One of the god fathers, if you want to call him that, of the modern conservative movement is William F. Buckley. Mr. Buckley, of course, is the founder of The National Review magazine-American conservatism’s de facto house magazine going on seven decades. He published The National Review for a very long time. The The National Review, of course, is the organ of American conservatism.
Mr. Buckley is a very singular figure in the evolution of American conservatism because he really bent over backwards to define what conservatism is and what it isn’t. This was not easy because in the late 50’s, there were all sorts of crack pots and lunatics claiming to be conservative. These are people who believe in all sorts of weird conspiracies and they hated communism. It’s one thing to hate communism as an ideological system. It’s another to see communism in everything about American life and that’s how crazy this extremist fringe was.
Buckley, to his credit, completely eliminated that wing of the conservatives. He shamed them, humiliated them and essentially drummed them out of the conservative wing of American politics. He also articulated a series of beliefs that went a long way in defining what conservatism is.
Basically what he was saying is that society has its own internal mechanisms to evolve to where it needs to go. Government shouldn’t step in. Economic realities are often enough to make society change on its own pace. He doesn’t believe in active government intervention just as he doesn’t believe in over taxing.
This is the essence of conservatism. That’s what they’re conserving that this natural tendency for any kind of human system, regardless of how complex, to essentially tune itself. Whether you agree with classic economists or not, you would at least agree that capitalism has a self tuning mechanism.
When factories produce products that nobody wants, that tuning mechanism comes in the form of losses. On the other hand, when consumers demand a particular type of product and there’s not enough of it in stock or in the market, that kind of self tuning mechanisms takes the form of rising prices. Higher prices trigger people looking to make a buck to lease or buy factories to crank out stuff that is in high demand. This boosts supply and depresses prices. In other words, Americans are able to get more and more stuff for lower and lower prices. Best, of all, if the incentives are high enough, consumers are guaranteed a nice range of choices.
The reverse can also be true. When the state seeks to ‘protect’ one set of producers against competition, the state essentially robs consumers of choices and money because prices become artificially high. It makes for great social policy to guarantee an open platform where people can compete based on price signals.
This is the essence of conservatism. You leave these internal processes alone just as you can’t make jobs magically appear thanks to infrastructure spending, you can’t magically make people virtuous and non discriminating through government fiat an dictatorial regulatory state.
These are the values that conservatives are conserving because they’re valid now and they will probably continue to be valid long into the future.