Conservatism seeks the Truth that has emerged over time, drawing from the deep wellsprings of human experience, and builds anew on foundations that have withstood the tests of time. It fosters order and the flourishing of human beings as they live in relationship with one another. We are united in the eternal contract between the dead, the living, and the yet unborn.
Conservatism is rooted in the acknowledgement that God is our Creator and that the human soul sojourns through this realm toward its eternal transcendent fulfillment. We are all flawed human beings in need of redemption, capable of great evil as well as great good.
Because man is fallible by nature, the conservative seeks to limit the damage that can be done through the abuse of power by limiting its concentration.
The conservative fosters the fullness of human potential by protecting the freedom and dignity of each person, acknowledging that responsibility comes with freedom. Rights and duties are always linked.
For the conservative, each man and woman is equal in dignity and equal before the law, but gloriously individual and unequal in talents, aptitudes, and outcomes. The conservative celebrates the uniqueness of individuals and does not level to eliminate differences.
The conservative honors the family as the essential building block of civilization, the house of worship as the locus for forming culture, and the community as the matrix for human interaction. Culture and community grow from relationships and affinities over time, rooted in place. Conservatives value the rich diversity of relationships, organizations, and private associations that make up civil society and intermediary institutions.
The conservative values subsidiarity because we know many of the best solutions to human problems are found at the level closest to the individual person. We foster personal, local care for persons in need, preferably face-to-face with someone whose name we know. We believe that human transformation occurs best in the context of a personal, loving relationship, with accountability, over time.
The conservative is more concerned with the culture than politics, because the political realm is a derivative one, not primary, in human existence. Political problems are at their root moral and spiritual problems, which blend into the economic realm. Political change is rooted in cultural change.
Conservatives believe that caring for our neighbor is so important that it should not be left to the government. The one thing government cannot do is love. That is what we are called to do in the private sector, with our own time, talent, and treasure.
The conservative believes that that the True, the Good, and the Beautiful are interrelated, and that all things are measured against these three transcendentals.
We believe that there is Truth, that it is knowable, and that it is our duty to seek Truth and live it throughout our lives. The conservative believes that the virtues of Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance should be practiced in both private and public life. We believe that virtues, not values, define the human soul.
We believe that Love is the highest motivation of the human person and that the purpose of life itself is to know God, to love Him and serve Him, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Our ultimate fulfillment is in the transcendence of love.
This essay was presented April 15, 2013 in a debate between conservatives and progressives, co-sponsored by the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies of Grand Valley State University and the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal.
This essay first appeared here in April 2013.
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The featured image is by Angelica Kauffman, “Self-portrait Hesitating between the Arts of Music and Painting,” courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.