Mottos signify the values dear to a body. Following a bloody revolution and overthrow of the Ancien Régime, the importance of individual freedom granted by state protection was recognized, somewhat paradoxically, by the French Republic in its motto, “Liberté, égalité, fraternité.” Another tripartite motto can be found in the American Declaration of Independence: “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
These terms crystallize what is important to each group. But what if the same model was applied to a political ideology? Just as nations have diverse and intricate structures, political doctrines are filled with both hidden and overt complexity. Specifically, what three words should we associate with modern conservatism? Such a motto would read, “Freedom, order, heritage.”
Freedom is the broadest ideal of the three, as it gives people and civil institutions the ability to make uncoerced decisions regarding their station and path. As subsets of freedom are economic opportunity, political liberty, individual and local autonomy, democratic or republican government and vigorous defense of the above. Conservatism idealizes freedom as the foundation of the best possible society, resisting powers like government which encroach upon liberty.
THE EDITORS: It’s a good day when you get to quote Bill Buckley. Then again, he is quotable enough to make good of most occasions.
Conservative guiding light William F. Buckley, Jr. described the individual and the government as dependent on the same liberty when he said “There is an inverse relationship between reliance on the state and self-reliance.” Conservatives also promote broadly freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to defend one’s person and property and freedom of political participation, all embodied in the first few amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Freedom is foremost among the values conservatives treasure.
The second ideal, order, protects the first, as unlimited freedom evolves into personal license. Instead of promoting liberty, license destroys it. On its own, without institutional protection, freedom’s benefits are eroded by non-cooperation and selfish motivation. To ensure the natural rights of humanity are guarded and secure, social order through limited government and civil morality is essential. Conservative philosopher Russell Kirk, who went further than Buckley in his respect for order, explained that “In any society, order is the first need of all. Liberty and justice may be established only after order is tolerably secure … Conservatives, knowing that ‘liberty inheres in some sensible object,’ are aware that true freedom can be found only within the framework of a social order, such as the constitutional order of these United States.” Cultural upheaval, glorified as desperately-needed “revolution” by some, dismisses the necessity for slow progress to preserve the best organizations, ideas and freedoms. Conservative action is incremental action, defending the order of a society.
Heritage is the third, and final, value of the “conservative motto,” because history and tradition together are the best source of experience and consequence. The history of humankind is the authoritative textbook on human behavior, institutions, as well as the motivations that drive both. From these, conservatives derive the best possible course of action in a particular, practical situation. Sometimes personal history guides action, like when President Ronald Reagan explained his assessment that America had to ensure Peace through Strength: “Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came because the U.S. was too strong.”
Most of the time, however, history shows that situations can be confronted in a variety of ways. Heritage also includes traditions and sociocultural norms, as these are the by-products of trial and error through the generations. In general, the legacy of humanity informs conservatives of the broad promise of human achievement, while warning against the equally-expansive potential for destruction.
The motto “Freedom, order, heritage” encompasses the values conservatives hold dear. Airy as they are, these values recognize, and are indeed grounded in, human nature. Together, they create free societies where individuals can truly pursue happiness. Treasuring these principles creates the best possible society, one that remains steadfast in its diligent resolve to preserve human liberty, today and for all time.
—Brennan Mancil is a freshman studying political science and international affairs
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