No academic work has influenced my political beliefs more than Dr. Morgan Marietta’s, “A Citizen’s Guide to American Ideology: Conservatism and Liberalism in Contemporary Politics”. In it, Marietta deconstructs the nation’s two most prominent ideologies into ideological trees, with premise roots, a core value trunk and a central problem from which solutions branch.
The resulting analysis of conservatism is simple. The fundamental premises conservatives agree on are that society is a fragile, artificial construction; that human nature produces malicious individuals and violence — similar to Hobbes’ “nasty, brutish, and short” assertion—; and that because of both factors, utopian societies can’t exist. The core value of conservatism is “ordered liberty” which means that, while liberty is the most essential value, enforcing order through might and convention ensures that liberty is maintained.
The central problem facing conservatives is what Marietta calls “The Glue Problem”; “how do we hold together a free and fragile society?” The answers lie in conservatism’s branches. He describes four: national defense, social, economic and cultural conservatism.
National defense conservatism consists of supporting our nation psychologically through patriotism and materially through and the armed forces. This branch culminates in the martial culture epitomized by America’s premier military academy: “The West Point motto of Duty, Honor, Country sums up the collective commitments and emotions that maintain a decent society.”
Social conservatism is the use of religious symbolism in national monuments and our money, pledge and motto to seek divine protection. This type of unity is based upon “a common religious heritage in Judeo-Christian traditions, but more importantly [in] a common moral basis.” The most famous political example of this conservative belief is the quote from Ronald Reagan cited often by social conservatives: “If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be a nation gone under.”
Economic conservatism supports private property rights, free and competitive markets and a strong work ethic. Interfering with the economy “even when well-intended and seemingly logical, [is] subject to the law of unintended consequences and the general failings of social engineering.”
Cultural conservatism uses tradition as a solution to the Glue Problem through a variety of means, notably national symbolism, a common tongue and established behavioral norms. According to cultural conservatives, “Tradition, in and of itself, regardless of the specific content, is good because it unifies us around known customs and regular events.”
Individuals can draw on any of these branches to create their personal political beliefs. For example, President George W. Bush and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin see all four branches as necessary. Conversely, Princeton’s Dr. Robert George is a cultural and social conservative, while pundit Charles Krauthammer is mostly a national defense conservative.
Reading this treatise by Dr. Marietta, it dawned on me that for several decades intellectual roles in the conservative movement have largely been filled by non-intellectuals. This is acceptable to a degree; for a political nation to survive, grassroots and popular activism are needed. However, the academic defenses for the ideology provided by these groups, while effective political tools, fail to communicate what conservatism is.
Designed to enlighten and empower, conservatism as envisioned by Irish statesman Edmund Burke and his intellectual heirs recognizes human realities — the rights and duties incumbent to well-ordered societies and lives. Therefore, intellectual conservatism demands resurgence. The rhetoric, reason and reality of the right needs academic voices to provide the philosophical foundation from which political action springs.
This call is for all college students, but more specifically the student body of UGA. In the face of political contention in the classroom and outside, campus conservatives must advance the cause. Such views are well-represented in this magazine. So continue to read, continue to grow and, above all, continue to think.
—Brennan Mancil is a freshman studying political science and international affairs.