Monday, October 27, 2008

Conservatism: Small Government and Liberty

We'll take a look at procedural conservatism later. For now, notice two of the values on the list of substantive conservatism: small government and liberty. These have a politically special role in conservatism.

These two values militate against totalitarianism, the cult of personality and their combination in fascism. Liberty entails the divorce of one's own fate, responsibilities, and decisions from the consensus or normative preferences. It's the difference between the General Will and the individual's rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The way in which we thrive is by viewing ourselves as individual agents, not pieces of a larger agent in society. Such a larger agent, when imagined, will also be projected onto demagogues. These will turn out to be totalitarian tyrants.

This is a peculiarly politically important component of substantive conservatism. There is so much more to conservatism, both substantively and procedurally, but little of it is this politically important. It is not the core of conservatism or its most basic premise, but it does have this peculiar importance.

This adherence of conservatism to facts about human nature might remind you of our current series on human nature. Certain ways of life - liberty and small government - are more functionally satisfactory to us than other ways, which bring totalitarian misery or at best dreary and stultified societies. When we examine human nature for indications of what is right and good, this sort of fit amongst components of human nature counts as evidence. The conservative preference for small government and liberty is clear-eyed about human nature.