Recently I have been reading a selection of notes about Edmund Burke who is considered to be the father of the conservative movement. Mr. Burke served for many years in the House of Commons of Great Britain as a member of the Whig party. The reason for my interest was a desire to pin down the "conservative principles" that many of the current Republican candidates claim to espouse but do not actually enumerate and so I went back to find out what Edmund Burke had to say.
The characteristic passion of Burke's life was his love of order. Liberty should be connected with order and any political movements that undermine either liberty or order should be challenged at all costs. The wisdom accumulated by experience in the past should be venerated and the bounds of liberty should only be enlarged with great caution and even then only gradually. Whatever has served well up to this point must obviously be fit for its purpose and should not be substituted rashly.
Well, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that is exactly how I feel. As a matter of consideration I submit that the average American feels the same way. When I look for "conservative principles", however, there seem to be a myriad of them depending upon which newspaper or magazine you read or what talk show host you listen to. So, I decided to skip forward to the beginning of the Republican Party when it was formed in Ripon, Wisconsin in February 1854. It turns out that in general it was formed by both conservatives and liberals who were united against the injustice of slavery.
Many Republican candidates tout their party as the "Party of Lincoln" since Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president. It is interesting to me that Abraham Lincoln would, in my opinion, have had no problem with Edmund Burke and his love of order. James Randall, the noted scholar from the University of Illinois who specialized in Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War stated that Lincoln was "conservative in his complete avoidance of that type of so-called 'radicalism' which involved abuse of the South, hatred for the slaveholder, thirst for vengeance, partisan plotting, and ungenerous demands that Southern institutions be transformed overnight by outsiders."
I wonder what Lincoln would have to say about sending eleven million people back to Mexico, building a wall to rival the Great Wall of China ("only much taller") between the U.S. and Mexico or blaming the proliferation of firearm tragedies on the proliferation of the mentally ill and not the proliferation of unregulated firearms. Or how about some of the "first day in office" projects promised by the current crop of Republican candidates like, cancelling the Affordable Care Act, or defunding Planned Parenthood health care services for millions of women who would otherwise have no access to breast cancer screenings, Pap tests & HPV tests, pelvic exams, and help with urinary tract infections, yeast infections, and vaginitis?
American conservatism is best characterized as a reaction against utopian ideas of progress. That's fine, nobody expects utopia. In Thessalonians 5:21, the Bible tells us to "Test all things; hold fast to that which is good." The phrase is divided by a semicolon. On the left hand side you have the Democrats who are more of a mind to "test all things" and especially those that are new and shiny, and on the other side there are the Republicans who aren't afraid to try something new as long as we proceed with caution. In the middle is where most people are, both Democrat and Republican. It is the people of both parties who are out on the fringes that are not willing to concede that compromise is a fundamental tenet of Democracy and it is cable news and talk radio who fuel the fire.
It is the privilege of the political parties to serve their country and not the job of the people to serve the political parties in order to win some kind of "break the piñata" free-for-all. My high school history teacher, Jack Annetti (R.I.P.) drummed democracy into our heads quite well; "Demos Kratein, gentlemen, Demos Kratein, the government of the people". Unfortunately, in this day and age, the "vox populi" (voice of the people) is not quite the "vox Dei" (the voice of God)...but it ought to be.
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