For months, anti-war intellectuals and journalists have been making the argument that pro-war conservatives are "un-conservative." They call us "radicals" and "revolutionaries."
Joshua Micah Marshall recently wrote a cover story for The Washington Monthly about how dangerously radical conservative foreign policy has become. And The Economist set aside the word "neo-conservatives" -- the silly label for conservative foreign policy hawks -- and replaced it with "neo-radicals."
In a sense, I don't really mind; it's kind of fun to be called a radical from time to time. Keeps the blood pumping. But what annoys me is this assumption that conservatives are being hypocritical because we are in favor of change abroad and stasis here at home. This amounts to a deeply misinformed understanding of conservatism.
It's true, conservatives aren't big fans of change. We've always followed old Lord Falkland, who proudly declared, "When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change." One of the "canons of conservatism," according to Russell Kirk's seminal 1953 book, The Conservative Mind, is the "recognition that change and reform are not identical, and that innovation is a devouring conflagration more often than it is a torch of progress."
That's all true - but only when you're talking about societies that are good and worth preserving. Any society or nation can have its "conservatives," people opposed to change or reform. But that doesn't make all conservatives the same. A "conservative" in the old Soviet Union wanted to stick as close to orthodox Marxism-Leninism as possible to defend it against democratic and market-based reforms.
In America, conservatives want to preserve those institutions and arrangements that keep us free, prosperous and happy. Sure, we want to preserve other stuff, too, but the point remains: We aren't in the conservation business just because we hate newness.
Look at it this way: If I'm dedicated to the historic preservation of my own home, there's nothing irrational or inconsistent about me wanting to tear down the crime-infested crack house across the street and replace it with a nicer, more decent home. Pro-war conservatives believe that toppling Saddam will make the whole neighborhood better.