This is a touchy subject for a lot of people and before I leap into the lion’s den, allow me to say that I am doing my best to treat it with the care that it deserves. Nonetheless, should you feel the need, flame away; I am thoroughly Nomex-covered.
Many people here in the RS community and throughout the general population feel what I think is an instinctual conservatism. This is something akin to a political “conscience” if you will. When confronted with a decision between growing the power of the federal government or shrinking it, many people just “know” that shrinking it is the better choice. Let me give you another example: why do some people rise for the national anthem before a ball-game and others don’t? Many conservatives instinctively “get” that you rise out of respect for our nation and its history as embodied in our national anthem. By and large, I think that this is a good thing. I believe that it is why genuinely conservative candidates win elections, over and over again. This phenomenon strikes me as a kind of conservative political “fideism.” I mean by this, a kind of real faith in conservatism that both defies reason and has no basis in reason, simply because no such basis is needed.
Let me try to explain this tricky concept by using the analogy of religion. As Erick’s recent very moving diary on faith and the role of God’s plan in our daily lives shows only too clearly, there is a sense in which people just believe. They need no convincing, no long-winded theology or rational explanation for God’s presence; they just “get it.” This is a fine thing, after all did not Christ say that the faith of the little child is the most perfect? (Mark 10:15, Luke 18:17) Certainly those whose faith in God is unquestioned are in good company: this is the kind of faith that Kierkegaard, Unamuno, Ortega y Gasset, and Karl Barth are talking about. God is certainly there, waiting with open arms, for this kind of irrational faith, but its value in converting others is limited at best.
In political terms, the fideist conservative, he who needs no reason to believe in conservatism is a genuine asset to the conservative movement as a whole. He fires up the base and he provides a good example of how to live a conservative life. I include Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and George W. Bush in this category. They are authentic conservatives, albeit of different stripes, and they have good conservative instincts. The problem comes in depending on such people to address the questions of government and the foundations of conservatism in the political arena. They “know” what a conservative is and what a conservative should believe, but they cannot articulate it. They have had no moment of “doubt” that shakes their faith in conservatism. In other words, because they have never not had “faith” in conservatism, they do not understand the predicament of the conservative-leaning independent or the lapsed conservative.
Herein lies the issue of political evangelization. I do not have any problems with fideist conservatives anymore than I have a problem with fideist Christians, Jews, etc. Such people are not especially good at defending their beliefs or swaying audiences simply because they themselves have never needed to re-affirm those beliefs. That is to say that they have never had to search for reasons to believe. I think that this is part of the reason that Ronald Reagan was such an effective defender of conservatism: he was a “convert.” Reagan had a nuanced, reason-based conservative faith. He understood the principles of conservatism and the arguments that can be used to convince an observer of conservatism’s essential “rightness.” This is what seems lacking in so many of the modern Republican party’s leaders today. They either embrace a fideist conservatism or they are wishy-washy moderates who are more interested in political advancement than political principles (Olympia Snowe are you listening?). The party can certainly continue to survive, though possibly not thrive, by continuing to play to the base and those who are gut-instinct conservatives. In order to really take back our nation, however, we need apostles to the independents. We need to evangelize. This is something that requires a conservatism based in reason; you aren’t going to convince a non-conservative to become a conservative without appealing to his or her reason.
I realize that apologetics are not for everyone. One has to understand the arguments for and against one’s own beliefs and be very confident that the arguments for are the stronger. Additionally, aspiring apostles need to be willing to face a WHOLE LOT of abuse; try wrestling with the denizens of Kos or DU or HuffPo, you’ll soon discover the limits of your own patience and tolerance for the views of others. Remember though that for every 10 flames you get for a post on such sites, there is probably at least one person who might be, however imperceptibly, nodding their head in agreement with you. I heartily recommend that anyone interested in this kind of work get involved with your state Republican Party. Attend debates and town-hall meetings. Read up on real conservative philosophy – no, I don’t mean Hannity, Levin, or Coulter, I mean Locke, Burke, and, if you really want a challenge, Aquinas. When your liberal opponents attack your views, you need to know how to respond. The arguments for American conservatism are stronger than those for socialism or leftism of any type; you just have to learn them and know how to articulate them. Only with this kind of strong effort to really recapture the heart and minds of the American people can things like Obamacare and the radical agenda of the contemporary Democratic Party be defeated.
RS readers are uniquely equipped for this kind of work: we have daily doses of solid conservative arguments against leftism provided to us by experienced, dedicated conservative activists. The ball, as they say, is in our court. We either get to work and learn about what conservatism is and how it is a better, more rational, and more coherent idea than leftism or we give-up and let the Dems run our lives for us. It’s our choice and with every passing moment of inaction, the repairing of our nation becomes just a little bit harder. I’m going to hit the trail now, head on out into the big bad world of leftism and try to find a few honest men with open minds to join me. Plenty of room on the trail for company; I hope you’ll join me.