Henry David Thoreau wrote, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” This statement embodies the core difference between the liberal and conservative mindsets. Liberals attribute societal problems to issues that are “branches,” external things like greedy businessmen, President Bush, or insufficient government programs. Conservatives realize that in order to fix societal problems, one must go directly to the “root.” Individuals, not the government, must take the initiative to work hard, live a virtuous life and learn to accept the consequences for their own wrongdoings.
The greatest battles fought are the ones within ourselves, against our own imperfect natures and the demons that compete for our hearts, minds, and souls. The true conservative realizes this and lives with the sincere belief that the only real change comes from a change in our outer attitudes and inner motives. America has thrived because it was founded upon principles that foster a true spirit of personal responsibility. Conservatism aims not to be the worldview of no change at all, but rather the worldview of change only when it is truly necessary; the conservatives do not feel it is their place to stomp upon the wisdom of the ages and replace it with the fleeting passions of the decade. The inner battles we all fight cannot be remedied through the guarantee of an equal outcome, a self-esteem awareness seminar, or the expansion of the government into our private lives. For a time, the government can use its coercive powers to induce or force change upon the people, but this is neither genuine nor honorable.
A common misconception, especially among my own generation, is that despite differences between conservatives and liberals, there is a middle way to be found. Although some compromises can be made, and authentic respect for other views can be cultivated, the two worldviews are divergent and cannot logically triumph together. In the end, someone must win. Someone always wins, history has proven that. The liberal inertia that defined the 20th century is now at a crossroads. America’s future depends upon people willing to overlook the instant gratification of hacking off branches. The only way to reverse our path on the road to serfdom is to be willing to strike at the root, even when our lives, fortunes and sacred honor are on the line.