Conservatism is failing. Conservatism is in retreat nationally. Conservatism is on the defense within the Republican Party. It has almost disappeared in the Democrat Party. But why is Conservatism failing? The simple answer is that Conservatism does not have a soul.
What is conservatism? Conservatism, at its core, is the resistance to change, nothing more, nothing less. While this might be acceptable as a personal philosophy of life, it is wholly unacceptable as a political ideal. Robert Dabney put it well more than a hundred years ago. “[Conservatism] is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each and every aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation.”
What happens when a conservative is confronted with the idea of bipartisanship or compromise from the left? The Conservative’s ideal is no change. But when confronted with the desire to improve things, compromise means moving part way in the direction of the leftist. After acquiescing to the move to the left, this new position becomes the new status quo. Unfortunately, the new status quo is immediately subjected to an assault from the left again to improve things and to compromise. And so the process continues, the conservative continually moves left.
Progressivism has a soul. For the Progressive, government is god. It worships the civil magistrate and devotes all of its efforts to bringing all things under its authority. It is hard for soulless beings to combat beings with a soul and a firm purpose.
Being conservative is a hollow life. It is also a frightened life. How does one defend a position of simply “no change?” Is the response simply I don’t want to change? That carries no intellectual force. Is it that the progressive idea won’t work? That argument is usually weak as compared to the emotional onslaught of progressivism. “We must pass the law to find out what it will do.” So the Conservative is forced into a position of building a similar but better program to compete in the world of ideas driven by purpose.
All that remains for the Conservative is the hope of power and the right to rule. Soon the Conservative takes on the image of the progressive. While the Progressive provides government benefits to the poor, the Conservative offers tax breaks to business, both of which foster favoritism of one group of people at the expense of others. While the progressive provides Obamacare, the conservative offers Romneycare. The hope of the Conservative is to show that they can rule better. As a result, the conservatism defines itself as in opposition to progressivism. “This is the only candidate that can beat the progressive.” The campaign is on the failure of the progressive ideas rather than the value of any conservative ideas. Under such circumstances, the conservative is actually benefitted by the continued existence of a failed progressive program.
The only way to counter this malaise, is to develop a soul within the conservative movement. People naturally rally around passion and a vision. Ronald Reagan was the best example of this. Reagan was elected by landslides because he stood for something. Reagan’s presidency bucked a trend in recent presidential politics. You see in presidential elections over the past several decades a trend of the Presidency alternating parties every eight years. Jimmy Carter is an anomaly, serving only one term, because he wreaked such economic pain on the American people and because he ran up against Ronald Reagan. Reagan, on the other hand, was succeeded by George H. W. Bush, primarily on the popularity of Reagan. Bush ultimately squandered Reagan’s legacy and gave into the progressives.
Conservatism needs a soul, and that soul must be Scripture. Scripture is the foundation of the American culture. I need not re-quote the many statements made by the Founding Fathers contained in the various posts here on blackstoneinitiative.com. But I must quote Blackstone again: “Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these.” The principles found in Scripture are what make our society work. As we move away from the ideals found in Scripture, our society is ever increasingly failing.
With a soul, the conservative can counter the movement to the left and offer dialogue for very real compromise as opposed to the sham growling observed by Dabney. With a soul, conservatives will have a message to rally around, a message that can actually change culture for the better. Might these ideals fail? It is doubtful but possible. If we fail, we fail. But it is preferable to fail with a firm commitment to principle than it is to succeed in the absence of a soul.
Two thousand years ago, twelve men were devastated to see their leader put to death. Three days later they were renewed with a new soul and instructed to make disciples of all nations. The twelve men, most of them, gave their lives for this new idea, in many respects, failures to the onlooking world. But it was the new soul that caused the new idea to take over the world and create that which we know as Western Civilization.
Approximately seventeen hundred years later, it was these same ideals that caused the founders of this great nation to declare, “We, hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
Our next leader must be committed to Scripture, to our founding documents and the ideals set forth therein, and returning of the government to its proper role within culture. This is the goal of the Blackstone Initiative, and it must be the new soul of conservatism.
There is likely no better issue for correctly understanding the separation of church and state than the current immigration crisis. In this crisis, the church has a role to play, and the state has a role to play. The problem is that each entity has confused not only its own role but the role of the other.
Sir William Blackstone in his Commentaries rightly points out that the church ministers to the souls of individuals and their physical needs. He also points out that the state secures justice and societal stability. Each is guided by the precepts of Scripture, but they apply those precepts according to their own role and purpose in the world. They work best when they work together to accomplish their God given callings.
Christians are right to show compassion inasmuch as Scripture directs the church to care for the fatherless and the widow. But they should not impose that responsibility on the government. The American government has no ability to take on the care and nurture of the entire world. The government must administer reasonable restrictions on immigration and justice so as to allow the church to do its job in caring for the poor. The Church is a world-wide organism that transcends borders. Only it has the true capacity to work beyond the borders of any particular country and take on a world-wide need.
This problem has arisen because both institutions are failing to grasp their own role. The American government wants to be all things to all people, providing care and security to all who need or even want it. But it can’t. Doing so would destroy the very foundation of culture that can bring care to the poor. Following that policy will ultimately bankrupt the country. It is time for the government to reengage in its rightful role of administering immigration in a reasonable manner. When that happens, the Church must be prepared to step in and provide assistance to the poor and the needy.