What does “Constitutional conservative” mean?
Maybe you are relatively new to this idea of conservatism. Maybe you were afraid of conservatives or conservatism because you thought we are just a bunch of greedy, self-centered people. Maybe you just prefer to ‘stay out of it’, but you have been paying attention to the news of the day and have a new level of “caring” about what happens in the public square. Maybe you once believed that the government was “for you” but now what the Democrats (and some Republicans) have been doing over the last 2-4 years (or longer!) has made you think again. So let me explain in detail what being conservative, or particularly what being a Constitutional conservative means to me.
The more I learn about things, the more I come around to the description of my political beliefs as a Constitutional conservative. I am not into labels, but that is a rather descriptive term for my beliefs. In general, whether it is economics, monetary policy, national defense, or just human behavior – I find that the wisdom contained within the design of the Constitution pales in comparison to anything I can conceive or hope to find elsewhere in history.
I enjoy listening to talk radio shows when I can, and one I frequent in particular is the Mark Levin Show. He has free podcasts you can download which naturally help me follow along tremendously, but my attraction isn’t just that. He frequently raises the political debate to something higher than the events of the day. He includes a brand of education, history, and political philosophy that I find appealing. That, plus he does not suffer fools very long on the program!
Anyway as I was a little behind on the programs and trying to catch up, this week I was glad I did not skip past the program from Tuesday, April 19th. For the opening monologue, Mark treated us to about eight minutes of pure conservative philosophy. I found it so relevant and well-thought-out that I decided to type up a quick transcript from that monologue, and share it here. It appears quite long of course, but it’s just a few paragraphs so I hope you’ll take time to read through the whole thing. If you’d like to hear the audio version yourself, you can download the program for yourself on the podcast site HERE:
We are Americans. So for the Founding Fathers, individual liberty was not possible without private property rights. For the Founding Fathers, the only legitimate government was not only one that was instituted with the consent of the people, but one that would preserve and protect the individual’s right to property. Jefferson talked about it, talked about ‘tyranny of the legislature.’ So the consent of the governed is only part of it.
But the government never has the authority to be tyrannical; it never has the authority to seize your property illegitimately. Private property represents the individual’s labor, your labor, your initiative, your industriousness, your ambition, and so forth. We all have an equal right, an unalienable right as they wrote in the Declaration to pursue happiness. That especially involves the pursuit of property and wealth – not that materialism makes you happy, the point was so you can at least subsist, but even more expand your wealth and improve your lifestyle and that of your family. We do not have a “right” to equal results and outcomes. And this is the battle – we do not have a right to make demands on the labor and property and wealth of another individual, for that individual also has unalienable rights.
The purpose of government in the United States of America, according to the Founders is first and foremost to protect and preserve the individual’s unalienable rights. These rights are God-given natural rights: no man, no government has the authority to deny them or destroy them. That is not to say that we as a community or society ought not look out for our fellow man; we did this even before there was a massive, leviathan State. We did this through good works, through charity, through churches and synagogues, through volunteerism, through good acts all the time. Most of us do not mind being taxed at a rational level to help take care of those who are truly incapable of survival due to physical or mental disabilities. That is different than redistributing the wealth. That is different than “spreading the wealth.” That is different than class warfare.
Our Constitution is intended to protect us from a central government that would take advantage of us as individuals. It does not grant power to the federal government to violate our unalienable rights. It does not authorize the federal government to take the fruits of our labor, whether physical or intellectual, to “spread the wealth” for “economic justice” or anything of the sort. The Constitution does not empower anyone, especially the President of the United States, to take our labor, our property, our wealth from us and our families in order to equalize economic outcomes. I don’t care what you are worth. To say that some person has a right to another person’s labor simply because one person demands it, or because a politician thinks it can be put to better use, or because a group of people think it can be put to better use and vote that way, does not make it Constitutional nor does it make it moral, and it clearly violates the unalienable rights of the person who is being targeted. When the government seizes the power to take what you have earned with your own labor and put it to an illegitimate use, then government has power that is not recognized in the Declaration or the Constitution.
Since property rights are inextricably tied to an individual’s liberty, the government is expanding its power not only over your labor, but over you, as a human being. This is exactly what is happening today. This is exactly what you hear Obama saying in these speeches. He is claiming a power he does not have. That is, the power to decide whose labor is to be protected by the government, and whose labor is to be seized by the government. Obama is saying that the government has the power to take whatever it needs from an individual, thereby punishing that individual and rewarding some other individual who has not earned it. They call this “a right.” You have a “right” to health care, a “right” to go to school; you have a “right” to this, a “right” to that. But somebody else is losing their liberty, in support of this politician who is stealing from one to give to another. And by the way, not altruistically either, but for power and votes. This is said to be “just”; this is said to be “fair.” This is said to be “compassionate,” yet it violates the individual’s unalienable rights and the limits the Constitution places on the federal government. There is nothing fair, just, or compassionate about it.
