In recent decades, the Republican Party’s version of conservatism has emphasized three major themes:
First, in the realm of political economy, Republicans favor small government and unbridled capitalism, looking to the market to solve our domestic problems.
Second, in the realm of foreign policy, Republicans favor big government and unbridled activism, looking to the military to prolong the American Century.
Third, in the realm of culture, Republicans have spoken in defense of so-called traditional values, making much of their putative opposition to abortion and the defense of traditional marriage.
Republicans have made the first two themes the actual basis for policy. On the third theme, they have offered little more than symbolism and sanctimonious posturing. So the real guts of GOP conservatism in recent decades have focused on unleashing the market and the military – less state regulation of the economy, more state resources funneled to the Pentagon.
I submit that neither of these qualifies as a genuinely conservative position. To the extent that I have accurately characterized the Romney campaign’s position, I am glad Romney lost.
The essence of conservatism should be to conserve, showing respect for what is good in our inheritance. I refer both to our human inheritance and our inheritance in the natural world.
The market does not conserve. Capitalism is good for one thing: creating wealth. As an arena in which the pursuit of profit takes precedence over all other considerations, the market destroys much of what conservatives should value.
Except when used prudently to defend what is truly dear to us, the military does not conserve. It consumes and wastes.