On an interview on the C-Span TV show, Booknotes, Jonah Goldberg, author of Liberal Fascism (highly recommended), spoke of two kinds of conservatives. The first is anti-liberal; they believe that there is a place for central government control, but that they are better suited or prepared to exercise that control than the ‘liberals’.
The second kind of conservative is anti-statist; believing that central control or planning should be kept to minimum or decentralized as much as possible to the local level. The difference between this kind of conservative and a libertarian may be the decentralization of power as opposed to the greater absence of power. But Goldberg noted that a much greater devolution of power to the local level would probably satisfy 90% of libertarians’ concerns about excessive government power.
The last two elections may look like a fickle electorate, but the central common theme was a rejection of central statist control and a demand for less government intrusion. While one could argue that it was foolish to believe that the current administration had any record of reducing statism, when they quickly displayed the largest growth of statist control since FDR it was quickly and strongly rejected.
In the interview Goldberg was asked to clarify a definition of a conservative. An American conservative is one who wishes to conserve the tradition of the American Revolution. This is distinct from a European conservative who wishes to preserve the old order of the statist powers; the very powers that the Americans revolted against. The American Revolution and our constitution was specifically designed to avoid the kind of statist control that marked the European political structure.
So while the American conservative is trying to ‘conserve’ the American established order, they would be considered ‘liberal’ to the old European order. The values of an American conservative are more in line with a classical liberal tradition of less statism and more individual rights. The classical liberal tradition would also value reason and openness with a pragmatic approach to dealing with human nature.
The current American liberals reject the American ideal and favors the European ideal of greater statist control as a solution to social problems. The Tea Party movement in its very name seeks a return to the unique American experience that rejected European statism. They have rejected the false conservatism of a merely different statist approach, and they reject the liberal notion of a return to European Statist ideals.
The reason I generally avoid the terms liberal and conservative is that they have become pejorative terms that create such reactionary presumptions that listening and communication ceases. It seems that when an idea is presented outside of those labels that the first reaction of a partisan is to apply the ‘correct’ label and then respond, as either a ‘liberal’ or a ‘conservative’ would respond.
We need to get beyond that.