What Does It Mean to Be a Conservative?

Some very old friends recently sent me a link to the obituary of Sir Roger Scruton, an English conservative.  I confess I was not aware of him and so I read the article and wanting to learn about him first hand I went to his website and watched some of his lectures and read some of his papers.

What I heard and read was very impressive.  He was clear, persuasive, intelligent and even funny.  But what struck me as important was that he defined what conservatism is and why it’s important.  And he did it in a way that was simplicity itself and at the same time showed why it was so important.

He said, “The real reason people are conservatives is that they are attached to the things that they love, and want to preserve them from abuse and decay. They are attached to their family, their friends, their religion, and their immediate environment.”  What could be simpler to understand than that?  And what could be more important than that?

And so, I have found in this an easy way to test if an argument is conservative or not.  If someone tells you that being opposed to gay marriage or transgenderism is wrong, I look at how it affects my family and friends and religion and discover that normalizing these things is harmful to all of those things.  Children will be told things in school that will confuse them and could lead them into great harm both physically and psychologically.  I can thus say that opposing LGBTQ initiatives for these things is conservative and because of the way I’ve just defined it is in the interests of me and my family and friends.  That doesn’t mean I wish harm on these people who advocate for this agenda.  I’m just protecting my family and way of life from the harm they are attempting to inflict on me.

And likewise with something like illegal immigration.  If I oppose illegal immigrants flooding the country that doesn’t make me the aggressor trying to harm these people.  It means I’m trying to protect me and mine from the effects of such an invasion.  I have nothing against the individuals involved.  I am reacting to the problems that such a phenomenon will have on the nation, the community and my friends and family in particular.  Massive immigration will drive up crime, welfare participation, housing costs and the cost of government and will depress wages and quality of life.  Even the loss of the traditions and practices we have grown up with is a degrading of the environment that we live in.  So once again it is simple to see that conservative principles dictate opposition to excessive immigration.

As a final example I’ll look at feminism.  Here is a philosophy that says that women should be encouraged, even propagandized and bullied into thinking that a career is the only acceptable option for a woman’s life.  Marriage and childrearing is a hindrance to this lifestyle and if pursued by her must be done with as little interference to her climbing the corporate ladder.  I can think of no project that has had as disastrous an effect on the modern world as feminism has had.  Our population is dwindling, children have lost the comfort of their mothers in the most critical years and the flooding of the labor market has depressed wage growth to the point that two incomes is barely enough to support a family. In addition, federal affirmative action discriminates against men in the work place to push this feminist agenda.  For these reasons, opposing feminism in general and working mothers in particular is an obvious conservative position.  Does that mean I hate women?  Of course not.  But I oppose feminism because of the harm it does to me, my family, my community and the nation.

I’ll have to thank my friends for introducing me to Sir Roger.  He has provided me with a definition of conservatism that is simple, powerful and easily applied.

Roger Scruton – RIP – A Conservative Giant

Scruton had the honesty and common sense to jump off the radical bandwagon in the 1960s after seeing the Parisian students pretend to be proletariat warriors.  And he paid the price.  He was shunned by the academy.

I like this next quote.

The real reason people are conservatives is that they are attached to the things that they love, and want to preserve them from abuse and decay,” Scruton wrote in 2015. “They are attached to their family, their friends, their religion, and their immediate environment.


The above article contains this quote which also seems full of common sense and honest feeling.

My final episode to recall was at and after Roger’s well-attended and insightful lecture at the Legatum Institute in London, in May 2018, discussing “The Character of Loyalty.”

He reminded us that loyalty is a fundamental virtue on which we all depend for survival because it ties families, communities, and nations together. In defining loyalty, Roger distinguished between personal loyalty, which is a vow, such as a marriage vow or family ties and national loyalty, which is a contractual commitment. The motivation for loyalty may be practical where the commitment is rational and deliberate or sentimental where the commitment may remain despite a cost or disadvantage.

“Above all,” he concluded, “loyalty is a commitment to one’s duty which may include family, friendship, career, religion or country.” These were the things that mattered most to him: first principles.