Decode: Conservative


adj. favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change

History: The word “conservative,” as used to refer to a political stance, was coined by the French political theorist Chateaubriand around 1790. Chateaubriand’s academic journal, Le
took its inspiration from the Anglo-Irish philosopher Edmund Burke, who believed that society should rarely be swayed by new ideas and promises of utopia because such ideas too often reflect the untested preferences of either a single individual or a single generation. Tradition, on the other hand, has been tested by time; it draws on the experience of many generations and is grounded in such important institutions as the Church and the family. Progress, argued Burke, should thus be piecemeal and organic; it should conserve inherited wisdom and avoid hasty modifications based on trendy doctrines or theories. It’s for this reason that Burke and his disciples argued that conservatism, which has no utopian program or master plan, is free of ideology. American liberals would eventually contend otherwise, of course, recasting “conservative” as a negative label that describes one who is ideologically predisposed to reject change or progress of any sort, usually with the goal of preserving his own power.

Etymology: The Latin root of “conservative” is servare, which
means “to make safe, guard, protect,” and so on. Other modern words that share
this root include “observe” (to watch over) and “preserve” (to make safe in
advance). The prefix “con-” comes from the Latin cum, which means “with.” When
combined with servare, it means “to keep safe altogether.” Add to that the
suffix “-ive,” meaning “relating to or belonging to,” and you have a description
of one who seeks to protect something, in this case the collective and time-tested
wisdom that inheres in tradition and traditional institutions. Today, however,
those who oppose the conservative viewpoint have somehow managed to associate
the prefix “con-” with the word “con,” which can mean (as a noun) “an argument
against taking action” or (as a verb) “to cheat somebody.” Thus, in the U.S.,
conservatism has been tarred with a number of negative connotations, including
pessimism, deceptiveness, selfishness, and immorality, not to mention ignorance
and obstinacy.

Effect: For the liberal, “it’s not simply conservative policies that are wrong,” writes Peter Schweizer, a research fellow at Stanford University whose most recent book, Makers
and Takers,
features a study of conservative behavior. Many liberals believe that “conservatives suffer from a deficient moral code, and concomitant character flaws. Conservatives are backward, ignorant, and selfish.” But in actuality, says Schweizer, such accusations are part of a disinformation campaign that has no basis in reality. Citing research conducted by the University of Chicago and the National Opinion Research Center, he demonstrates convincingly that, in aggregate, those who identify themselves as conservative are less selfish, less focused on money, more emotionally satisfied, more honest, more knowledgeable, and more generous than their liberal peers. It would thus seem that a belief in what T. S. Eliot called “the permanent things”—in longstanding moral truths, the natural law, first principles, and ordered liberty—does not make one a bad guy after all. In fact, argues Schweizer, it is the moral relativism that attends the constant desire to “change with the times” that has made liberals, on the whole, the far dicier citizens.

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One thought on “Decode: Conservative

  1. …those conservatives, independents who have some core values (which don’t change with the wind or the latest thought fad) will better counsel young women (as opposed to the counseling of the recent ACORN expose’ videos) on how to lead a productive life. I include some liberals who have some core moral values—such as some inner Chicago ministers I knew.
    Thus, these persons (i.e. with core values which don’t shift with the wind) would have counseled the young woman and man (posing as prostitute and pimp) to give up the prostitution work and to NOT earn money off enslaving others.
    Those persons with NO rooted core values…were the counselors we saw on the ACORN expose’ tape…they seemed quite POLISHED and experienced in helping the alleged pimp/prostitite set up a firm which was to be using underage imported children as sex slaves.
    If I have no core values about the high worth of humans, I will (eventually) have no trouble enslaving other humans!

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