A good friend of mine has just completed an interesting and opportune book: 'Being Conservative from A to Z. An Anthology and Guide for Busy Conservative-Minded People' (Amazon).
No matter one's political sympathies, intellectual honesty is essential, and history always eventually ends up as an undeniable record of facts.
Thanks to years of being subjected to the hypocritical circus of political correctness, or as the French also say 'la pensée unique' (the only admitted way of thinking) the word 'conservatism' has been systematically demeaned by disparaging connotations.
In fact when one seeks synonyms of 'conservatism' via Internet, one is swamped with a panoply of pejorative words that underline this phenomenon. Here are a few, mostly American examples:
blimpish, buttoned-up, fusty, standpat (prenominal), unprogressive, nonprogressive, hidebound, traditionalist, tending to favour established ideas, conditions, or institutions, eg. (conservative baseball fans consider the new ballpark too modern-looking and plain ugly), brassbound, button-down (or buttoned-down), die-hard, hidebound, mossbacked, old-fashioned, old-line, old-school, orthodox, paleoconservative, reactionary, traditional, traditionalistic, ultraconservative, unprogressive, etc.
One might therefore be led to imagine a tweedy, cynical, absent minded, shortsighted, elderly, back bench minister or member of the House of Lords snoring during a séance. A hoary old Tory has-been, belonging to another age with one gouty foot already in the grave.
If such is conservatism, how can one apply any of the above synonyms or such a quaint caricature to Abraham Lincoln, for one example? "Unprogressive"? The man who abolished slavery in the USA? And if George Washington had any tendency "to favour established ideas" then perhaps there would never have been the American war of Independence. He would have favoured the established idea of America continuing to be ruled by mad King George III of England.
As for Margaret Thatcher, she would have favoured the established idea of continuing to allow miners the right to dig for coal that no one wanted. Or maybe she would have respected another interpretation of traditionalism by allowing Argentina the right to reclaim the Falkland Islands despite the majority wish of the island's inhabitants. And what about Winston Churchill? If he was so attached to tradition he would have dismissed radar as worthless, modern junk and opted for tactics and technology worthy of the First World War, if not the Napoleonic Wars. (It's to be noted that Napoleon, who has been ousted from the politically correct French social club and is no longer spoken of, understandably caused such an impact in his day and age that the French army's main military tactics manual still faithfully adhered to up until, and even during, the First World War, was uniquely Napoleonic. To some extent this might account for why the French soldiers were issued with bright red trousers at the outset of WW1 to wear for going into battle to dazzle and put fear into the hearts of the German machine gunners.
It's true that conservatives refer to history. But they do so out of sincere interest, respect and in order to advance positively by steering clear of the obstacle of repeating past errors, whereas if ideologists refer to history at all, they do so either selectively, or with the intention of negating or deforming it. In their view history has to comply with the requirements of their ideology. Indeed the French revolutionists went as far as to try to cancel out or decapitate all pre-revolutionary French history in order to vainly try to start over anew. Their absurd, short-lived attempt to reestablish a new calendar and even new seasons, with oblivious women frolicking around wearing back to nature, revamped, traditional antique Greek costumes, seems to reveal how ridiculously unrealistic and pretentious their doctrine was. Yet even today, for the sake of the Republic, one continues to extol the French Revolution, this in spite of the rife havoc and murderous destruction it caused.
Ironically many of the French like to identify with the Royal family of Great Britain. They avidly follow royal events, as much, it seems, if not more so than the British themselves. Couldn't this be regarded as a natural way of trying to compensate for having irrevocably eliminated their own monarchy?
The Taliban's attempt to demolish the Buddhas of Bamiyan is a similar example of brainless vanity in trying to make history conform to what are considered ideological requirements. Religion doesn't really come into it, for in principle there's no difference between the blind action of destroying a sacred, ancient monument hued out of solid rock, or rabidly burning down Catholic Churches for whatever ideological cause.
Are we thus to take it that those who accuse conservatism as being unprogressive and old fashioned would approve of relentless, destructive, ideological madness?
But what is ideology? It is an established creed, doctrine or religion that is anchored or imprisoned to the past, to its original source. This is why we use the word fundamentalism. It is so fixed that it cannot evolve or readapt in any natural way, and is never required to do so. Socialism can also be regarded as a form of fundamentalism because there is no possibility of it evolving without virtually cancelling itself out.
Most apolitical thinkers and philosophers would agree that an ideology is established when the ideologue stops thinking. In this case how can anyone who defends an ideology pretend to represent progress? In any case an ideologue denies any form of progress that would challenge or even question his ideology.
Conservatives defend traditional values not because of vague sentiments of nostalgia or any old fashioned quirks, but simply out of respect for custom and identity. They are aware that such values have withstood the rigours of time. There is a very good reason for this which could also be considered as being preciously essential if not mystic. These values are deeply embedded. They are our historic foundations. They represent a nucleus or source of national identity.
We therefore arrive at the logical conclusion that if man is capable of reaching the stars, of creating and continually improving upon fabulous means of communication, of finding remedies to cure the most serious illnesses and diseases, of devising means to solve the world's many problems in all aspects, and of continually creating art throughout history since the fabulous Lascaux renderings, it is not due to ideologues or to any ideology. It is due to those who would never allow themselves to be restricted by dogma. Call them what you will, or better still, take time out to trace the progress of civilisation in thought and deed throughout history.
History is forged positively by free individuals and not by fettered ideologues. If history has been effected by the latter, it has only been so in a relatively temporary, always negative and often destructive way.
The greatest leaders the world has known have always been free individuals who defend liberty and individuality. If they ever needed to pigeonhole themselves, more often than not they would consider themselves as being conservative. But in the final analysis, 'conservative' is only a word, with no strings attached.
Text and illustration © Mirino. June, 2014