In the current day and age, claiming to be conservative evokes disbelief. Not only is conservatism the banished enemy of our dominant liberal ideology, but “conservatives” — these days — seem to be people without a plan. Many people have gone looking for another alternative to being the captive opposition.
However, questions of philosophy do not reduce to who claims to hold a view, but what that view is. Over the years, every view becomes adulterated to fit to its audience instead of its audience fitting into it, and so periodic renewals occur when someone points out that the original idea has decayed. A view that is correct will always be so, and if it has been misinterpreted, needs correction not abandonment.
Another way of viewing this is that someone who possesses a conservative philosophy will manifest it no matter what name they call it. Philosophies generally have two major prongs: how to know what is true, and how to know what to do about it. In liberalism, this could be summarized as:
In this we can see the utilitarian nature of liberalism: whatever most people think will make them happy is right. Also revealed is its nature as a rebellious philosophy, namely that it assumes whatever has existed in the past is a nightmare and any replacement is an improvement.
We can imagine situations where this approach would seem right. If someone is emerging from a truly abusive situation, such as a bad family dynamic, the best thing to do is discard all that they have known as normal and to select new methods. Without further data, they pick whatever the group thinks will be good.
Naturally, this leaves us with half of a philosophy. How do we verify what of our preferred methods turned out well and therefore should be kept? Liberalism assumes this will be handled by the preference of the group, but that assumes that people remember what has gone before and what the options are.
Conservatism updates this with a philosophy that more resembles the scientific method, but with an artistic twist. Here is the conservative outline:
The scientific basis the reality test: does this produce the results it claims to, when actually tested in the real world? If not, it may be “real” as a thought can seem to be, but not accurate and therefore not true. The artistic twist comes from the transcendental goals, which are absolutes which can never be fully realized: excellence, beauty, goodness and truthfulness.
Unlike most philosophies, conservatism does not try to translate reality into symbols. Terms like “true” and “good” are left as an exercise to the reader, with the knowledge that the smarter and more honest/noble among them will figure it out while the other 98.6% (approximately) will do what Simians always do, which is do whatever their egos want to do anyway and rationalize it as good or true after the fact. (Some see liberalism as being of this nature, since it requires only intent and feelings and has no reality-based test).
As a guiding force for actual living people, conservatism works under any circumstance. It encourages us to know our world, and then to act for the best results. This does not mean that we can deny how the world works and conjure up an image of how we wish it would work, and then enforce that on others with the consensus of the group. At its heart, conservatism opposes group consensus because that consensus is a lesser method than truth.
The term “conservative” comes from the idea of conservation itself, which means saving good and functional methods under the constant onslaught of human desires to do anything but those. When we look at humanity, we see a species capable of remarkable self-delusion and a tendency to indulge in wishful thinking which it mistakes for realism. Against this flood of chaotic nonsense conservatives attempt to hold on to what actually works, fully realizing they are the smallest minority in their society because everyone else wants the opposite.
Trying to divorce the idea of “conserve” from the notion of conserving what is good has cost modern conservatives plenty. I fully acknowledge that these people are misguided, but I see them more as a consumerist production version of a good thing, like soda replacing sassafras, McDonald’s replacing food, light cigarettes replacing cigars, and Budweiser replacing beer. There is always a market for a dumbed-down version of any idea because this flatters the egoism of those who partake in it. They no longer need to know quality from junk, but can indulge in something conveniently sugared and salty and cheap and pretend they have the real thing.
Conservatism took me to some surprising places. In contrast to mainstream conservatives, I see the importance of conservation in both nature and human beings. This means setting aside giant chunks of land for its natural purpose, and liberating people from pointless activities including make-work jobs and bureaucracy. It also showed me the importance of keeping the law away so people can enjoy pleasurable activities like drinking at the pub, smoking a cigar with friends, or even the “reckless” fun things the Nanny State tries to keep away from us.
Not many anti-work and pro-conservation conservatives exist anymore, but we used to be at the forefront of both of these movements, resisting “Progress” back when progress meant industry at any cost. Conservatives have always defended the quiet life and the wild life so long as it brings actual pleasure, and not merely grim conformity like drug use and promiscuity seem to. We conserve life itself, holding back the flood surge of illusions dreamed up by lonely people in their unrealistic minds.
As new movements — inevitably based on liberal ideas infused with some conservative leanings — come and go, conservatism remains a bulwark because it is not a policy, but a way of thinking. It encourages us to recognize life for what it is and make the best of it. It forms the starting point of our thought and a workable basis for discovering where we should go. Since most of human thought is entirely irrelevant, it stands out as the one right answer in a sea of distractions.