A primer on Conservatism

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

Political conservatism speaks with four heads and one heart, according to a noted conservative scholar, although he admits that not one member of that quartet is likely to get a fair hearing on any college or university campus.

“Taking one’s bearing from a document like the Declaration of Independence,” is something all four schools of thought have in common, according to James Ceaser, a professor of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia (UVA) since 1976.

“All are against using government and are anti-internationalism,” Dr. Ceaser explained. Religious or faith-based conservatives, economic or libertarian conservatives, natural rights conservatives and neo-conservatives make up the “four heads” of the movement, Dr. Ceaser explained in a speech at the Heritage Foundation.

At the annual meeting of the Virginia Association of Scholars in Charlottesville a few days after his talk, I asked Dr. Ceaser how many of the four heads of conservatism get a fair hearing in college and university classrooms.

“Probably none,” he said wryly.

These conservative tribes diverge on issues such as the Iraq War and immigration controls. Indeed, in the War on Terror, the two issues overlap as points of contention among conservatives with some concerned about the terrorist threat from loose immigration and others willing to look the other way.

At the Heritage Foundation, however, Dr. Ceaser offered a more elliptical outlook in his speech on “Creed versus Culture.” “We’re not doing so bad if it were not for certain elements of the Islamic community funding certain elements of the Islamic community funding and importing certain principles into the United States,” Dr. Ceaser said at Heritage. The Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank based in Washington, D. C.

Complicating the picture still further is the stunningly successful political candidate most conservatives voted for last year. “At the President’s annual Ramadan dinner, he announced that he was adding the Koran to the White House library,” Dr. Ceaser observed.

Dr. Ceaser divides conservative thought into two camps—culturalists and creedists. Interestingly, he puts traditionalists and religious conservatives into the former grouping and natural rights advocates and “liberatarian types” into the latter subset.

The professor chides those who want to look exclusively at reason as our raison d’etre. “You only have to go to a faculty meeting to see that that doesn’t work,” he says.
He notes that, in the Continental Congress of 1774, representatives debated the foundation of a right. John Adams appeal to look at “nature and history” was, in turn, reflected in the Constitution itself.

Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.