I am conservative (and so can you)

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Despite being perhaps the leading “conservative reformer” in the nation, it turns out Josh Barro isn’t conservative. He has conceded that. And today, he goes a step further, suggesting that conservative policies are “bad,” and that, “[t]he solution [for Republicans] is to change your ideology.”

This, of course, only serves to prove Erick Erickson’s point — that Barro’s idea of reforming conservatism amounted to abandoning conservatism.

Look, I’m sympathetic to the idea of reforming conservatism — of making it more relevant to 21st century Americans. For this reason, I wrote a Guardian column in September of 2012, called “A GOP running on empty,” and the morning after Romney lost, I think I coined the phrase, “modernize, not moderate.”

But Barro has apparently decided we must destroy the village in order to save it.

In fairness, some of our disagreement might hinge on semantics. Barro believes that “conservatism is whatever ideology is shared by most of the people who call themselves conservatives…” That’s a sort of philosophical relativism. Just because a bunch of people call something “conservative” doesn’t mean they get to own the word.

So what is “conservatism?” Arguably the best definition I’ve heard comes from “conservative reformer” David Brooks, who defined it thusly: “The essence of conservatism — from Burke to Hayek — is epistemological modesty — an awareness of how little we can know about ourselves, and how little we can plan. Because life is so complicated.”

Barro admittedly isn’t a conservative, but I suspect neither are many of his critics. Many of the folks who most loudly call themselves conservative are actually right-wing radicals. There’s a difference.

Matt K. Lewis