Conservatism – as seen by many – likes freedom and responsibility, based on a view upon human beings as free and responsible entities.
According to a main viewpoint by ‘conservatives’ worldwide and which I adopt in this text, conservatism is generally about this one thing and then another:
Individuals should be allowed as much personal freedom as possible.
With this freedom comes responsibility.
This conservatism is against elaborate sets of regulations. For instance, if someone voluntarily chooses not to work, he should receive no state imbursement, plain and simple. Also, as little as possible blueprint should be imposed by government upon society. The free market is a conservative mainstay. Its invisible hand is supposed to right all wrongs, or almost. This hand is supposed to contain within itself strong norms and values – individual responsibility.
There is trust in the strength of the individual. Conservatism is weary of weakening the individual through providing too much of a safety net. In this way of thinking, the poor are poor because they don’t take responsibility for themselves. We help them by not supporting them in anything but the direst need.
Underlying this is a philosophy about human being. Is it a correct one? I don’t think so.
After all, ‘personal freedom’ and ‘responsibility’ are no clear-cut principles. It would be nice if they were, of course. Many things would be much simpler and easier to handle. For instance, just let free market do it for you. That sounds attractive. Unfortunately, it’s not realistic.
Conservatism likes clean principles. Reality is murky.
That doesn’t mean that everything should be overregulated. It’s good to value personal freedom as much as possible… with good insight in what it actually is. What is ‘personal’? What is ‘freedom’? Trying to avoid these questions, though attractive, is senseless. Building a political movement or party while doing so, is dangerous, especially in an ever more complex future.
A conservative may object that one avoids murkiness precisely by going forward in a clear way. People will adjust, be cleansed and become good citizens. This is a nice supposition. However, in such case much depends upon the lending of appropriate individual support. This demands a correct view on human being in the first place.
In-dividual, as in un-divided, taking into account the total person including the deeper, not so readily reachable thoughts, emotions, motivations etc.
And we’re back into murkiness.
A conservatism that denies this, as has been shown in the past – like for example Thatcherism – ends in the very messy straits it precisely wants to avoid. And that’s a pity.
Contrary to this, a conservatism that does not deny this, may well lead to a nice society in which overregulation will spontaneously show to be misplaced. In such a society, personal freedom will rightly be one of the highest principles, together with human respect, depth and openness. As to the conservatively dreamt utopia, people will generally be responsible and trustworthy enough to make a fairly free market a durable success, in which there is room for all to thrive and be happy.
Within a correct view upon human being, progressives and conservatives may find each other.
The world will be a better place indeed.
At present they fight each other over… eventually nothing realistic.