Chuck Colson

Some years ago, in a Firing Line interview with Bill Buckley, I argued for criminal justice reform. The moderator, Mort Kondracke—who then considered himself a liberal—was astonished. He stammered, “You want prison reform? But you’re a conservative!”

I almost laughed out loud. Kondracke was parroting the ideological stereotypes about liberals and conservatives. And, today, the same confusion dominates the election debates.

Ideology—that is, the manmade formulations and doctrines of both the right and the left in modern American politics—is the enemy of true conservatism, as it is the enemy of the Gospel, which rests on revealed, propositional truth. Russell Kirk, the great Catholic thinker whose writings have so influenced me over the years, said that ideology is “the abstract designs of coffee-house philosophers.” Most tend to be utopian and end up serving not the welfare of the people, but the interests of power-seekers.

Conservatism, on the other hand, is not a set of doctrines, but “a state of mind, a type of character, a way of looking at the civil social order.”

The first principle of conservatism, according to Kirk, is that there exists an enduring moral order. Christians believe that moral order is revealed in Scripture. Conservatives, and some Christians, may also look to natural law. “Moral truths are permanent,” Kirk writes, and so the conservative “is one who defends the moral order.”

The first truth of the moral order is that human life has dignity. Both Christians and classical conservatives recognize this. So, why should it surprise commentators that we care about prisoners and the poor? It is “self-evident” to us all that humans have innate dignity. This is why human-rights campaigns are always fought by Christians and true conservatives like William Wilberforce.

Conservatives also have a deep respect for tradition—those customs and laws that have been found true, handed down to us by previous generations. Kirk famously said that conservatives “sense that modern people are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, able to see further than their ancestors only because of the great stature of those who have preceded us in time.”

Indeed, according to Kirk, conservatives understand that “we moderns” are unlikely “to make any brave new discoveries in morals or politics or taste.”

Revering what is true, as opposed to embracing utopian fads, is what marks the conservative disposition. It is also at the heart of the Christian disposition—which relies on a Gospel revealed to the apostles and handed down over the centuries.

Chuck Colson

Chuck Colson was the Chief Counsel for Richard Nixon and served time in prison for Watergate-related charges. In 1976, Colson founded Prison Fellowship Ministries, which, in collaboration with churches of all confessions and denominations, has become the world's largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners, crime victims, and their families.
TOWNHALL DAILY: Be the first to read Chuck Colson's column. Sign up today and receive daily lineup delivered each morning to your inbox.

Due to the overwhelming enthusiasm of our readers it has become necessary to transfer our commenting system to a more scalable system in order handle the content.