Since government is tasked with so righteous of a task of protecting society, the most important question then is who puts guardrails on the government? Our system of government was designed to be controlled by the people, so essentially, whatever political philosophy is held by the majority of office holders, holds sway over government. For the last 150 years, we’ve been dominated by a two party system that pits those who want to limit change (for the sake of change) and stick to the principles that this country was founded on against those who believe that our founding principles were transitory and meant to change with the times and who want to use government to achieve noble (so they say) goals.
Modern conservatism has lost its way. In the current political arena there are three main flavors of Conservatism – fiscal, social and military. Each of these groups has issues it considers to be core to conservatism. Fiscal conservatives believe in low taxation and small government that wisely and prudently spends the money brought into the public coffers. Social conservatives are more concerned with protecting public moral norms. And military conservatives, or neo-conservatives, belief in a strong foreign policy that protects American interests, primarily business interests, abroad. There is some overlap in these various conservative strains, but rarely do any identify themselves as being all at once. Identifying the focus of the various strains does not expose what the underlying conservative principles are. At its core, conservatism is just a political philosophy, a way of governing. If there were no need for government, there would be no need for conservatism.
Russell Kirk stated in the introduction to his Ten Conservative Principles, that “conservatism possesses no Holy Writ and no Das Kapital to provide dogmata.” That may be true for the conservative movement worldwide, but it can hardly be true for American Conservatism. Our founding documents, especially the Declaration of Independence, outline the core principles of conservatism at the most basic of levels. The Declaration even identifies the guardrails meant to reign in government. Kirk hints at these in his writings, but the Declaration, for all its brevity and simplicity, states these principles the most succinctly.
The Declaration identifies six foundational pillars upon which the Founders built this country. Those pillars, though not specifically identified in the Constitution, identify the foundational principles of American culture that the Constitution was created to protect. These six pillars are belief in a Supreme Law Giver, belief that this Law Giver instituted natural, absolute laws, that those laws apply equally to all men, and that the three primary natural laws are that all have a right to life, a right to liberty and a right to pursue happiness. The Constitution, if anything, reinforces these core principles.
These were not new concepts that the Founders came up with on their own. They relied heavily on the writings of many men including contemporaries like William Blackstone, Edmund Burke and John Locke and classics like Cicero. But they are the ones who took from the very best and brightest and distilled these concepts to the forms that we Conservatives now cherish.
The following chapters discuss what each of these six pillars means, what other truths can be derived from them, and how and why they are under attack in modern American culture. The next chapter will discuss the Law Giver and the Natural Law.