What is conservatism?

I've already done What is Progressivism? so here is another installment.  This isn't what conservatives today necessarily believe, it's a retranslation of a mishmash of conservatism into a language which I can understand and, in part, present to others.  Here goes:

1. Evil is real and there exist evil nations in the world; the relatively virtuous Western powers require strong states to fend off such evils.  This distinct from "big government" in the sense advocated by modern liberals. 

2. In international affairs, in the twentieth century, the United
States in particular has been unselfish to a remarkable degree.  We
therefore should trust the United States with unprecedented power.  In
fact we have no alternative.  Some cultures really are better than

3. The spread of nuclear weapons, and other forms of WMD, to irrational, evil and undeterrable
powers is the number one foreign policy issue.  It runs the risk of
equalizing the balance of power between virtuous and evil agents in the

4. On the domestic front, education is the keystone issue.  Societies succeed if strong family structures support an emphasis on learning and acculturation.  While this does not rule out public sector education, if public sector education works the credit is not to be found in the public sector.

5. When in doubt, side with the laws and customs that have, over time,
been associated with the Western powers and their growth into powerful
and durable societies.  It's hard to judge a lot of customs using pure,
unadulterated reason, as Oakeshott and Hayek have suggested.  Defending traditional values is an enterprise which itself requires a mix of law and custom.  If you're focused mainly on "policy proposals," you are missing the point.

7. We do not have either the resources or the norms to remake society in the direction of a fully-comfortable-for-everyone social democracy.  We do need welfare states to keep a polity in running order, but we should be modest about what such regimes can accomplish.  They cannot overcome a fundamental lack of proper values as found in many poor or disadvantaged communities.

8. Fiscal conservatism is part and parcel of conservatism per se.  A state wrecked by debt is a state due to perish or fall into decay.  This is a lesson from history.  States must "save up their powder" for true crises and it is a kind of narcissistic arrogation to think that the personal failures of particular individuals — often those with weak values — meet this standard.

9. For conservatism, small government is a means, not an end.  It is a means to the values which lie behind Western civilization and it is a means toward the prosperity we need to live well and defend ourselves.  Capitalism is important but capitalism itself relies upon particular values held by the citizenry.

10. Responsibility is a more important value than either liberty or equality.

Here is Julian Sanchez on what such exercises might mean.  I don't know exactly what they mean.  For me they are a means of thinking through ideas.

Addendum: Arnold Kling comments.


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