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What is a Conservative?

I've always thought being labeled a conservative is a badge of honor. It stands less for a collection of dogmas or ideologies and more for a few bedrock principles that society cannot trespass. Less than a mechanism or ideology for ordering society, it is a protection against the "disordering" of society. It is an appreciation and conservation of those "permanent things."

The topic of conservatism has come up a lot lately, with a new book on Crunchy Conservatives, a Catholic school eschewing the label, and my own post about an idea to go beyond liberal and conservative. While I do think being a conservative requires adherence to at least a few principles (such as a general suspicion of concentrated power, especially the state), it doesn't require adherence to a number of other things like being Republican, libertarian, a Wal-Mart enthusiast, or a stick-in-the-mud. To a certain extent, it can be a big tent.

Now, Jonah Goldberg describes what he believes to be the difference between conservatives and liberals, and why conservatism is necessarily a big tent. Here is an excerpt from the absolutely hilarious article:

"Contrary to all the bloviating jackassery about how conservatives are more dogmatic than liberals we hear these days, the simple fact is that conservatives don’t have a settled dogma. How could they when each faction has a different partial philosophy of life? The beauty of the conservative movement — as Buckley noted in that original essay — is that we all get along with each other pretty well. The chief reason for this is that we all understand and accept the permanence of contradiction and conflict in life. Christians and Jews understand it because that’s how God set things up. Libertarians understand it because the market is, by definition, a mechanism for amicably reconciling competing preferences. Agnostic, rain-sodden British pessimists understand it because they’ve learned that’s always the way to bet. Conservatism isn’t inherently pessimistic, it is merely pessimistic about the possibility of changing the permanent things and downright melancholy about those who try."


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