In modern America there are almost as many brands of conservatism as there are conservatives. There are neocons and paleocons, theocons and crunchy cons. There are social conservative and fiscal conservatives, conservatives who aim for National Greatness and others who strive to be Compassionate. There are the oxymoronic “Big Government conservatives” and “libertarian conservatives” and claims to conservatism are simply moronic (you know who they are).
Unless you’re already familiar with the political taxonomy, such labels aren’t particularly useful. To truly understand what a conservative believes, it is often more instructive to simply ask what it is they want to conserve.
My own answer to that question would be the one offered by my intellectual hero, Russell Kirk : The institution most essential to conserve is the family.
I believe that while ultimate sovereignty belongs to God alone, He delegates authority throughout society to various institutional structures (churches, businesses, the state, etc.). Naturally, these institutions are not immune to the effects of sin or human depravity but they still retain the legitimate authority given to them by our Creator. Although each of these institutions is important, the most essential is the family. My political philosophy could be called “family-first conservatism” for I believe that, in our current time and place within Western history, the institution of the family should be given pride of place in decisions about public policy.
While family-first conservatism is rather limited in scopemerely an emphasis within conservatism rather than a distinct branchI believe it is a robust enough to generate a core set of principles and policy prescriptions. The principles, which I have gleaned from the writings of better thinkers than myself, are outlined in the following manifesto:
1. We believe the family is the basic unit of society.
2. We believe that from birth we are initiated into the community structure of the family. We are not thrust into a state of radical individualism but rather into the most basic form of community. We are created to be both individuated persons and members of a community; neither can be reduced into the other.
3. We believe the heart of the family is the pre-political institution of marriage, a “one-flesh union” of sexually complementary spouses who cleave to each other in permanent commitment, loyalty, and fidelity and that this communion is naturally ordered to the good of spousal unity, to procreation, and to the nurturing of children.
4. We believe it is a self-evident truth that all human beings are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of human flourishing.
5. We believe in protecting the intrinsic dignity of all members of the human family, at any and every stage of life, in any and every state of consciousness or self-awareness, of any and every race, color, ethnicity, level of intelligence, religion, language, gender, character, behavior, physical ability/disability, potential, class, social status, etc., and believe that they must be treated in a manner commensurate with this moral status.
6. We believe the interaction between people in community has lead naturally to societal pluriformity and the formation of various, distinct social structures. Families interact with other families to create distinct communities such as the neighborhood, the city, and the state and that the various tasks and requirements for living has lead to the formation of churches, schools, businesses, civic unions and other associations.
7. We believe that each of these structures or spheres of influence has its own autonomy and responsibility and is sovereign within its own sphere. Each also has its locus of sovereignty which is derived not from another structure but from God alone. This forms a non-hierarchical structure where all authority is ultimately derived from our Creator.
8. We believe that parents have the primary sphere of authority and influence over the upbringing of their children and that this role may not be usurped by other institutions unless necessary to prevent incontrovertible harm of the child.
9. We believe that while parental authority is primary, other institutions have an interest and a duty in protecting the welfare of children and should do what they can to create and preserve a moral ecology that is conducive to creating virtuous citizens.
10. We believe that while social structures are non-hierarchical, the family should be considered “first among equals” and given special consideration in making decisions about public policy.