Friday, October 08, 2004
William F. Buckley's recent retirement from the National Review, nearly half a century after he founded it, led me to reflect on American conservatism's first principles, which Buckley helped define for our time. Beneath Buckley's scintillating phrases and rapier wit lay, as Churchill wrote of Lord Birkenhead, "settled and somewhat somber conclusions upon... questions about which many people are content to remain in placid suspense": that political and economic liberty were indivisible; that government's purpose was protecting those liberties; that the Constitution empowered government to fulfill its proper role while restraining it from the concentration and abuse of power; and that its genius lay in the Tenth Amendment, which makes explicit that the powers not delegated to government are reserved to the states or to the people.
More generally, American conservatives seek what Lord Acton called the highest political good: to secure liberty, which is the freedom to obey one's own will and conscience rather than the will and conscience of others. Any government, of any political shade, that erodes personal liberty in the name of social and economic progress must face a conservative's reasoned dissent, for allowing one to choose between right and wrong, between wisdom and foolishness, is the essential condition of human progress. Although sometimes the State has a duty to impose restrictions, such curbs on the liberty of the individual are analogous to a brace, crutch or bandage: However necessary in the moment, as they tend to weaken and to cramp, they are best removed as soon as possible. Thus American conservative politics championed private property, an institution sacred in itself and vital to the well being of society. It favored limited government, balanced budgets, fiscal prudence and avoidance of foreign entanglements.
The Daily Reckoning