Much of what remains of America’s moral structure is existing on fumes from past eras when the majority of the population was educated on the sources of our beliefs and moral codes. Today many “believe” something to be true or right but have no inkling of the origins of these beliefs which have been gently passed from one generation to the next.
Conservative thought is one of those phenomena. Events unfolded in the course of Western civilization leading to a period in the late 1700s when established Christian morality merged with politics to form a unique political doctrine which embraced the following tenets:
1) Belief in a transcendent order through a Creator or natural law which impacts human beings into two fundamental ways:
*rights are bestowed on humans at birth by their Creator and are to be defended by government through practices of constant, just law (versus universal human rights being bestowed, or rescinded, by government)
*the condition of humanity is such that the individual, while driven and motivated by self-interest, also possesses an inalterable desire to serve in a social structure thus the need for politics
2) Respect for Hierarchy- just as the animal kingdom is naturally ordered by hierarchical structure, civilized human society too requires stations and classes so as to maintain order and provide an environment in which opportunity is not only possible but flourishes. This concept opposes a classless egalitarian structure which stifles freedom and leads to servitude and boredom.
3) Conviction that freedom and property rights must exist in tandem in order to foster an environment for prosperity. Economic leveling through usurpation or redistribution always empowers oligarchs to forever remain at the pinnacle of economic structure.
4) Reverence for history and lucid recognition of the lessons from ancestry shall be part of the education of all citizens so as to maintain principles of freedom as well as teach lessons from the past. Conservatives are naturally skeptical of those seeking to reconstruct society based on arbitrary principles presuming the source seeking immediate change is acting on impulse or in pursuit of power.
5) Evolution not revolution- society must prudently and responsibly administer change while constantly safeguarding the cultural foundation of its society. Social preservation is at the heart of social and national unity. Radical change can lead to nothing other than cultural division and into the fissure always steps tyrannical power to fill the void.
Two hundred years later, conservatism still resides in American thought. In-depth studies conducted by Dr. Jonathon Haidt (see The Righteous Mind) found that the natural tendency of part of the American population was to approach decision making focusing primarily on two critera: Fairness and Care. The prism through which people of this disposition view life and politics is primarily emotional; responding strongly to suffering, distress, neediness while prioritizing a sense of fairness and a leveling among members of society. When attempting to discover what was “wrong with conservatives,” Dr. Haidt and his colleagues found that, while a conservative mind considers Fairness and Care in his calculus during decision making, he also incorporates Loyalty, Authority, Sanctity and Liberty. A conservative looks to preserve institutions, respects authority and hierarchy, values national pride, believes in defending the social contract of mutual benefit and limited government, understands the crucial role of Christian values of life, family, mutual respect and self-reliance in upholding a free society.
In sum, conservative thought and morality incorporates six principles when engaged in decision-making. Because there are more criteria in consideration beyond Fairness and Care, positions of conservatives are often viewed as cold.
As the Founders so wisely understood, the American Eagle requires two wings to fly and each of the dispositions need to be involved in decision-making. Yet what appears inarguably evident is without the conservative mind there is little chance of preserving the American foundation. While the bird may always bear two wings, she is not likely to remain an eagle.