What is "Conservatism"? [UPDATED]
[Updated and bumped to the top]
I probably shouldn't go there, but ...
The fallout from the GOP nomination battle - and the reaction of the pundit class to the ultimate failure of Mitt Romney as the "conservative" choice vs. the success of the allegedly "not conservative" John McCain - has me asking this question:
What is "conservatism", and who gets to decide who and what qualifies as "conservative"?
One of the most interesting occurrences of the last few years has been the number of "excommunications" from the conservative fold. Most famously, David Frum (a pro-abort whose own conservative credentials are therefore somewhat questionable) excommunicated columnist Robert Novak from the conservative club in this notorious National Review piece. Novak, in turn, has questioned both Mike Huckabee's and John McCain's conservatism. Rush Limbaugh opined that Sam Brownback - one of the more conservative candidates running for the GOP nomination in this election cycle - was "not a thoroughbred conservative". And National Review Online editor Kathryn Jean Lopez declared that John McCain is "not one of us".
Interestingly, not one of these high-profile excommunications involved the issues about which I believe conservatives should be most concerned: the dreaded social issues involving the family and the "culture war" pitting the culture of life vs. the culture of death. My own baseline definition of conservatism (by no means an all-encompassing definition) is that conservatism, at its heart and as its primary end, must seek to preserve, protect, and promote the traditional family, which is the basic unit of society. Here is a better formulation of this particular priority:
• Protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death;But that's just the baseline, and it doesn't even touch on actual policy. Any other suggestions? What else makes up "conservatism" or makes one a "conservative"?
• Recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family – as a union between a man and a woman based on marriage – and its defense from attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different forms of union which in reality harm it and contribute to its destabilization, obscuring its particular character and its irreplaceable social role;
• The protection of the rights of parents to educate their children
Some very good and interesting contributions in the comments, which raise another couple of questions: Is conservatism primarily a set of principles that guide our policy preferences? Or can conservatism be broken down into a set of policy prescriptions that one must adhere to in order to call onself "conservative"?
Previous Pro Ecclesia posts on this subject:
Cranky Conservative: "No, YOU Chill Out"
More on McCain from National Review
Turn Off Talk Radio ...
Deal Hudson: "Are Conservatives Turning People Off?"
Conservatives Suspicious of McCain Lectured on "Unity" by Someone Who Said She "Would Vote for Joe Lieberman Over Sam Brownback"
Regular Guy Paul: "What I Need From McCain"
Conservatives in the "Wilderness"
Rod Dreher on the "Changing of the Conservative Guard"
Robert Novak: "Is McCain a Conservative?" (Confirms Story on McCain and Alito)
Joseph Bottum on "McCain and Social Conservatives"
Santorum Attacks McCain's Conservative Credentials
"Not One of Us"
Wall Street Journal: Huckabee Would Make GOP More Like Europe's Christian Democrats
Bob Novak on Huckabee: "The False Conservative"
Tertium Quid on Michael Gerson's New Book Heroic Conservatism
GOP Candidates Snub Social Conservatives
Rush Limbaugh Says Brownback "Not a Thoroughbred Conservative"