Conservatives love the idea of adhering to “true” political principles. They value principle so much so that they often suggest that a person lacking these principles is unfit for any office.
But rigid principles aren’t always very helpful in politics. Politics often requires one to compromise with people from a variety backgrounds, and being a stubborn stiff rarely helps when you need to make a deal.
Why then do so many conservatives claim to value political principles above sensible compromise?
One reason is that, as Ben Shapiro says, “ [conservatives are] fan[s] of principles because without them, politics becomes meaningless.” The loss of these principles, and the corresponding loss of meaning, typically fall under the following headings: “nihilism,” “post-modernism,” and “atheism.”
Here, however, is another real point of insight: the term “political principle” is usually used as a proxy for “Christian principles.”
Think about it for a moment. The most vocal critics of politicians who lack “principles”–including Ben Shapiro and Jonah Goldberg, to name a few–come from strong Judeo-Christian backgrounds. This then explains why conservatives claim to adhere to these principles in the first place. For many, the loss of “principles” implies a loss of societal esteem for Christianity in American culture.
However, this brings us to a problem–America wasn’t founded as a Christian nation. While some of the founding fathers were Christians, many of them were Deists.
Furthermore, if “the notion of tradition is central to conservatism“ then it can’t be the case that Christianity is inherently tied to conservatism. This is not only for the reason that America wasn’t founded as a Christian nation, but also because there is no mention of God or any specific religion in the Constitution. Additionally the First Amendment to the Constitution says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Ultimately, political principles, insofar as the concept is being used as a code for Christian principles, aren’t conservative after all. What we can call “conservative” is our founding documents — namely the Constitution and The Federalist Papers.
Until we’ve ensured that all citizens are aware of both their Constitutional rights, along with their Constitutional and civic responsibilities, then perhaps we should drop all talk about principles. Because without deep knowledge of our founding documents how can we claim to any principles at all?