“The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.”– Hannah Arendt (The New Yorker, 12 Sept. 1970)
Political elections greatly muddy the political waters. Republican, Democrat, and Libertarian partisan ideologies replace the more narrowly defined and intellectually pure conservatism, progressivism, and libertarianism. The College Conservative roots exemplify the conservative ethic. While the Republican ideology generally is synonymous to conservatism, this general rule is not always true. People who spend long, laborious hours studying conservatism can develop a conservative worldview outside the bounds of the pop-culture “Republicanism.”
This can be clearly seen at National Review, which used to be a bridge between the conservative and the Republican. William F. Buckley, Jr., built National Review to keep together conservative’s three legs: national security conservatives, fiscal conservatives, and social conservatives. They directed Republicanism towards conservatism and helped transform a nation who rejected Barry Goldwater to accept Ronald Reagan. Now, National Review largely protests Republicanism. They temporarily left—with extreme trepidation—Republicanism.
When we feel and are most divided, it is important to remember our common ground. Conservatives do not merely ‘conserve’ the current order. Conservatives do not seek to reset the world to some other time. If there is a central, unifying Western conservative method, it would be:
“The burden of proof for change is on those who advocate for change.”
Change advocates must apply Karl Popper’s method for scientific inquiry. They must prove the present state is not producing the proper results to open the debate. Everyone must then provide, based on historical evidence and research, solutions better than the status quo. If there is no evidence for an idea or theory, it should be rejected. Evidence that an idea will not work, has not worked, or requires extra-human changes (e.g., some sort of moral perfection) to work makes the idea worthless. Once the political order implements a policy, the conservative—continuing Karl Popper’s mold—continues to look for a better policy. The scientific enquiry of politics is a continuous method of refutation.
As a method, this separates conservatism from progressivism and libertarianism. Progressives and libertarians want to reconstruct society towards their ideal socio-political order. Conservatives begin with the Founder’s vision, and then they adopt policies proved worthwhile and preserve policies lacking an appropriate replacement. This means conservative will adopt policies from idealistic ideologies. Ronald Reagan’s favorite economist, F. A. Hayek, was not a conservative. Nevertheless, Hayek’s theories were adopted by conservativism because history proved systems of free-trade and free-markets raised more people out of poverty than any other similar system. So, conservatives adopted economic liberalism and rejected Richard Nixon’s Keynesianism.
It is important to remember that while we may be divided regarding whether Republicanism is conservative enough, we are still united. We share a method. We also share a rich history including the likes of Edmund Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville, C. S. Lewis, Russell Kirk, Hannah Arendt, Thomas Sowell, and Milton Friedman. Republicanism ebbs and flows. Conservatism, so long as it retains its method, will remain.