Russell Kirk wrote, “Conservatism is not a political system, but a way of looking at the civil order.” Put more plainly, it is a world view. People often confuse being a conservative with being a Republican. However, Republican is a political party not a way of thinking. All republicans are not conservatives. In fact as we have seen over the years there are even some republicans that are not republicans. Being a conservative is really about the embrace of an idea.There is a film I recommend everyone rent and watch. It is called “Amazing Grace.” It is the story of William Wilberforce and his struggle to end the slave trade in the British Empire.
During an especially poignant moment, the former slave and abolitionist, Olaudah Equiano, opens his shirt displaying the brand burned into his chest when he reached the West Indies from Africa. In his words it was a mark that let him know that he no longer belonged to God, but to men. This moment in the film is striking not because it affirms the cruelty of slavery. Slavery was/is not evil because of its cruelty, but because it violates the natural state of man by reducing the divine to the profane.
For me this moment eloquently illustrates the seed idea of conservatism—that all men belong to God! Thomas Jefferson was equally eloquent when he said that “some men were not born with saddles on their back and others with boots and spurs to ride them by the grace of God.” Jefferson of course codified this idea into the Keystone document of our Republic.
It is the assertion of divine ownership that is the basis upon which we claim our liberty. The natural rights of man emanate from this simple truth: God made man free and independent. As free men, we must own our bodies, our ideas, and the fruits produced by same. No man or no government can morally lay claim to that which God has made ours through his grace and mercy. It is upon this concept that rights are properly defined; upon this rock that America was founded and this idea that is the bedrock of conservatism.
Not too long ago I was in my home town of Denver, Colorado. I was speaking at a luncheon sponsored by the Claremont Institute of which I am a Lincoln fellow. I was on the phone with a very old and dear friend of mine trying to make plans to meet following the event. “The Claremont Institute?” She asked, “What is that?”