My own view of conservatism is that it is primarily a personal, and interpersonal, code of conduct. It does not lend itself to dense layers of hierarchy and their attendant opportunities to shift accountability up the ladder.
For this reason, in the political arena conservatives seem to be doomed to playing either a fugitive’s role, or a despot’s. Driven into minority status and forced by an electorate to be at best a “loyal opposition”, conservative politics becomes an exercise in disclaiming the onslaught of accusations made against their positions, continually trying to prove that there is a set of beliefs behind what is continually labeled as mere obstructionism, and more and more playing at liberal politics by liberal rules, allowing the game to become a silly posturing of “our policy proposals are better than your policy proposals.”
Trouble is, the conservative mindset basically SUCKS at imposing policy on anyone else. The whole project of being involved in politics as a conservative, one would hope at least, is to prevent policy from impeding on individual liberty. Policy, says the true conservative, is a matter of personal conscience and interpersonal contract, not a weaponized set of unreadable and unenforceable rules to create fear of non-compliance as the primary motive for good conduct. So no, conservatives don’t make very good policymakers. Conservatives want to be slimming down policy or outright dismantling it, but become entrapped in a liberals’ game of “reform” when the operative term held at heart may well be more like “eliminate” in terms of imposed official policy.
Another dilemma with conservatism, is that it quite plainly works for more people as an implicit social ethos, in communities and settings where self-reliance by whatever means and at whatever level of prosperity (or even lack of it) are more the norms simply imposed by the setting itself. It is far easier to be and remain conservative in small towns and rural countrysides where the thought of calling a tow truck to change a tire is as alien as the thought of reporting a micro-aggression to a school administrator. Conservative values apply best in places where liberal ones and their attendant mass presence of officialdom, simply are not part of the landscape to begin with.
I don’t know how anyone pulls off being a conservative in the big city. I wouldn’t even want to try.
In the same right, it is all but impossible to move out into farm and ranch country, and expect government to be there solving every little problem to arise, when all politics aside, it simply isn’t.
Lincoln spoke of “a house divided.” I have come to believe he had the wrong metaphor, or perhaps that one from an era when the republic was basically a gigantic rural political coalition with urban life the extreme exception to its norms, has simply outlived its applicability.
I don’t see America as any divided house. I don’t see any need for either conservative or liberal ideas to overwhelm and dominate at the other’s expense. I see America more as a kind of tense standoff between next-door neighbors very unlike one another, with each having their reasons to be the way they are and each having their needs and wants to try and attend to.
Look at that electoral map, with all the red on it: admittedly those vast red swathes aren’t where most of the people live, and the blue ones are. But the people who do live in the red zones simply don’t want, need or ask for the same things from government that the urban-dwellers in the blue places do.
I say, so be it. Wanna be a liberal, go where the liberals are, the big cities and college towns and federalized enclaves where vast government agencies and contracts provide the economic momentum. Wanna be a conservative? What in the world are you thinking to try and achieve that in those places? Liberalism isn’t simply evil, it is just incompatible with another way to live.
I say we need both. And we will always have them both. The one truly democratic character in American political life, is the prerogative to vote a faction out of power when it has become too powerful. This has happened steadily throughout our history, when either of two parties will rise to greater power at the expense of the other side’s being handed its head on a platter.
For a while. Then it swings back the other way.
Conservatives are so unsuited to hold power and wield it over others, that it is inevitable for conservative ascendancy to head toward despotism, and it needs to be struck down into minority status again. In the same vein, the liberal world view so over-estimates the need to wield power over others at all, and tends to go about it with such blundering ineptitude when it does have power, that liberalism too needs to be thrown back down periodically.
We need both political models and both world views for the same reason that forests need forest fires: too much of any one kind of growth, chokes off the whole ecosystem.
I personally despise liberalism and distrust liberals. But I don’t want to eliminate them, drive them from the face of the earth. I just want them not to point their liberalism at me: I don’t need or want it, and I will actively remove its hold on my life by whatever means are called for. No more so would your average urbane, college-educated, deskbound professional have the least clue how to go about living in a place where one simply has to be self-reliant and on good terms with one’s few neighbors as a means of survival. They should stay out of places where that is how one needs to live, just as I stay the hell out of big cities where everyone seems like a slave to bureaucracies in my eyes.
This is why I basically despise politics as a whole: I don’t want to impose my vision of any better world on anyone and won’t, and in return I damn well won’t tolerate theirs being imposed on me.
Which is why it always makes me cringe, when “conservatism” is even held out as a political model, at all. Politics and imposing visionary will on others is the furthest thing from how I go about being a conservative. That’s pretty much why I am one.
For all the talk of how “intolerant” conservatism is, I really only have one basic intolerance back toward liberalism:
DO NOT point your world-saving, bureaucracy-dependent, slogan-choked leftism at me, and we’ll get along fine.