Bruning: Ignorance is ignorance: Political theory 101 — Conservatism


Photo: Kelsey Kremer/Iowa State Daily

Texas Gov. and presidential candidate Rick Perry speaks to the press at the Polk County Republican Party Summer Picnic on Saturday, Aug. 27, at Jalapeno Pete’s on the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines. Perry began his speech praising Iowa for its strong base in agriculture and continued to discuss his presidential intentions. 

Jessica Bruning

Given the recent straw poll, the upcoming caucuses and the 2012 election, there have been a lot of political “buzzwords” floating around: our “socialist” president, the democratic “liberals,” the religious “conservatives,” fascists, communists, ists, ists, ists…

The problem is, most of these labels are completely incorrect. The post-modern era has assigned its own meaning to these words that, in turn, strips them of any meaning at all. I am aware that not everyone has the chance to take a political theory course before they carelessly throw around and mutilate these schools of political thought; however, I can only hope our politicians have taken the time to read up on it, as they obviously haven’t. Therefore, throughout my next few columns I am going to take us through a sort of “-ism 101: Crash course on political theory.”

Since we just got to witness Michele Bachmann’s totally meaningful and deserved win at the straw poll, with her ability to say “Iowa” the most and her deep and profound rhetoric on why she should be allowed to shove her individual religious beliefs down everyone else’s throats — we’ll start off with conservatism.

Conservatism (as defined by Merriam-Webster): 1- a: the principles and policies of a Conservative party, b: the Conservative party. 2- a: disposition in politics to preserve what is established, b: a political philosophy based on tradition and social stability, stressing established institutions, and preferring gradual development to abrupt change… 3- the tendency to prefer an existing or traditional situation to change.

I would agree with all of these things; nowhere do I see anything about religion being a pre-cursor to conservatism, anything smiting the gays for their unnatural desire to love whom they please or suddenly cutting out resources to public institutions. It seems pretty basic: a smaller government and a desire to thoroughly evaluate decisions before implementing change. I can respect these things.

Edmond Burke is known for his theories on conservatism. He advocated for a “prudent willingness to change in order to conserve” rather than a blind resistance to change. I think that this way of looking at conservatism gives it a bit more credibility than its stereotype of old rich men who long for the “good ole days,” and instead credits it with prudence, carefulness and forethought. We need this sort of thinking in the world. We need people who are able to look at things logically and carefully to balance out the people who act on passion and emotion.

Burke believed that authority develops naturally as people look to one another for guidance and support, and that government should be “limited in the sense that it cannot try to change human beings.” This would be conducive to the idea that the government should have a limited role in individual’s private lives. This has always been something for which I have believed the right-wing conservatives to have always advocated. This is why their very heated opposition of same-sex marriage has always confused me. Shouldn’t tax breaks and a “live and let live” motto work in nicely to the conservative ideals?

It is when we start letting religion and private biases into our politics, which is purely a public matter, whereas religion is private, that the true essence of conservatism is distorted. It is each individual’s own prerogative to determine what principles should guide their lives, but once those principles invade other people’s lives the true meaning of conservatism is abolished.

Keep an eye out next week for the exciting world of liberalism! Here’s a clue: It doesn’t have as much to do with tree-hugging environmentalists as you think is does.