The Conservatism Liberals Want
There is a tendency amongst liberals and progressives to long for the conservatives “of old.” It usually goes cyclically. A Republican president, when he is in power, is decried as evil, monstrous, and a threat to democracy—even humanity—itself. After some time goes by, on occasion, that Republican president will be invoked by the Left as a gold standard of what the Republican Party used to be. Then, they will claim that today’s GOP has gone so far down the road of radicalism that it is now irredeemable compared to that other, mythological and centrist, GOP. This view from the Left parts from the idea that conservatives are only worth recognizing or respecting in so far as they agree with the Left in their opinions and favored policies.
The British conservative philosopher Sir Roger Scruton once said, “Leftwing people find it very hard to get on with rightwing people because they believe that they are evil. Whereas I have no problem getting on with leftwing people, because I simply believe that they are mistaken.” Though this view of the other side as “evil” in recent times has become increasingly common on the Right as well, that is beyond the scope of this piece. However, people may notice that sometimes when they are having political discussions with people on the Left, a leftist will only concede that a conservative may have a point in so far as the right-winger proves he is a “moderate” and, as such, is no threat to the dominant liberal culture. This is because the presumption that operates on the Left is that their deconstructionist, materialistic, relativistic view of life is the only one. The premise supposes that everyone is really a liberal if they would just use their reason. This is the tendency of liberalism to view dissenting opinions as a lack of “education,” as if there could be no real difference of opinion between a right-winger and a liberal except ignorance.
Usually, liberals test that moderation with social and cultural issues. For example, if a conservative is “personally pro-life but politically pro-choice,” he is considered a worthy moderate. Suppose the conservative believes in American exceptionalism but doesn’t say so too loudly and does not try to teach that in classrooms. In that case, he is seen as moderate, and so on with a variety of issues. This happens in the Left’s critiques of the Republican Party’s history. After sufficient time has gone by, the Left will create a half-respectful discourse regarding past Republican Presidents or candidates. They will, for example, praise Dwight Eisenhower, John McCain, or Mitt Romney for their moderation and decency; but they will hardly ever recall the damage to their reputations and the indictment of their characters when these men were in the center of affairs. If you push a little, if you confront the Left with the fact that these people had a genuine difference of views with them, they will let the mask fall off and show their contempt for every single Republican or conservative that ever held power.
For example, Woody Allen showed the animosity of liberals toward Eisenhower in Annie Hall, though now Eisenhower is seen as an ideal Republican. Likewise, John McCain and Mitt Romney in their time were both hated and scorned by the Left. President Biden basically claimed Romney wanted to put people “back in chains,” and Democrats accused Paul Ryan of killing granny. This severe animosity only changed when both men found themselves in opposition to former President Trump. And if they ever disagreed with liberals on anything, the hatred towards them would quickly return.
All this is to say that the Left only views the right as worth political existence if they capitulate to their every view. To be “moderate” for many progressives and liberals is simply to be a hesitant liberal. In their mind, conservatism is only backward and unintelligent. Conservatism, for them, is merely a fetal liberalism, which will be born in the person after a proper re-education. In other words, conservatives are “the stupid party,” as John Stuart Mill declared.
Most liberals fail to understand that there can be a genuine difference of opinion. Thomas Sowell explains that in political and social issues, there are usually two visions of human nature that are different in their views and suppositions, and as such are usually in conflict with one another. One is the unconstrained vision, which believes human nature can be constantly improved with the right policies. The idea of “progress” as an ever-increasing development of humanity easily fits there. While the second vision believes in the “constrained” vision of human nature. What in other times would have been called original sin, or the knowledge that “man is fallen” and as such it is difficult for humanity to progress without help and of its own accord and at best can only aspire to imperfect trade-offs in which some things improve at the expense of others.
In short, what the Left needs to understand is that not every disagreement is evil. There are genuine differences in ideas, ideologies, and visions. Moderation does not mean agreeing with every policy and vision preferred by the Left. It is absurd for liberals to continuously operate on that presumption. That is why conservatism and the right, in general, must resist the attempts to force them to abandon their principles in the name of moderation. As Barry Goldwater once said, conservatives must continue to offer voters “a choice and not an echo.” However, they must also recognize that such as the Left is not right on every issue; neither is theRight. Humility is a virtue that is sorely needed in today’s politics. It is to find those errors and pursue the truth why free speech and free discussion of ideas are so crucial to a free, consensual society.