By David P Shirk
Amongst the mountain of movements I would like to see go away, conservatism is one of them. To say that our country was founded on conservative values is nothing short of a pipe dream. A third of the colonists liked things the way they were, another third could not care less either way, and the third that was left were those who wanted a change, yet could not agree on the changes to be made when their freedom was won. It was a time when conservatism held about as much value as fire holds in hell. The sheer radicalism of our revolution stunned the world, and it was not until Britain tried to start seizing the armories in Concord etc that the colonists felt the need to take any real action.
A republic on such a huge scale had not been done since ancient Rome. In between, you had empires formed by conquering, assimilation, and Monarchies. The common man held about as much value to those in power as a number on a sheet of paper. Fact is, the common man really did not care enough to do much about that – they accepted their place, and went about their lives. So in truth, there was very little that could ever be considered ‘conservative’ about our nation’s founding. If conservatism is defined by a more traditional approach (and if it is not, then I am highly misinformed on so many levels), then our nation has never been further from it. So why do so many people like to wear the title ‘conservative’?
Way I see it, conservatism is another one of those things that holds a completely different meaning than it has been assigned by modern day idiocy. It is by these standards that those like Palin can claim the title, but not seem to fit the bill. For an example, an English loyalist in the 1770’s would be far more conservative than any of the revolutionaries – that is to say that they went by traditional goals and ideals. Yet conservatism hardly holds the monopoly on this one.
Enter the republican. Many today consider a republican to be a right wing warmongering fiend of hell that cares little about the cost of such things. However, this is nothing more than another title assigned to a group by those who have never bothered to understand its nature. My representative calls himself a republican, yet happily signed the Stimulus package, and never once spoke out against the wars in the Middle East. So even though he claims the republican title, he is about as much of a republican as Charles Manson was a saint. Grover Cleveland was a democrat with far more republican values then Bush ever could have hoped to be.
So why does this happen? How did we reach this point where we started calling apples oranges (please pardon the cliché)?
The first answer is that we never really had a defined line. Ever wonder why some people will claim that something is ‘unconstitutional’, and yet others will say that it really is? We have this huge misconception that all these debates are new, and that the problems we are plagued by were not thought of by our founders. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Constitution was a very hotly debated instrument, and like all such things, can be played in different styles depending on whose playing it. The idea that was most common was that a limited government would prevent the tone deaf from wanting to join the band, and that it would play on as background music while the rest of the world moved on. Yet during the course of its composition, one composer argued with the other and instead of a masterpiece, they created a mediocre 80’s song that would be ripped apart by future self proclaimed musicians. Even later, the younger generation will see this ripped up farce as being the real truth, and the older generation will have been to careless to teach them otherwise. As the younger grow older, the misconception compounds itself into a deafening crescendo that drowns out the subtle truth.
Once again, had more limitations been placed on the Constitution, had it less room to be abused, than the limited government would not have gone haywire. Sadly, the only anchor the people still have to the government in many cases is one of vague misunderstanding, distrust, apprehension, and in all other-words, empty rhetoric. In contrast, the government is anchored to the people through millions of different wants, needs by all that cannot all be met in any lifetime, armies of lobby groups that tell them what they know to be nonsense, a roaring headache from trying to deal with it, and fear that they will lose.
This strained relationship has been going on for so long that the divorce papers are on the table, and each side is hardly being reasonable. I can fault the government for catering to special interest and continuing in mistakes that only get worse with each passing term-server. I can fault the people who push for what they can never understand – let’s face it, does your average construction worker know how to employ a stable currency? Does your average farmer know how to employ a defense on home soil?
Yet one side continues to fuel the other. The problem has grown so deep that the only thing that they bother to do is to decry the evils committed by the other – and yes, both sides create tremendous hardships for the other. So now is not the time we should be trying to continue this futile debate. That has been tried over, and over again throughout entire centuries, and neither side has anything to show for it.
The idea that there is a one answer that will work for every circumstance that arises is foolish at best. Indeed, the enemies of any form of growth are extremes and absolutes. Democracy has the power to prevent a select few from dominating the whole. A limited republic has only the power necessary to maintain the bare basics needed to hold things together. An anarchy has the power of individual growth, and the push for every individual to depend on their own two hands. A liberal has the power to show mercy when it is called for, and a right-winger has the power to protect no matter who comes a knocking. Yet all these strengths can be fatal to themselves and the others when abused or misunderstood. A mob can take the one who is in fact innocent, and allow the herd mentality to take control of their sense and put the innocent one to death. A small group of limited power can take advantage of the lack of attention it has, and in the shadows take control over the same people it swore to protect. An individual can seize a weapon, and slay their neighbor, knowing that there is none around to stop them. A liberal can allow a murderer to go free when they think he paid his dues, and a right winger will find someone to fight without cause.
And that is what we have. As much I as I wish Machiavelli would take a back seat to Jefferson, I cannot deny the simple warning of Machiavelli that a limited republic can easily fall prey to such a diverse nation of our size. At no time could this lesson have been more important than in the 1780’s through the 1790’s where we actually stood a chance. Yet one cannot rightly blame the people of the time for this. They had never had that freedom before, and were used to being governed. On the same token however, they did not like how closely the new government seemed like the old one. Washington was hated for enforcing Tariffs. Hamilton was hated for establishing a new system of hierarchy. Jefferson was hated because he preached that only the well made and educated etc should hold any office. Madison was hated because he was a considered a statist. Even Paine grew to be hated for his unsettling words on religion.
And that was just by the people. Jefferson Hated Hamilton, Hamilton hated Madison, Madison was not fond of Paine. Washington grew to hate the entire mess. Reason gave way to public whining, power began to corrupt, people got involved in what they did not understand, news papers poured fuel on the whole fire, and in 1812 we had become such a laughing stock that Britain came for round two, which ended in a draw with both sides limping back to their corners.
So let me ask you – what if? What if Jefferson’s reason had been more influential after the war ended then Paine’s fiery words? What if Madison’s sense of unity was seen for the strength in the people it could create, and not a twisted for m of control? What if Washington would have told Hamilton to go screw himself, and tell him to do what he was hired to do, and make a sustainable monetary system? What if Hamilton would have listened to Jefferson and Madison and instead of control the people, unleash them? What if the people had not fallen prey to the herd mentality, and instead strove to be more then what they were, and thus truly realize the American dream of becoming self- made? What if all of them could have thrown away the extremes and absolution that clouded their heads, and focused on building upon their freedom in a meaningful way?
These are questions that obviously cannot be answered now. Until we realize that everything we perceive as being ‘true’ today is only a poorly crafted story, we cannot change. Until we realize that what many perceive as being a controlling power is nothing more than a hollow shell, we will never change. Until we learn to govern ourselves, we will be governed. Until we learn to reason and prove that there is another way to maintain our nation without all the bureaucratic bull, we will continue to be led by it. The simple fact is that no matter how helpful a real truth might be, it will never be used until the majority can understand it. It must be understood that not everyone will like the truth, and to admit it will mean a hard change. Until people on the whole are ready to take the destruction of the sugar coated poison, and realize the benefit of rebuilding a solid system, there can be no change.
Change can only partially be made by the government we have today – the success or failure of any meaningful change will only come when people dig deep and prove that the their freedom is really worth it. Unfortunately, I have run out of space – until next time, take care, and do not get me started on how short attention spans led to this whole mess.