“The Christian right,” says Jacqueline Salmon of the Washington Post, “has found new life with Barack Obama in office, particularly around health care.”

Salmon points to the bevy of “Christian conservative” organizations that rallied to oppose Obama’s September 9th speech to a joint session of Congress. Apparently, these groups have received a deluge of membership requests since Congress began considering health care reform.

Salmon speculates that “conservatives” (she never defines this term) are regrouping as a “movement” to oppose health care legislation. Her article and commentary raise questions for anyone who self-identifies as a “conservative.” She, and the experts she quotes, conflate the terms “conservative,” “Christian right,” and “religious right,” operating on the implicit assumption that Gary Bauer is the prototype for all “conservatives.” One might ask: are devotees of Edmund Burke necessarily attendees of Saddleback and subscribers to Focus on the Family?

Although she never clearly defines the components of this “movement,” she explicitly evaluates it as oppositional. Analyzed in a quotation by a professor from Rice University, opposition to healthcare demonstrates that “movements do better when they have something to oppose.”

Part of her analysis is sound. A “movement” will be short lived if it is primarily oppositional, defining itself as “us-versus-them.” Such a movement will only be capable of gathering momentum by defining itself as the absence of an undesirable end. As soon as the occasion or legislation in question moves from center stage, the movement will disperse. The coalition to which she points may be such a reaction.

But is a healthy conservatism properly conceived as a political movement at all? Perhaps the nature of conservatism changes when it is understood as a transient movement rather than as a mode of seeing and being in the world.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Edmund who? Ahh reckun I knowed a feller down to the feedlot named Ed but I think his name was Turnap and his game was concrete silos and them things froze up the contents solid.

    But, thank you for this and dealing with the issue is long overdue. The results of any analysis is sure to be so depressing as to confirm why nobody has addressed it for so long.

  2. If you like, you can borrow an unused term from my word hoard. In fact, I’ll give it to you for free without obligation. It’s a powerful term, coming, as it does, from a bardic imagination. So use it with care when confronted by your tormenters. The term is: Godless Left.

  3. I wrote on my own blog about what I perceive conservatism to be,

    “So what do we “conserve” as “conservatives?” There is much more to this than just being a “fiscal conservative.” After all a “fiscal conservative” can be an amazingly selfish and greedy person who does not care about anything outside of their own self-fulfillment.

    If being fiscally conservative, however, is married, so to speak, with an overall cultural renewal, then, that fiscal conservatism is no longer a means only to one’s self satisfaction, but is a morally responsible position that can allow us to give more to our family, our friends, and our community.

    So, we conserve money for a greater good than oneself. But what else? Isn’t conservation about saving things that are vitally important to us, possibly even necessary for life itself? Isn’t that what the “conservation” movement is all about when it comes to “saving the planet?”

    So isn’t being “conservative” about saving something that will sustain us, not only materially, but spiritually? Isn’t it about maintaining a connection to our roots, our family, and our cultural heritage that has historically shaped, though not determined, what and who we are?

    So conservatives must “conserve” more than their individuality, they must conserve those instituions that transcend, otherwise, do we not lose touch with any sense of eternity?

    In this respect, I think the “virtuous life” is much more than a mere “lifestyle choice.” It is a life that attempts to raise our horizons to something much higher than ourselves, and even higher than mere man. For youth that seek the stimulation of “personal” freedom, conservatives must offer a more comprehensive vision, a vision of greatness, transcendance, and the eternal. These are that which should be “conserved” because they are what give us true inspiration and bring us closer (if not into the direct presence of) Truth.

    Faith, family, and community are where these senses of the transcendent reside and those, even more than the fiscal arena, is what we must conserve.

    How we do this is another question.”

  4. I agree that conservatism properly conceived is not a movement, but I think it ultimately is reactionary, in the sense of being opposed to something. Don’t forget that Burke is often considered the founder of conservatism by virtue of his reaction against the liberalism of the French Revolution. We need to be careful not to equate conservatism with the wider category of things that are right and good.

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