The season of patience and preparation is over, as I have finally and entirely (even the beloved map is up!) settled into the verdant ILAC campus, my home turf for this spring semester. Yet on this bird-chirping Sunday morning, my thoughts are very much back at home while I recline in the tiled comedor and compose an essay which means the world to me. I trust that you can sense my gratitude. I have recently been working on an application for a certain summer internship, and it dawned upon me that the answers which I was crafting have not yet been expressed on this platform, but should be. I customarily speak softly of my own opinions because I recognize that actions speak louder than words, but some topics are simply too precious — too public — to keep silent about. Political philosophy is one of them. While I intend to grow and crystallize my beliefs further with each daylight, I can confidently say that I am a young conservative for a few unshakable reasons. The Great American Experiment continues to hold much promise, if we stay true to the wisdom found in our Founding Fathers and historical documents. For myself, the key lies in this most captivating and most familiar excerpt from the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
I still get shivers down my spine when I read those powerful words and reflect on their impact. Words that were penned by old men, years ago, but that actively affect me even as I sit here before my laptop today. Wow. Let this be a testament to the fact that although times, circumstances, and environments change an enormous amount, the truth never will.
1. Life: I am a Christian. This fact manifests itself in two very specific avenues in my political philosophy: I believe that life begins at the moment of conception and ends with natural death, and I believe that we all ought to live nobly and virtuously. First, God is the author of life and death. All other rights naturally flow from the right to life thus it is the duty of the government to vigilantly protect it. This is nonnegotiable. Second, I believe that we are eternal souls, therefore our lives and decisions in the present moment have implications bigger than what we can temporally observe. The direct effect of this belief is the call for virtue; our traditional American values instilled in this country undeniably align with Christian virtues and morality. The best news is that we do not have to merely await our reward– there are real, tangible merits to living a noble life; even the ancients spoke of such. Surely our first president says it best in his Farewell Address:
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim tribute to patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness — these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. . . . reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles.”
2. Liberty: I am a student. As a young girl, I was nurtured by a liberal arts education through which I was taught to think critically and appreciate knowledge for its intrinsic value. Now as a young woman I take on business, specifically economics, while still continuing my love affair with history, philosophy, and English. As a student of economics, I believe that we ought to have a government that will protect our rights and freedoms–including foremost the free market itself. It all boils down to the fact that free markets generally allocate resources most efficiently. Why is efficiently allocating resources important? It is crucial because it means that life is being made better for people– wealth is growing, lives are improving, and children are being fed. Once the orderly structures that secure our fundamental rights and freedom are in place (think: our national defense, the judicial system, the protection of private property…etc.) we creative beings have the space and structure to work in happiness. To summarize, our government must allow us the freedom to generate wealth by our human ingenuity. I am acutely aware that this is tricky stuff, and in order to further clarify, I offer to you this wisdom of John Paul II:
“It should be noted that in today’s world, among other rights, the right of economic initiative is often suppressed. Yet it is a right which is important not only for the individual but also for the common good. Experience shows us that the denial of this right, or its limitation in the name of an alleged ‘equality’ of everyone in society, diminishes, or in practice absolutely destroys the spirit of initiative, that is to say the creative subjectivity of the citizen.”
As a student of history and philosophy, I am convinced that the original designs of this democratic republic are the best blueprint we have for prosperity, given the nature of the human being. Doesn’t progress mean building on the wisdom of the past, not undermining it altogether? And lastly, as a student of English Literature, my mind has been fed by a vast and varying blend of the Great Books, books I don’t agree with/care for, and books that are meant to be delighted in for their own sakes. It is through the union of my reading with my everyday experiences that I learned to grow in understanding of the world around me. Perhaps the best explanation is that all of my studies are inextricably intertwined, and it is through the collection of them that I arrive at the conclusion that I ought to call myself a conservative.
3. Pursuit of happiness: I am a human being; hence my deepest desire is for happiness. I remember back in the seventh grade, our Socratic teacher asked of the class, “What do human beings most deeply desire?” Of course even in those awkward years of “long ago,” we were able to understand that the all-encompassing answer to that question is happiness. And now each one of us pursues that end relentlessly, with varying degrees of success and ideas of achieving it. As for me, I believe happiness is a decision. Each individual has been given time and talents– time and talents that will lift up ourselves and the world around us if we are willing to work hard enough. I know for a fact that every human has the capacity to be great at something, whether as a teacher, cashier, barista, doctor, garbage man, businesswoman, lawyer, social worker…etc. It is written in my heart, in my soul, to want to make a masterpiece of my life. So too, I want the same chance at happiness and fulfillment for my future kids and grandkids. This calls for a society that will allow human beings to reach their fullest potential, through the right blend of protection and space. I am conservative because it champions the incentives, opportunities, and inner tension necessary for individuals to reach greatness through goodness. Alexis de Tocqueville states it very well,
“America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”
Government should by no means guarantee the end of happiness for us, but rather we are promised the protection of the right of our pursuit of happiness, meaning the opportunity to do so. The hunger for happiness is inescapable, and conservative principles encourage other human beings in this pursuit, rather than relying on the government to bestow our personal happiness and prosperity upon us. For those who wish to delve farther into the ideas of happiness, I would highly, highly, highly recommend you take time to read Aquinas’s articles on happiness.
I am a young conservative because I am proud of my country, of my heritage. Clearly no human being, and therefore no country, is perfect, but that does not mean that there are not right and wrong paths– for there certainly is a right path and the measure of this is the achievement of human prosperity. Having traveled a bit in my short life, the question of where I want to live in the future is occasionally put to me. My answer is honest: I am open to wherever the trade-winds of life will toss me, as my wanderlust is openly alive and well, but when it comes time, I will move back to the U.S. to make my home because there is simply no better place on earth. And of course, since no conservative piece would be properly complete without a great quote from a great president, I give you these strong words in conclusion:
“The classic liberal used to be the man who believed the individual was, and should be forever, the master of his destiny. That is now the conservative position. The liberal used to believe in freedom under law. He now takes the ancient feudal position that power is everything. He believes in a stronger and stronger central government, in the philosophy that control is better than freedom. The conservative now quotes Thomas Paine, a long-time refuge of the liberals: ‘Government is a necessary evil; let us have as little of it as possible.’ ” -Ronald Reagan
NB: And for anyone who wishes to become a more informed citizen, I suggest that you take an extensive look at The Heritage Foundation’s Guide to the Constitution, as it has helped anchor me in my formation as a voting citizen.