Conservatism versus the Charlatans of Sophistry

Today, the level of political animus and vitriol seems to be on a nearly vertical trajectory, with both sides pulling out all rhetorical stops in an effort to win converts to their ideology. For a time this seemed to be just a partisan war, but I am beginning to believe that it is much, much deeper than that. I believe we are at one of those great crossroads in our nation’s history where we must assess who we are and what values we hold before we can come to agreement on policies that reflect those beliefs. On the ideological left is a philosophy which elevates the state above the individual, which says we as individuals can’t be trusted to make correct decisions and must therefore be governed by a technocrat oligarchy of (theoretically) unbiased bureaucrats. These are the intellectuals and the scientific “experts” who are smarter than the rest of us and will therefore make wise decisions that we are forced to accept now, and at some distant point in the future we will pay homage as beneficiaries of that wisdom.

This philosophy can be seen in efforts to ban the incandescent light bulb, regulate salt and sugar intake in our diets along with the use of trans-fats; in the use of the tax and regulatory codes to force us into smaller, more fuel efficient cars. It can be seen in attempts to ban all public expressions of religious belief and in the rigging of the free market in favor of “renewable” energy sources by providing taxpayer subsidies that hide the true cost.

On the ideological right is a philosophy that holds the individual above the collective, that sees government as a necessary evil to be kept under tight constraints and against which we must jealously guard our liberties from the encroachment and expansion of government power.

The philosophy of the right is often denigrated as being hateful, greedy, selfish and inhumane. However, those that feel that way simply misunderstand the nature of this philosophy. One of the glaring philosophical differences between the left and right is that the right believes in limited government, with other needs being met through families, friends, churches, community and civic organizations, humanitarian organizations and the like. The left holds that we simply can’t trust the average person to do the right thing and therefore must use the power of government force to compel adherence to these goals.

All too often we get caught up in the minutiae of this or that policy debate (i.e., what percentage of GDP is an acceptable amount of debt to hold, should we cut spending on this program or just reduce the rate of increase, etc.) without addressing the underlying principles. So, in order to make the case for conservative policy positions, we must first make understood the principles upon which they are based.

Above all, we must understand the nature of an individual’s relationship with government. Our Constitution is the codification of the principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration declares the self-evident truths that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights… [and that] to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

What this means is that we are children of the great Creator, born into this world as sovereign beings answerable only to Him; that we are born with rights that cannot be taken from us (though they can be infringed upon if we are without power to defend them), and that government is a creation of men, wherein we delegate a limited portion of those rights to agents acting in our behalf. Further, this means that government has no powers which we do not ourselves possess (indeed, how can the creation have more power than the Creator granted?), and that we can take back those powers when our agents violate the terms of the grant of power.

So, what does this mean in a practical sense, and what does it have to do with the conservative philosophy? It means that the Founders well understood the nature of man and power; that men in power have a tendency to consolidate and expand that power. That is why they introduced mechanisms into the Constitution which pitted the branches and levels of government against each other. By doing so, any increase in power for one would come at the expense of another. The tension between the branches and levels of government, as the computer geeks would say, is a feature, not a bug.

Yet it goes even deeper than that. The Declaration establishes that we are sovereign beings. That means that we rule ourselves. Our Constitution limits government power to the minimum level necessary to carry out the functions delegated to it. Why? Because a single step beyond that is a usurpation of the sovereignty of the individual. In his Commentaries of the Constitution (1833), Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, called the “Father of American Jurisprudence”, explained “[The Constitution] Being an instrument of limited and enumerated powers, it follows irresistibly, that what is not conferred, is withheld, and belongs to the state authorities, if invested by their constitutions of government respectively in them; and if not so invested, it is retained BY THE PEOPLE, as a part of their residuary sovereignty.”

So as we discuss the 99% versus the 1%, or the social “safety net”, or entitlements or redistribution of wealth, it is important that we place these things in their proper context and understand the implications. A conservative objects to expansive government not because (as liberal Democrats love to claim) we want to breathe dirty air and drink dirty water, or let children starve or go uneducated, or let the poor suffer or the sick die or any other such nonsense. We simply believe deeply in the Constitutional limitation of powers upon the federal government, and understand that the usurpation of power that leads to a loss of freedom is more often than not rooted in the rhetoric of compassion, charity or security. We believe not that these things are not important, but that the federal government is not the agent to accomplish them.

If man is sovereign and rules himself, then it follows that his labor is his own, and the product of that labor is his own. To force a man through taxation to fund a single item beyond those authorized by Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution is to make him a slave to government in the name of compassion. Ergo, the compassion for one man is achieved by the oppression of another.

America became the global ensign for freedom because she was a land of liberty that secured for each citizen the right to act as they desired, provided those actions did not infringe upon the rights of another. America is the most charitable nation in the world, with literally thousands of humanitarian, religious and civic organizations established to help those in need. We do not allow starvation or suffering as seen in other parts of the world. We take care of our own; but that does not mean we need the heavy hand of government to accomplish these goals. Let us not allow ourselves to be deceived into giving up our sovereignty to the siren song of charlatans seeking to enslave us with the flaxen cords of sophistry.


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