One of the most common myths pervading our political landscape currently is that of a monolithic conservatism. By that I mean a singular conservative ideology, but that is simply not how conservatism works. Conservatism differs based on the culture it operates in. The conservative ideal is to protect that which is best in the history of a culture. Based on that definition the conservative party in a nation with a long history of monarchy, would seek to restore the monarchy or at least fight for centralized power. On the other hand, conservatism in a nation founded on anti-monarchical principles would try to prevent the establishment of a monarchy specifically, and the consolidation of power generally. This is what should make conservatism in the United States different from conservatism in Europe.
This is not how conservatism is currently functioning in the United States. Long ago the conservative party traded it’s conservative ideology for a nationalist agenda. We traded the anti-monarchical and anti-federalist vision, that dominated American politics for the first fifty years of our nation, for the chance to be a global economic and militaristic superpower. I know this can be a difficult topic to discuss when political tensions are high, because people are already uncomfortable when long held beliefs are questioned. I don’t want to over state this, but I truly believe the future of our nation is at stake if conservatives don’t understand this one simple fact. Reagan conservatism is not American conservatism. Reagan conservatism is European conservatism rebranded, and it is the ideology that we revolted against. It is dangerous because increasingly nationalistic societies are the birthplaces of tyrants.
Great Britain was the dominant economic and militaristic super power of it’s day. The British Navy and the East India Trading Company absolutely dominated the globe. At the height of it’s power the British Empire truly was a successor to the Roman Empire, but the American Colonies stood up to this juggernaut, much like the Germanic tribes had stood up to the Romans centuries before. The Germanic tribes consolidated their power and sought after global domination and came up short, but where they failed we have succeeded. The United States built an army stronger than the Roman Legions, a Navy more dominant than the British Royal Fleets, and an Air Force that is stronger than anyone could have dreamt. We allowed robber barons and financial institutions to grow exponentially, and finally we convinced ourselves that economic and militaristic domination of the globe is what it means to be an American.
Global domination is not what it means to be an American. Global domination was never what it meant to be an American. The American Revolution stood for the exact opposite of global domination. The American Revolution was the start of world wide revolutions opposing centralized power. How can the revolutionary spirit that changed the world become the empire that it revolted against in just under two hundred years? I don’t know, but if Smedley Butler, the most decorated Marine in US history at his time, can wake up to the reality that the United States has betrayed itself, then you and I can as well. Conservatism is not about restoring every aspect of a bygone age. It is about examining your past, repenting of the mistakes you’ve made, recommitting to your best ideals, and partnering with progressive dreamers to create a future that is better than anyone could have ever imagined.
This post was in part a response to David Bentley Hart who recently stated that he has never heard of a conservative ideology that he was not “morally hostile” to. I am partially sympathetic to his hostility, because of the long history that conservatives have of trying to bring back the worst parts of their cultures, along with the good. However, I know that Mr. Hart is a good enough student of history, that he should be able to come to the same conclusions that I have expressed here. Unfortunately, he has fallen prey to the polarizing spirit that has seized our nation. He has perpetuated the myth that conservatives and progressives are working towards fundamentally different goals. This is not true. We should be working together, to embrace the good and repent of the evil aspects of our history, and dream about the best possible vision for our future.
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of North Terre Haute Christian Church or it's members.