Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Fred Thompson--A principled American Conservative

What is American Conservatives want to conserve? The adjective American is very important here, as the American Founding was in some sense the quintessentially liberal event in human history--when the word liberal is given it classical meaning, not used as a sheep-skin for the wolf of American socialism.

I like to describe what we want to conserve as the patrimony of Western Civilization up to, and including, the Anglo-Scottish Enlightenment. (And noting that our conservation consists chiefly in resisting the Continental 'Enlightenment'.) But I'm an academician and should probably more often quote the line put in the mouth of Thomas More by the screenwriter of A Man for All Seasons: I trust I make myself obscure.

Fred Thompson, however, does not make himself obscure, but sums up American Conservatism in the statement of principles he wrote for his campaign website www.fred08.com:

Individual Liberty As Jefferson spelled out in the Declaration of Independence, our basic rights come from God, not from government, and that among these inalienable rights is the right to liberty. We must allow individuals to lead their lives with minimal government interference.

Personal Responsibility The corollary to liberty is responsibility. No society can succeed and thrive for any duration unless free people act in a responsible way. All of us must take responsibility for our actions and strive to improve our own lives and to contribute to building a better society.

Free Markets Free people are best equipped to order their own affairs, and the common interest benefits from and is improved by the aggregate success of all. We must reform our tax system, encourage investment, support entrepreneurial spirit, open markets abroad to American goods, and minimize burdensome government regulations to continue to expand the economy and bring increased wealth to all Americans.

Limited Government Government must be strong enough to protect us, competent enough to provide basic government services, but limited by the delineated powers in the Constitution.

Federalism Our Constitution innovatively guarantees our liberties by spreading power among the three branches of the federal government, and between the federal government and the states. In considering any action by the government, we must always ask two questions: is the government better equipped than the private sector to perform the task and, if so, what level of government (federal or state) ought to do it. Washington is not the seat of all wisdom. (More on Federalism)--link to Fred's video exposition of the first of his principles to be set forth on his website

Protecting our Country The first responsibility of the federal government is to protect the nation and the American people. There is no more important task. We must have a strong and effective military, capable intelligence services, and a vigorous law enforcement and homeland security capacity.

Traditional American Values A healthy society is predicated on belief in God; respect for all life; strong families centered on the institution of marriage—the union of a man and a woman; and self-respect and tolerance of others. While we are all free to live our lives in the pursuit of our own happiness, the government has a responsibility to respect the right of parents to raise their children and to promote the values that produce the strongest society.

The Rule of Law We protect our liberty, secure our rights, and promote a just and stable society through the rule of law. We owe to ourselves and our fellow citizens our own adherence to the rules, but tough law enforcement and punishment for those who do not. A free and independent judiciary that interprets the law by adhering strictly to legal text and respects its limited role in our system of government is essential to our security and freedom, and we need judges who understand that role if we are to preserve our republic and freedom.

Conserving Our Nation’s Resources Each of us is put on Earth for a limited period of time. We must always strive to ensure that the resources we use to lead our lives are here for future generations to enjoy and use as well.

Note the order in which Thompson states his principles. First individual liberty. It is only because of the American people's steadfast resistance to socialism, in name at least, that the name 'liberal' was hijacked by the left. One European once explained to another that "in America 'liberal' means socialist." In European terms, we Republicans are mostly liberals with some of what Europeans call conservatives thrown in, while the Democrats are socialist. Liberty first.

After liberty Thompson lists personal responsibility. The Founders would have recognized this as a corollary: liberty is not license. Liberty has bounds necessary to its own continued existence, and each person must take responsibility for the use of their own freedom, not expect the state or their fellow citizens to save them from the consequences of their own actions.

Free markets. Here we are back to classical liberalism--freedom includes the freedom to engage in commerce. There is something ironic about the way our so-called liberals want to regulate and tax commerce while wearing the name 'liberal', when the original bearers of the name cleared out state-granted monopolies and established the free market system which has allowed Americans today, yes, even by and large those we call the poor, to enjoy wealth unimagninable to the vast majority of mankind down through the ages.

Limited government, federalism, protecting our country. Here Thompson comes to the means of guaranteeing the ordered liberty our Founding Fathers sought to establish. Probably because no one else in the political foray was talking about it, Thompson's website at first had only Federalism listed under his Principles. His eloquent exposition and defense of our Founders' idea is given in a video clip at the link provided.

Traditional American values. I know some of my fellow conservatives--the ones who would be conservatives in Europe--would like a candidate who put this first. I think it is about at the right place in the list (though it bothers me that 'values' has become a substitute for 'virtues' in our political discourse). Thompson is running for President of the United States, not Patriarch of Constantinople or Pope of Rome. A government can only do so much in instill virtue in its citizens. Conservatives of both the American and European varieties know that other institutions, natural, societal, and divinely instituted: the family, voluntary associations, schools (even when government run, not traditionally a Federal domain), the Church, all have much more to do with inculcating virtue than anything over which the Federal Executive Branch has control.

The Rule of Law. Again back to means, but even as personal responsibility sets a limit on individual responsibility, so the rule of law--that laws mean what they say, not what a judge intent on imposing his own values can twist them to say, that the functionaries of the government are bound by the laws as much as private citizens--imposes limits on the government's support of virtue and attempts to suppress vice. The fictionalized Thomas More come to mind again, defending giving even the devil the benefit of law.

Conserving our nation's resources. The 'Earth First, we'll strip-mine the other planets later' bumper-sticker is amusing as a way of tweaking the nature-worshipping romantics on the left, but conservatism is about conserving. . .


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