Not All Conservatism Is Bad

The observation that revolutions just as often lead to something worse as something better rings very true. Revolutions are just as likely to lead to Mao Zedong’s China or Pol Pot’s Cambodia as they are to give birth to an improved state like the birth of America. This is a “conservative” principle that I agree with.

Unfortunately, modern conservatism takes things in a much more negative direction. Instead of being about cautiously seeking improvement through intentional changes and watching for unintended consequences, modern American conservatism seem to prefer stopping social progress (as distinct from economic progress) altogether. Even worse, many conservatives want to reverse social progress, and are very often even against economic progress where they feel such progress will interfere with their socially regressive beliefs—immigration opposition is an example.

And when it comes to Trump style “conservatives,” they mythologize revolutions (usually involving paramilitary “patriot” groups) as much as the Left! They want to use revolution to return the US back to a more “traditional,” ethnically and religiously more homogeneous state of being. They often cite the American Revolution as their inspiration, but the traitorous and treasonous attempted revolution of the South is usually cited shortly thereafter. The irony of looking fondly at a revolution against the very state created after the first seems to be lost on them.

I recently learned of a concept called “Chesterton’s Fence” which is essentially the principle that, if you see a fence erected across the road, you shouldn’t take it upon yourself to tear it down until you know why the fence was there.

It basically means that reforming is good and reforming should be done, but reformers should investigate whether a fence is truly just an anachronistic vestige that serves only as an unnecessary barrier, or whether there was a very good reason it was put there.

Consistent with the analogy of Chesterton’s Fence, I am a huge supporter of calculated and intentional improvement. Old fences (traditions, laws, etc.) should not be blindly assumed to serve an indispensable purpose like many modern conservatives seem to believe. There should be no cow so sacred as to be above analysis and criticism. However, it should also not be blindly assumed that all fences serve no purpose.

Such principles are things that conservatives often get right. Unfortunately, they are usually blind to the other side; just because there is not a fence somewhere doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be there. Many conservatives assume all new government regulations are useless and bad without ever researching into why the regulation was put there. If only people could think first instead of putting ideology first, we could get rid of much of the useless and overly cumbersome public policy that exists while creating new policy that is long overdue to be implemented.

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