By most contemporary standards, I count as a conservative. I believe in a smaller government, a market economy, and the nuclear family. I also want us to honor the constitution and protect religious freedom. Indeed, I am a strong advocate for liberty—period.
But that does not mean I want to return to the past. It does not even mean I want to freeze things in place. For me, the goal is to build on the past to make for a better future. What is wrong ought to be remedied; whereas what works should be preserved.
I remember cold winter mornings when I was a boy. I recall how my father had to wait for our car to warm up before he could put it in gear. I also remember collecting change to make long-distance calls at a nearby pay phone. Neither was much fun.
More consequentially, many New York families had to escape to the Catskill Mountains during the summer in order to avoid polio. Nor could blacks and whites marry in the south. Neither might minorities vote without fear of lynching. Some folks even had to worry about putting food on the table.
Why would anyone want to cancel out modern medicine, or return to an economy dependent on manual labor, or keep women barefoot pregnant and in the kitchen? None, but the most obstinate troglodytes, ask to go back to a horse and buggy era that did not have indoor plumbing.
Liberals are fond of the canard that only they value progress. This, however, is an egregious untruth. To begin with, progressives are often backward looking. Their ideal is the rustic village of yesteryear in which everyone knew each other and theoretically acted as if they were family.
In fact, liberals hate actual families. Many want to see them dismantled. Conservatives, on the other hand, want to strengthen domestic relationships. They want husbands and wives to be deeply committed to each other and their children. They ask intimates to work together for their joint benefit.
This most emphatically does not imply plunging women into conjugal servitude. Most conservatives favor marriages in which the spouses are moral equals. They want both men and women to be fulfilled, which means that their relationship must be different from that of their great-grandparents. In other words, it must change.
Liberals also accuse conservatives of being insensitive racists. They forget that it was Republicans who won the Civil War and fought for school integration. Folks like me are appalled by segregation and hypocritical tolerance. We categorically want equal rights for all.
Yet this too entails change. Instead of the rigid racial politics of today, the same rules should apply to everyone. We so-called “traditionalists” don’t want affirmative action, but colorblind action. Rather than tokens and political correctness, we insist on honesty and mutual respect.
Liberals are forever accusing conservatives of wanting to reinstate Jim Crow, whereas it is they who fight to install correctives appropriate to the past rather than the present. For instance, they want to protect fraudulent voting, despite the fact that blacks now often vote in greater numbers than whites.
Conservatives likewise believe in education. They desire a society where scholastic opportunity is available to everyone. What they oppose—and strenuously oppose—is indoctrination. They want a marketplace of ideas, not a one-size-fits-all liberal mentality.
Conservatives are dedicated to equal opportunity! This, however, requires more than slogans or government imposed regulations. We need a change of heart. All lives matter. Not just Black lives. Or women’s lives. Or gay lives. Instead of social compartmentalization, everyone’s human rights have to be respected.
How is this a return to the past? In what way does it cement us into the lifestyles of our ancestors? A decentralized society, based on liberty and respectful relationships, depends on us becoming more enlightened and civilized. We need to grow up, if we are to live like genuine adults.
This is a forward-looking agenda, not a backward looking one. Although it reveres moral principles derived from the past, it asks us to become the kind of people capable of implementing them.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Kennesaw State University