To be an American conservative is to believe that first, there is an Order of Creation. Second, that God’s authority has given us an eternal contract between the dead, the living, and the yet unborn. Third, that this contract is expressed in the church, the family, and the local community. Fourth, that there is a constitutional arrangement in the common sense of things, limited in authority, that gave shape to these truths. Fifth, that a reasonable amount of individual freedom, based on the above, rewards enterprise and initiative. Sixth, that there is a duty among all citizens to defend, sometimes (not often) even militarily, all of the above.
None of this implies an ideological box. These principles do not predict for whom I would vote or what foreign policy initiative I would support. They do, however, exclude me from thinking that we will likely achieve some state of earthly bliss.
Place. Limits. Liberty. Do these words have real meaning? I have often asked my ideological friends, “Is there a place you love? What would you do to defend it?” Or, “Is there a limit to what you would ask government to do? Name it, or at least give an approximation.” “Is there a better definition for liberty than the one in Micah 4:4?” But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it. This is, by the way, the definition of liberty that was overwhelmingly the one used in the early years of our republic.
If you love place, limits, liberty, and think they are words that have meaning, you are probably conservative, and should honor that word also. If you waffle, and want to be cosmopolitan and sophisticated and make up your own names and categories, you probably want to live in a world dominated by what Walter Lippmann called in 1938, the “dominant dogma of the age,” that government has the ability to make us happy. I like “conservative,” because I know what I want to conserve, and am unapologetic about what I want to exclude.