The case for conservatism (instead of libertarianism)

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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While Matt is on holiday, he has selected a few of his “greatest hits” to re-run until he returns next week. This originally ran at AOL’s Politics Daily on February 16, 2011.

Edmund Burke

Liberals tend to set up equality as the highest good. Equality is the end goal of most liberal policy. The conservative asks, “Why does that idea become valued over all others?” Equality is certainly good, but as a highest end and goal, it can lead to devastating consequences.

Likewise, the pure libertarian (as opposed to those of us who have some libertarian leanings) sets up liberty as the highest good. Liberty is the end goal of all policy. The conservative looks to the libertarian and asks, “Why does that idea become valued over all others?” Liberty is obviously a great good, but as the highest end goal, it can also lead to devastating consequences.

The conservative argues that the greatest instructor on what laws should exist in a civil society is human experience. So, it would seem libertarianism hits its own walls when it ventures out of its world of make-believe theories and steps into the world of reality.

Alternatively, traditional conservatives believe the rise and success of Western society was not merely a lucky accident or the result of a couple Enlightenment period thunderbolts, but rather the product of diligent work, trial and error, and human experience — and in may ways the result of Christian civilization.

As such, they argue that preserving a strong moral order — an order that took shape over millennia — is vitally important to a functioning society (including a functioning economic system).

The fact that we have a nation where contracts are honored — where civilized men don’t descend into the anarchy or the “law of the jungle,” where payola and murder are acceptable norms — was not a foregone conclusion but rather the product of a society that was carefully cultivated for centuries.

The late Harvard legal scholar Harold Berman noted that our legal system is a “secular residue of religious attitudes and assumptions which historically found expression first in the liturgy and rituals and doctrine of the church and thereafter in the institutions and concepts and values of the law. When these historical roots are not understood, many parts of the law appear to lack any underlying source of validity.”

(Read the whole thing at Politics Daily.)

Matt K. Lewis