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The Nature of Conservatism

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The terms “liberal” and “conservative” are bandied about by many who fail to understand the crucial difference between them. Many believe the difference lies in the liberal’s willingness to support government spending. But that explanation falls short. Conservatives are always willing to spend more on defense. Liberals would rather spend money on social programs.

Others believe the liberal is the one who supports “change” while the conservative supports the “status quo.” That explanation also falls short. Ronald Reagan was a conservative. When he came to Washington in 1981 he shook the establishment and brought about change the liberals could not believe in.

If there is one thing that separates the conservative from the liberal it is his view of human nature. The conservative sees man as born in a broken state. This tragic view of human nature sees man as selfish and hedonistic by design. Given his nature, it is no wonder a man chooses crime. It is a wonder he ever chooses conformity.

This tragic view of human nature also explains why conservatives often speak of religion and family values. Given his selfish nature, man must internalize some reason to behave in pro-social ways. That fact that he falls short of these values does not mean he is a hypocrite. The one who does not even believe what he says is the hypocrite. The one who believes what he says and falls short is merely human.

The conservative knows in advance that he (and others) will fall short of what religion expects of him. But his solution is not to give up on religion. His solution is to implement a back-up plan. In the context of crime, that back-up plan takes the form of a criminal justice system focused on punishment.

According to the conservative, effective punishment is that which produces fear of transgression. Fear of transgression occurs when the punishment is swift, certain, and severe. In sum, the conservative believes we should first try to love people into conformity. If that does not work, we should scare people into conformity. But the liberal sees things differently. Everyone is born “good” with a blank slate. To the extent that people become “bad” it is because “society” corrupted them. Nowhere does the liberal explain how combining many good people makes a bad society.

But this is what the liberal thinks. And it is why he sees the criminal justice system as one which should focus on rehabilitation. If people were taught to be bad then, surely, they may be taught to be good again. There are two victims for every crime: The victim of the crime and the criminal himself.

These competing views of human nature produce very different views on how a nation should conduct foreign policy. The liberal, of course, sees the United Nations as a valuable tool. Since people are fundamentally good, war is often a product of misunderstanding. The UN provides a place where we can sit down and talk out these misunderstandings in order to preserve peace.

But the conservative sees the UN as a waste of prime real estate in Manhattan. We don’t misunderstand each other at all. For example, Ronald Reagan understood that the communists sought total world domination. The communists understood that we didn’t want that. And they understood exactly what we were saying when we built up our defenses and actively sought the means to shoot their missiles out of the sky.

The conservative Ronald Reagan understood what the liberal Barack Obama does not: When it comes to foreign policy, it is better to be feared than to be loved.

Barack Obama’s incorrect assessment of human nature renders unnecessary any wishes that he will fail in his plans to move America towards a socialist economy. Regardless of whether we want him to fail or just want his policies to fail both will. Human nature demands it.

I tried to illustrate the wrongfulness of Obama’s economic policies a few weeks ago when I penned the satirical column “My New Spread the Wealth Grading Policy.” First, I stated that I would take ten points from all students making “A” grades and give them to students with “F” grades. This would make a more equal grade distribution – one with only three grades of “B,” “C,” and “D.”

The next part of my satirical policy was the total leveling of the grade distribution. Students with a grade of “B” would be forced to give ten points to students with a grade of “D.” Thus, everyone would wind up with an average grade of “C.”

This was to show that a system designed to promote equality will inevitably destroy the work product. No one will put forth his best effort if his outcome (mediocrity) has been determined in advance.

The point, for those who missed it, is two-fold: 1) My Spread the Wealth Grading Policy would inevitably produce a lower standard of academic achievement. 2) Obama’s Spread the Wealth Economic Policy will inevitably produce a lower standard of living.

Human nature dictates that I am right. People have an inborn desire to compete. When deprived of the chance to compete they simply quit trying. I challenge my liberal readers to convince me that I’m wrong.

For Further Reading: The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Public Policy, by Thomas Sowell.

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