The conservative manifesto

By Billy Joe Mills

Conservatives are a diverse crowd, housing many shades. The ones most often in the news are the loud radicals who fanatically defend their political faiths without concept of compromise. I hope to offer a less newsworthy view on what a conservative is and is not.

The Orange and Blue Observer and its editor, Leo Buchignani, do not represent mainstream conservatism. It is questionable whether they are conservative at all. It is radical, not conservative, to believe that society should make women subservient to husbands and fathers, verbally assault homosexuality, advocate the bombing of abortion clinics and casually distribute automatic weapons on the Quad.

Pat Robertson and the religious right also fail to understand the roots of conservative philosophy. Reading the entire Bible literally and imposing the moral standards derived from that interpretation on the general public is theocratic, not conservative.

The roots of conservatism are much more sophisticated and nuanced. Conservative policy stems from three pillars: responsibility of the individual, humans being fundamentally competitive and the theory of limited government.

Governments are nothing more than an assembly of humans who are no more intelligent or further along the evolutionary tract than the people they serve. Elected representatives sit upon a high stool, removed from their constituents. Therefore, they have a less precise understanding of common needs than the common man himself. Just as a doctor cannot diagnose a patient from afar, neither can the government properly assess the needs of the people from afar.

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    Conservatives believe that human nature is self-serving and immutable. They wish to create institutions that check, complement and accept human nature, rather than try to change it. Liberals strive to use institutions to make human instincts better, believing that human nature is malleable and able to be taught.

    Conservatism is often misunderstood both by those adhering to it and opposing it. Snappy media explanations draw conservatives as unwilling to help the disadvantaged. True conservative philosophy states that current and historical injustices do weigh on the socio-economic order. These injustices must be acknowledged. The best remedy is to provide opportunity to the disadvantaged without simply handing out the fruits of those opportunities.

    Handouts and safety nets do not complement human nature. Conservatives believe carefully crafted policy must account for the expression of human nature in society. Dependency on government domesticates human nature; it disables individuals by controlling them. Big government programs like Social Security, welfare, affirmative action and national healthcare all create a sense of dependency, which in the long-run weakens the individual’s competitive spirit. This does not mean that the government ought never to help its citizens. Rather, its help should be temporary and tailored as incentives that coincide with competitiveness.

    The public policy implications of this conservative view might surprise you. Some well-wrought form of affirmative action is necessary to overcome the injustices of the past and to provide opportunity for success.

    Gay marriage should be legalized, since the distant elected representative does not know what is best for any individual. Welfare should exist, but should not promise perpetual benefits and should create incentives to work.

    Social Security should be privatized within a limited set of guidelines, since the common man’s intelligence and sense can be trusted to cultivate his own savings.

    Speech and the marketplace of ideas should be as free as possible, so long as everyone has the opportunity to fairly participate.

    J.S. Mill, Adam Smith, Alexander Hamilton, Milton Friedman, Edmund Burke, Ralph Waldo Emerson and John McCain all sharply express some form of these ideas. Conservatism holds an eternal confidence in the individual, realizing that if individuals are incapable of making correct judgments, so too will conglomerations of individuals. It is within the nature of humans to do what is best for themselves and their families. The best forms of government and economics befriend human nature, rather than fear it.

    Billy Joe Mills is a senior in LAS. His column appears on Mondays. He can be reached at opinions @dailyillini.com or post your responses at www.billyjoemills.blogspot.com.