In J.R.R. Tolkien's LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy which is one of the great Christian literary works of the 20th century, the ring of power represents power itself. Tolkien warns that it can never be used for good purposes, because it ultimately distorts whoever uses it to the point where they become evil. Regardless of their original intention, they end up wanting power over everyone else.
These warnings are consistent with what conservatives have always believed. The reason America's Founding Fathers devised a government of three competing branches was to keep governmental power in check. Conservatives have also sought to keep government small, to keep most governmental power local and the federal government weak. And, they have emphasized tradition, legal precedents and established rights as further means of controlling government power. Rightly, conservatives have realized that the task is not merely to put the right people in power; it is to keep too much power out of anybody's hands, even the right people's.
Politics, however, is about acquiring and using power. Does that mean conservatives should not engage in politics? No, because that would allow radicals to take total power and use it to destroy us and everything we believe in. Rather, it means conservatives have to think carefully about how to use power when they obtain it. They have to use it cautiously, prudently, and in measured quantities, just as they would use any other explosive.
There is, I believe, a way the next conservatism can think about political power that can help prevent its abuse. We should use it defensively, not offensively. By using power defensively, I mean we should use political power, success at the ballot box, to prevent government from ramming schemes, ideologies, social engineering and other radical "improvements" down the American people's throats. There is plenty of this going on, as anyone can see. From "affirmative action" through "No child left behind" to federal regulations that tell us what kind of shower heads and toilets we have to have in our homes, government power intrudes massively into our lives. Defensive use of power seeks to get rid of such intrusions and restore our liberties. In a free American republic, ordinary people would seldom if ever face the power of government, telling them what to do. That was the case in America through most of our history.
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