We are all asked what it is we conservatives are conserving. Our answers are sometimes quite different, one from another. Sometimes, we are told what we think by people who do not know us, some of whom do not like us or wish us well. We should know what we think and believe, and we should be able to express it well to others. So the question of conserving what? is important.
I have been chewing on the "What do you conservatives conserve" question for years, and with some success. I knew what I believed, and what I value. But the problem is in framing it so that others understand. For instance, when I ask a lot of people what it is they want to conserve, they say, "The American Way Of Life".
Well, that can work for us, if we have a clear common understanding of what that is. Trouble is, we don't, I'm afraid. I don't think my vision of the American way of life has a lot in common with Barack Hussain Obama's version, or that of Bill Ayers, or Jeremiah Wright. Or sometimes Joe Dokes or John Doe.
But I think I found something that I can say I conserve, and maybe it has a lot in common with what it is you conserve.
A lot has been written lately in connection with the trend in our society to accommodate Islamist extremist views. It should be the subject of a lot of writing, thinking, and acting. My thinking solidified around something...a cri de guerre...Mark Goldblat wrote in Reason on the subject. “You want to kill the Enlightenment, you’re going to have to come through me.”
That was it. That is what I'm conserving. I am conserving the Enlightenment. And maybe that doesn't seem like the holy grail of slick communication to you. I mean, do we have a common understanding...or common enough understanding...of what the Enlightenment means for that to be a great focus for thought? Is the Enlightenment really great as our brand?
I'm not sure I know the answer to that one, but I think it either is pretty universal, or we should make it so. For certain, that would be no bad thing to work at. What was...is...the Enlightenment?
Well, let me disclaim quickly any pretense at scholarship or particular knowledge on the subject. I'm just a guy, a country lawyer who's done a lot of things in life, and read some stuff. So what I say here is prone to well-founded criticism by people who may know a lot more, but here goes; the Enlightenment was a process of bringing humanity out of the long night of the Middle Ages. It depended on reason, and the development...or redevelopment or re-imposition...of rational thinking, leading to modern science. It depended on the development of systems of laws and equity...occurring on very different tracks...that eventually were merged into modern legal systems. It depended on a vision of man that realized certain verities...what we call human nature...that are constant, predictable, and general across our race. It held eventually that each man and each woman held potential, and that their potential could be used well or badly, as they individually chose to use it. Eventually, the Enlightenment brought humanity the system of cooperation, effort, communication, failure and reward that we call today capitalism. Eventually, it led to a totally new, unheard of set of ideals that were worked out, with considerable trial and error, into what we know as the Constitution and its Bill Of Rights.
Of course, there is a lot more to it than that. We'll kick this around some more...
What did all that do, really? Well, for my ancestors and yours, having a chair to sit on was considered high living. Having the right to hold that chair against the demand of a noble was unheard of. If you got a chair, you would loose a chair if they wanted it, and there was nothing wrong with that; nothing you could do about it. We lived in the dark mostly, we died young, our children died in infancy, we saw little of the world, were mostly always uncomfortable, we were pretty much afraid of everything we didn't understand...which was everything, we were hungry a lot, sick a lot, and exhausted a lot. If, in the process of living that dark, harsh life, we had a thought...or wanted to get one...we had a problem; thoughts were hard to come by and hard to express. Books were precious things, few in number, and an impenetrable mystery to most of humanity, who did not read. Plus, if that thought of yours offended somebody, they could silence it...and you.
So, put me down in the pro-Enlightenment column. I want to preserve that stuff that millions of people worked out for us, for our benefit in this time. I want to conserve the zenith of human existence on this planet, and not surrender it to another Dark Age...no matter who it is that's working to impose it on me and mine, or you and yours.