The reason why liberals cannot tell you ‘what are the limits of this new power’ is because there are not any limits. The government identifies what’s unequal, what program it wants to fund or create, what “entitlement” it wants to create or expand, calls it a “right” and then plunders individuals that it targets. You might think ‘why do I care? Let me have my piece.’ … Your children are also, under God granted unalienable rights, recognized by our Declaration. Your children, and their labor, and their motivation, and their ambition, and their industry, and who they want to be, and how they want to be, is also protected by the United States Constitution. If Obama and people like him, people of this alien ideology who reject unalienable rights, who reject the limits of the Constitution are successful, then what are you? What are your children? They will not have the freedom that your parents and grandparents had. They will not have the ability to be successful, to pursue opportunities, to improve their lifestyles, to take care of their families the way that you, your parents, and your grandparents have. This is fundamental ladies and gentlemen…we need to get back to first principles. … What is an American? What is the American society? What is the American culture? It’s completely different; it’s the opposite of what you hear Obama saying day in and day out. [emphasis added]
— Mark Levin, The Mark Levin Show, 4/19/2011 ~2:00-10:30
In essence, as a conservative I want every American to be successful. No exceptions – even corporations. I do not want the government to pick winners; I want customers to pick winners. The Declaration of Independence talks about “the pursuit of happiness” as a God-given right, among other “unalienable rights” for a host of reasons. As Mark Levin plainly states above: this is a right of equal opportunity in modern language, but not a right to equal results. Unequal results are part of humanity, and not evidence of unequal opportunity! Stated another way, we are all gifted with equal value, but we are all gifted differently. It is up to each of us to make the best of our God-given gifts and abilities, and live accordingly. Society may place different monetary values upon people, but not God.
The Constitution is therefore written as a document not just to design the government, but to act as a protection of the people and these unalienable rights from government. In other words, the founding fathers had personal experience of government tyranny ‘doing what is best for the people,’ and they also knew the host of similar governments throughout history. To be kind, the track record for such governments was not good with respect to the people living within them.
The Founders’ vision for the United States of America was very different. This would not be just a group of tyrants we can vote in and vote out (pure democracy), but instead it is a government that is literally of the people: a republic. In other words, the federal government’s role is to protect the unalienable rights of its people, and frankly nothing more. This government is designed to be like a physicians’ creed: first, do no harm. The Founders knew that even the perfectly designed government was still a stupid, blunt instrument compared to individuals with liberty engineering their lives as best they see fit. We are not all separate individuals – we do have a responsibility to uphold a civil society. Rather, the Founders understood that a country made of individuals with liberty over their own lives is collectively stronger than any other design. The Founders recognized the basic nature of human spirit – that a person is generally their own best advocate for what works best in their life. A person’s self-interest creates the strongest human condition for that person. Thus, they built a government that recognizes this truth: individual liberty must be protected.
President Obama is now talking about a mythical “social contract” that exists within government. The first social contract within our Constitutional government is to do no harm. If you’ve been paying attention over the last 2 years, President Obama and statists like him have kept trying to sell us on the idea that they can fix what ails us, and you won’t have to pay for it! Mythical “rich people” will pay for these remedies. They even tried selling the idea that we could borrow and spend more (as we have already borrowed vast sums) to fix the economy. This “stimulus” did not work as advertised, and instead has saddled future generations with more burdensome debt (we already had a lot) while delivering a barely average economy – in this country where exceptional is normal. Instead of admitting error, the statists now preach to us ‘you don’t know how bad it would have been without the government spending this money!’ Doesn’t this all sound like a snake-oil sales pitch you would see on the TV at 1 a.m.?
So what kind of “social contract” do we owe to the generation behind us? In literal terms, we are spending funds today that the next generation (our children) has not even earned to pay taxes upon. Is this a truly moral position to hold? Reform-minded plans like Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” take nearly a generation to merely zero out the annual deficit, or spending what we do not have today. At the end of this plan we would still be left with a mountain of debt that must be addressed! However even a moderate plan such as Paul Ryan’s is blasted by these statists as “unfair,” as though these Goldilocks have a better plan.
President Obama and the statists he leads are still talking about “investing in the future” with what amounts to our fourth mortgage. Again, snake oil salesmen don’t admit they sold you plain water, they sell you on their next-best great idea.
A Constitutional conservative like me is instead looking for a better way. As a country, our family budget is a sick joke. Our economy is a diamond that has lost its shine. Our public education system is failing the next generation we are hoping can pay today’s bills. Our energy policy appears aimless and disconnected from our economy’s need to grow. Our immigration policies create an underclass that lives as interlopers in our society, afraid to assimilate for fear of getting caught and ‘sent back home’. Government bureaucrats seek to prevent job creation unless their personal preferences (unions) are met. Our failure to pay for today’s bills with today’s money raises the price of everything (inflation, interest rates, and commodities) and weakens the very businesses we need to succeed.
The real “social contract” exists within the American people, not within its representative government. The statist vision of government has literally short-circuited the social contract of civil society. We have collectively abdicated our role to “love our neighbor” to governments around us. Our civil society gets weaker every time we think “the government will take care this.” No government employee or agency or program will care for or about your neighbor better than you and the rest of your neighbors…or themselves. Whether or not our society values something is NOT reflected with government programs:
Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all.
We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.
— Frédéric Bastiat, The Law — 1850
When I look for candidates to support and send to places of political power, I am looking for Constitutional conservatives who are interested in restoring Constitutional “first principles” as Mark Levin clearly states above. Leadership requires leadership.
If you’re interested in reading more about conservative ideals, I strongly urge you to pick up a copy of Mark Levin’s fine book “Liberty and Tyranny”. It is easy reading, and if you set your mind to it you can knock it out in a weekend. The “conservative manifesto” at the end of the book is particularly powerful. Tune into Mark’s program (or download it) once in awhile – just be advised that he can use terse language (I don’t listen when children can hear). Seek out the “recommended reading” on RedState or on Mark’s site.
I think you will find that the more you educate yourself about the Founding of this United States of America, you will also call yourself a Constitutional conservative.
Cross-posted at BA Cyclone’s blog.