Monday, April 09, 2012

Am I a modern conservative?

The Pillars of Modern American Conservatism by Alfred S. Regnery

The first pillar of conservatism is liberty, or freedom. Conservatives believe that individuals possess the right to life, liberty, and property, and freedom from the restrictions of arbitrary force. They exercise these rights through the use of their natural free will. That means the ability to follow your own dreams, to do what you want to (so long as you don’t harm others) and reap the rewards (or face the penalties). Above all, it means freedom from oppression by government—and the protection of government against oppression. It means political liberty, the freedom to speak your mind on matters of public policy. It means religious liberty—to worship as you please, or not to worship at all. It also means economic liberty, the freedom to own property and to allocate your own resources in a free market.

Conservatism is based on the idea that the pursuit of virtue is the purpose of our existence and that liberty is an essential component of the pursuit of virtue. Adherence to virtue is also a necessary condition of the pursuit of freedom. In other words, freedom must be pursued for the common good, and when it is abused for the benefit of one group at the expense of others, such abuse must be checked. Still, confronted with a choice of more security or more liberty, conservatives will usually opt for more liberty.

"Ordered liberty" is often discussed by conservatives, following Edmund Burke, to distinguish liberty from licentiousness (see, for example, Patrick Deneen). But we can distinguish between liberty as it describes a political community in itself and the members of a community, i.e. political self-rule versus individual "sovereignty." One can have the former without the latter, if that sort of liberty is identified with complete self-rule (or autonomy). Those who rule in a polity should be qualified to do so on the basis of virtue.

How much liberty is necessary for the members of a community? There should be freedom from government interference with legitimate activities or the abuse of authority (legislating in those areas where it has no competence); subsidiarity vs. micromanaging.

Is the conception of liberalism given here one that is more allied to "voluntaristic" notions of law and will rather than a "rationalist" notions? Is there a sense of liberty which is not tied to certain errors which nonetheless retains the importance given to the limits upon human authority? I think so - but one must still show how the different meanings of "uncoerced" can be related with one another. (Freedom can also mean faculty or the potency to some action?)
At the end the author writes: "Conservatives advocate free market capitalism, less regulation of economic activity, and fiscal responsibility." "Free-market" conservatism. The essay is representative of the conservatism articulated by ISI. I would have to say that such a statement of principles is not sufficient as it is not explicitly tied to any particular conception of the human good (or goods).

Related: The Principles of True Politics
On Ordered Liberty A Treatise on the Free Society
Bradley J. Birzer, The Meaning of Liberty During the American Revolution (part 2)

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