The politics of division is at play within the conservative movement. Some predominately economic conservatives are at odds with some predominately social conservatives. This internecine spat is the result of conservatives forgetting they share a common opponent.
What these conservatives should firmly fix on is that they share a basic philosophy regarding the relationship of the individual to the state. Many believe the individual possesses various rights that define what it means to be an individual at a fundamental level. More than that, all conservatives believe the source of these rights is not government.
Most conservatives believe that these inalienable rights—such as life, liberty and property, “are endowed by our Creator.” To some, this is a personal and eternal God expressed in a formal faith tradition. To others, this is a less-defined but faithfully acknowledged God. Some acknowledge no “god” but still believe that there is something greater than the individual or the state. While those in the second or third categories might not attend the houses of worship of those in the first category, all accept the idea that our human worth is not derived from government.
The place of the individual vis-à-vis the state is the root of commonality for all conservatives, and the basic disconnect between conservatives and collectivists. Government exists not to confer rights, but instead to secure rights.
Liberals, collectivists and socialists, however, look to government to fulfill all manner of basic human needs. The state takes the place of parents in the home. The state takes the place of a father in protecting and providing. The state takes the place of a mother in nurturing and caring. The state takes the place of church and home in teaching right and wrong and the priorities of life. The state takes the place of the individual in planning, preparing and persevering. Instead of saying, “God will provide,” people learn to think, “Government will provide.”
The common enemy of all conservatives is the centrality of the state instead of the individual in our political system. All conservatives oppose elevating government to a place of reverence and esteem. Government must be closely watched and carefully limited.
This is seen in countless social and economic issues. Many leftists oppose gun ownership because they believe a person ought to rely on government for protection and focus on contributing to a peaceful society, while conservatives focus on the duty and right of the individual to protect themselves and their families. Liberals favor higher taxes to fund socialized medicine and government-provided retirements, while conservatives favor the individual’s right to retain their own hard-earned money and decide for themselves what healthcare they want and how they should prepare for retirement. Liberals support strong teachers’ unions and massive increases in funding for government schools, while conservatives favor dollars following children who attend schools of their parents’ choice.
Part of this divide between conservatives is due to the sanitizing of the public square of references to God. Not many years ago, there was no dispute between conservatives over basic talk about faith. People were not necessarily more religious. There was just a comfort level with general expressions of common faith, such as prayer, signs of the Ten Commandments, or referring to school vacation in December as Christmas Break, instead of Winter Break.
But years of enforced and increasing secularism has left people of faith to their faith, but non-religious conservatives to become increasingly squeamish over even basic expressions of faith. All conservatives believe in the primacy of the individual, but such conservatism must also be rooted in the truth that the individual does not live for the state, and does not receive what is most important from the state.
Blaise Pascal once said that everyone has a God-shaped hole in them. Human beings are designed with a void that only the Creator can fill. Without the Creator, people seek out things in their lives in which to put their truth and to which to give their reverence and adoration. While many secular conservatives do not agree with religious conservatives as to the nature or character of the source of our rights, they all agree that the source is not government. And it’s essential that they recognize there are those on the left seeking to drive a wedge between them.
Conservatives must wake up to this common opponent, and rebuild close and open communications to work together for an agenda that promotes individual liberty by limiting the power of government.