservative will try to preserve family, religion, education, and all other institutions that impose a governing discipline on human passions. In the absence of such a system, the conservative believes that people will indulge their base instincts and destroy themselves.

3. Preserving Liberty

Ultimately, conservatism seeks to preserve liberty. The founders recognized that, unless government’s powers are limited, it can threaten the liberties we cherish. This is why the Constitution limits government and explains our most fundamental freedoms in the Bill of Rights.

A conservative recognizes that human passions must be checked by prudent restraints if society is to be vigorous and healthy. Too great a freedom, he knows, will lead to anarchy. Then there will follow tyranny or some other form of oligarchy in which power is monopolized by a few.

At the same time, a conservative believes that change is essential to a social body just as it is to the human body. He therefore promotes change that is slow, steady and consistent with a social body’s historic character and nature. This will ensure that the changes take place without losing the sustaining force of what Burke called “the Permanence of Things.” Hence, the conservative favors free market capitalism and supports low taxes.

4. Preserving Justice

As a conservative, you believe in the principle of justice for all. In your view, it is an individual’s duty to defend the weak against those who would inflict harm on them. You also believe that the government should serve the common good through fair laws and punishments.

The conservative believes that human society is a complex organism whose natural order must be maintained. In this sense, he or she respects tradition and custom because it is the result of a long historical learning curve. In contrast, he or she distrusts rational thought, which might try to replace inherited institutions with new ones.

In this regard, the conservative respects Burke’s reminder that “a necessary change in the body social may not be made by the force of reason alone, but only through the exercise of prudence and discrimination, never unfixing old interests at once.”

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