The depressing budget brinksmanship of recent weeks is another reminder of the inherent disorder of American political terminology. Those of a Tea Party persuasion – protective of Medicare, generally sympathetic to classical liberalism, capable of uniting with the populist left to critique the triumphant Wall Street / Washington D.C. financial nexus – remain tangled with the label “conservative.” But to conserve what? The strong currents of Enlightenment assumption underpinning so much of the argument? The elevation to god-term status for abstracted concepts of “Freedom,” from war to contraceptive conscience, is an unfortunate argumentative assumption. Its mirrored equivalent is the left-wing battle cry of “Equality.” The two terms together constitute a primary dream of philosophical liberalism. Social traditionalists, including the Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Knights of Columbus, routinely employ the language of “religious freedom.” Like “economic freedom,” the terminology is better suited for the right-wing of liberalism, which is conservative only in the sense that it seeks to conserve the anti-statist American revolutionary spirit, and which the Catholic Church once strongly condemned. Dante insisted that sodomy and usury was the same sort of sin because the gift of self must not take the form of artificial fertility; and likewise the sterility of money is fertile only for so long as an illusionary financial bubble has not burst. Labor, not capital, is fertile. This near-forgotten insight is far more authentically conservative than our political culture’s unfortunate use of the term.
For the conservative fighting the conquest of nature for the relief of man’s estate, through the rule of bureaucratic oligarchy and in the face of family disintegration, if we must have god-terms – then less Choice, Consent, Representation, Freedom, Equality, Emancipation, and Autonomy, and more Good, Virtue, Person, Family, Community, Authority, Value, Transcendence, Sacramental, and Ritual.