Although I discuss a lot of different issues here, the Crowhill Weblog is my politics blog, and it is generally a conservative political blog. I have other blogs on other subjects, like beer and publishing.
People have different ideas about what it means to be conservative, so I’ll try to explain what I mean by the term, and why I consider myself to be a conservative. Here are the basics of my political philosophy.
The benefit of the doubt should be given to the status quo. Or, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The status quo is usually a compromise that’s been hammered out over a long period of time, taking many different views and interests into account. A reform is usually the idea of one or a few people who come from a particular (and often narrow) perspective. It’s not likely that the reform is able to address the issue as comprehensively as the existing state of compromise.
In some cases reforms are necessary, especially when the positions that underlie the current compromise have changed. For example, public attitudes about sex outside of marriage have changed dramatically in the course of my lifetime. (I was born in 1963.) Because of that, changes to laws about cohabitation and so on were necessary. I’m not saying that I like or agree with those changes, I’m saying they were necessary — partly because of the next principle.
Government action must respect the will of the people. This is true for several reasons. A government that is radically out of step with the views of the people won’t last long, unless there is a huge imbalance of power. People will overthrow such a government — as they should. It’s also unlikely that the governing elite is so right and the people are so wrong. It’s not that the voice of the people is sacred or infallible, that crowds are always wise, or that government necessarily gets its power from the consent of the governed. Rather, a government that doesn’t respect the wishes of the people is arrogant and oppressive, and that’s wrong. The point of their office is to serve, not to lord it over.
There is a teaching function to the law, and government has a valid paternal role. I know that rubs many people the wrong way, especially Libertarians, but it is a fact of life that shouldn’t be denied. If you look at polls on the morality of abortion before and after Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s judgment changed people’s opinions. When governments change the laws about marijuana, public opinion about the morality of smoking the stuff changes. IOW, whether we like it or not, the law is one way that people learn about right and wrong, so government action not only reflects but also shapes public morality. Since that is true, the government has some role in guiding the public on moral matters. Libertarians are right to try to bend things the other way because we’ve gone too far towards paternalism. But they’re wrong to reject that role entirely. There is a legitimate, but small, role for a paternalistic government.
Experts and geniuses don’t know as much as they think they do. We absolutely need specialists and we should trust their judgment. I don’t want to go to an untrained dentist, or drive over a bridge built by an amateur engineer. But there’s a huge difference between a technical skill, like dentistry or engineering, and other kinds of education. We also have to remember that it was the so-called intelligent people that fell for communism. Education is a wonderful thing, but it has a tendency to push people in strange directions. Just try talking to somebody who majored in women’s studies and you’ll see what I mean. Education is supposed to broaden people’s horizons, but often it does the exact opposite. Education often includes indoctrination, and educated people are often blind to things that everybody else can see quite clearly.
Nobody can be trusted with power. Power corrupts, and because it corrupts we have to spread it out as much as possible and intentionally create power struggles that keep people in check. This is part of the genius of the American system. States keep the feds in check, and vice versa. Congress keeps the president in check, and vice versa. We need all views to be represented, and to keep one another in check, whether that’s the city vs. the country, labor vs. management, religious vs. secular, etc. “Efficiency in government” isn’t necessarily a good thing.
We should respect traditional human values. Most people evaluate moral questions against a wide range of interests. Western education has a tendency to emphasize the individual far too much, and it limits the ways we judge moral issues. Jonathan Haidt’s research has shown that most people in the world evaluate moral issues according to six moral foundations, but that western liberals have stripped those foundatations down to about two. This creates a stunted view of morality, which is part of why it’s so doggone frustrating to try to talk about moral issues with a liberal. It’s more healthy — and more human — to consider all the moral foundations and try to keep them in a proper balance.