Conservative Political Ideology
Conservatism prospered in the half-century following the Second World War, but following wide-spread rejection at the polls, substantial policy defeats, and ever-souring popularity, the time has come for conservatives to reexamine and reaffirm their first principles. In this year, which celebrates the sixtieth anniversary of Russell Kirk’s, conservatism faces an identity crisis similar to the one confronted by Kirk in the 1950s; nevertheless, like Kirk’s, the present generation is presented with an opportunity to embrace cultural renewal and to reject the dogmatic fanaticism of ideological politics.
In its modern usage, the word ideology is not synonymous with benign philosophy; rather, its contemporary meaning invokes a messianic, almost religious veneration of abstract ideas that promise perfection in the political order. A secular fanaticism parading under the rubric of genteel intellectualism, ideology cares nothing for the soul and scoffs at the idea of a spiritual order beyond the reach of state authority. Under its dictatorship, everything must succumb to the omnipotence of an abstract idea to which all individual and social actions are subordinated. Communism’s displacement of the dignity of the human person in favor of statist equality is the most prominent example, while the libertarian’s unrelenting fixation upon absolute freedom is another. Ideology admits no dissent and tolerates no compromise; thus, a vigorous defense of civilization can only be constructed upon the rejection of this corrosive metaphysic.
The problem of ideological politics is typified by certain factions of the Tea Party who, although espousing principles congenial to most conservatives, highlight the dangers inherent in excess each time their self-appointed leaders claim the exclusive right to set the “conservative agenda” and excoriate those who refuse to adopt their policies in whole. “Be my brother or I’ll kill you” was the Jacobin creed, yet the contemporary heirs of Edmund Burke dangle perilously close to adopting this as their motto each time they endeavor to attain ideological uniformity. Such an embrace would amount to a total abdication of the very principles conservatives seek to exonerate.
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