Conservatism holds that we are custodians of both the future and the past
Being conservative has very little to do with the political left or the political right. We at the Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies are not right-wingers. Though some of our views might be characterized as right-wing, we hold many opinions that would commonly be regarded as more typical of the left. There’s nothing odd about that: Pope St. John Paul II was a social conservative yet an outspoken critic of capitalism. We live in a time when many on the political left play the stock market and own rental properties. Ben Chifley and other old Labor men would turn in their graves! And many on the political right have abandoned all sympathy for tradition.
So let’s try to extricate conservatism from the left/right polarity and see it for what it really is: an attitude of mind that respects humanity but recognizes its limitations; that (like Pollyanna) thinks its bottle is half full rather than half empty; that cautiously believes in progress but not just change for change’s sake; and, most controversially, that regards truth as absolute and values it above fiction, even when the fiction is respectably dressed as myth.
Most conservatives believe that humans have a priority over all other creatures, that they are created in the very image of God. Conservatives believe that we have a duty to care for creation and husband the earth, to make it a better place. To that extent our thinking is green. We have never doubted that the climate changes, but usually question the validity of the King Canute approach. We don’t accept the exalted 19th-century notion of a progress that makes Science its God and trusts it to lead us to an earthly salvation. But we do accept the shape of the Bible narrative that begins in a garden and ends in a city: we are moving towards greater complexities and should do so confidently, but without forgetting our debts to the past.
Perhaps most importantly of all, in the matter of managing our world, we see ourselves as custodians of both the future and the past. We have a debt of gratitude to those who have lived on this Earth before (some of whom died for our freedoms), but we also insist that those who are still to be born be entitled to know the whole truth about their predecessors and the good works that they did.
Conservatives believe that men and women are different but complementary, equally precious in the eyes of God.
Conservatives don’t believe that the fact of being born sufficiently defines a human being. For us infanticide is a terrible thing whether committed before or after birth.
Conservatives believe in the value of truth, that truth is something to be pursued strenuously and fearlessly, wherever it may lead. But they also believe that God is the Father of Lights, in whom is no variableness or shadow of turning, and that truth will make us free.
Conservatives believe that education should be for life. It’s not good enough to teach trades and skills and arts alone, important as they are, but the Whole Person should be cared for and prepared for fulfilment. Morality, clarity of thought, analytical skills, and efficient communication should be the basis of all professional training.
In this dumbed down world, conservative has become a dirty word; in its eyes we are perverse, stubborn, and foolish.
But we have allies all around us, waiting in the wings to be recognized again. Here is Louis Pasteur: “Posterity will one day laugh at the foolishness of modern materialistic philosophers. The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the Creator.”
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