True Conservatism

Conservatism, despite the name, no longer conserves much of its original nature. Back in its day, American conservatism was a morally defensible position. To wit:

I heartily accept the motto, “That government is best which governs least”; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe—“That government is best which governs not at all”; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient. The objections which have been brought against a standing army, and they are many and weighty, and deserve to prevail, may also at last be brought against a standing government. The standing army is only an arm of the standing government. The government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it. Witness the present Mexican war, the work of comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as their tool; for, in the outset, the people would not have consented to this measure….[279]

A very few–as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men–serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it….[282]

There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly.[301][Henry David Thoreau, Walden and Other Writings (Barnes and Noble:New York, 1993.]


Only one word, “Mexican,” needs to be updated after all these years. But sadly, few of today’s self-styled “conservatives” will understand, any more than the neo-liberals who have wielded such power in recent decades have any ability to appreciate the meaning of “liberalism.”


2 comments on “True Conservatism

  1. […] raises the question of how the people may reclaim the powers they have ceded. Until the Government comes to recognize the individual as a higher power and until the individuals in society come to deserve such recognition by learning to moderate […]

  2. Algerians today are wrestling with the issue of reclaiming powers they have ceded to their government ( Americans seem mostly oblivious to the issue, but the Algerian experience since 1991 actually contains lessons pertinent to the U.S. (

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