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Will the REAL Conservatism Please Stand Up!

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The stuff going on now is not the face of true conservatism… it is rather an angry populism. Back in the 1950’s Quintin Hogg gave an excellent definition of this perspective on the right: “Conservatism is not so much a philosophy as an attitude, a constant force, performing a timeless function in the development of a free society, and corresponding to a deep and permanent requirement of human nature itself.”

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More palatable after he detached himself from the taint of anti-Catholicism, Barry Goldwater wrote: “Conservatism, we are told, is out of date. The charge is preposterous, and we ought boldly to say no. The laws of God, and of nature, have no deadline. The principles on which the conservative political position is based…are derived from the nature of man, and from the truths that God has revealed about His creation.”

adamsI would recommend Russell Kirk’s book THE CONSERVATIVE MIND which I read as a young man. It discusses Conservatism as an important facet of our intellectual patrimony going back to the American founding father, John Adams. He warned us that Conservatism must not simply lament and shake fists at the distortion of values and rights by liberalism; rather, we have to respond to the need for a spiritual and moral rebirth of our identity and ideals in every age.

The necessity is finding the thread of continuity. It is in the context of this hermeneutic that the Catholic Church is inherently a conservative institution, passing down revealed and immutable truths to each generation. Doctrine develops and grows, but always in an organic way.

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Today, a big problem is finding the proper leadership. President Reagan was a genuine Conservative who understood the needs and hopes of people. Leaders like him are few and far between. During his administration Bill Bennett served as the Secretary of Education, a department of the executive branch of government that the President thought about eradicating but later sought to reform. It is within this light that Bennett’s THE BOOK OF VIRTUES was an effort to restore values to learning.

The Conservative voice should never fail to respond to the needs of all men and women with a message that both safeguards human rights and grants hope to those struggling to survive and to find happiness. People naturally want to feel secure and to have their basic needs met, hence the constant emphasis upon property and prosperity. While charity was rightly listed as an ingredient under G.W. Bush’s “compassionate Conservatism” such can become intolerable when distanced from genuine love and corrupted into a pattern of orchestrated political overtures to insure dependence and manipulation.

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The late William Buckley, who angered Ayn Rand and distanced himself from the so-called Conservatives of our time, stated: “Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views.” Hear all sides out— yes, even the voices you might not want to hear. There is too much name-calling, hate and polarization. We see this both in our country and the Church. Preserve what is good and lasting. Acknowledge that human nature does not change, although grace can summon us to holiness. Be open to new ideas that do not contradict who we are and what we are about as a people. Peace!

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