Conservatives Still Love Tradition and Authority

After yesterday’s post, An Honest Conservative’s Response, it becomes clear that self described conservatives may not be crazy about having authority labeled as their top value. Truly, what a person says is their top value cannot be denied – they have a right to claim any belief or value system, but their behavior might cause a casual observer to describe an alternate value being held up.

I could describe several point in the letter excerpts yesterday that prove my point about authority being a conservative’s top value.  Mr. Butrum does not agree that authority is the top value, but then states that the Constitution is sufficient authority. I would agree that it is sufficient authority and indeed the only authority We the People have agreed upon. On this principle, both Mr. Butrum’s top authority, the Constitution, also happens to codify democracy – a governing system that empowers the citizens to rule themselves. Democracy is a governing system with much empathy built in to it. The small voices are worth hearing. The weaker bodies get the opportunity to contribute in many ways. Diversity is cherished. Education for all is paramount. Empathy is at the heart of so many of the ideas behind democracy.

This is why an American Progressive has no problem with the Constitution – especially given that there is a mechanism by which it can be changed. Mr. Butrum writes:


It’s not emotion that works. It’s common sense. Unfortunately, common sense is not very common. Have American’s become so complacent that we no longer have an obligation to others that need our help? Do we offer them our cold shoulder? How many lives have been lost due to complacency?  Is it because we feel that we need to pay more attention to our own problems. After 16 trillion dollars of debt, mostly given to Americans, how much is enough?

I guess my initial response is – Who decides what is “common sense”? Tradition? Local customs? Academic consensus? Lead decisions?

He then goes on to do a good job of selling me on the idea that Americans are an empathetic people, that we should not offer a cold shoulder, stating that lives have been lost to complacency, but wait…he’s not talking about helping Americans out, he’s talking about war. He feels that we must, “give another country the taste of freedom and the ability to join with all other free nations to develop their economies that end up helping all that participate especially America.”

And this is where he genuinely make ties with capitalism in with his belief system and patriotism.

Back to tying this all to authority. How could America possibly “give another country the taste of freedom” without assuming a role of authority? Anywhere the US’s military muscles are flexed is a reminder of who carries the biggest stick and authority is exerted.

Capitalism itself is based on a dog-eat-dog world. It doesn’t have to be that way.

You could probably stay completely within the genre of canine puns to describe capitalism. You fight to become top dog. Sometimes you only get the scraps others toss you. The Alpha dog succeeds. Leader of the pack. They all relate to a patriarchal hierarchy – males dominate and the more aggressive and ruthless you are, the more you succeed. The ultimate authority within the idea of capitalism is money/power, or YOU as creator of money/power. Even then one might think that money/power is bestowed upon them by a higher power or because they are especially superior. There is no cap for capitalism, no ceiling of contentment or requirement to share the wealth wrapped into the ideology. In fact, in the idealism of capitalism, it is weak to share – it is seen as unwelcome encouragement for the schlubs of the world that should earn their own riches.

The work of the unpaid and underpaid are completely discounted in this world view. The cost of life and limb for citizens of a nation we’ve made war on is not enough to stop the occupations, the aggressions, the killings as we march on…to what end? For a progressive, the (forbidden) sight of the real daily costs of war in human life and limb are too unbearable to consider carrying on. The money spent and lives lost have been for what exactly? Would any two Americans answer that question in a similar fashion? As a nation, as a people, we don’t know why we’re fighting.

Speaking of the military, as mentioned in my presentation. Most Americans would likely agree that a top down structure within the military is probably a good idea – seeing how the herding cats approach might not work so well when you’re passing out guns and bombs. The trade off for handing over our good people to be put in harm’s way, is that we have to trust the authorities who are sending them to the front lines. That establishment of authority and trust in our military and executive branches has yet to be established around our current states of war. Our nation is so divided that opposing parties put the acceptability of the authority of the President himself into questions whether you are talking about George W. Bush or Barack Obama. The manner in which our recent wars have been waged has also been highly suspect and usurped our agreed upon authority.

For a progressive, they may want to support our troops, but their version would be to send them home, get them some psychological counseling, job training and an opportunity to use their skills. Teach ’em to fish, so to speak.

Here’s another interesting quip:

Today, and for the past three decades and more, student’s come out truly believing that liberal concepts and anti capitalism is the better way. They loose (sic) love of country in the process. They loose a need to join a church, they raise environmentalism to the level of a form of religion. But there is hope. To me it’s like potty training a baby. Babies are adamant against this necessary basic need at first but they finally get it. At least most do.

Mr. Butrum is illustrating my point of how much authority plays a role in conservative thinking. Hi distaste for student’s ideology indicates that he is the authority on what is best for them (or an ideology he subscribes to), he indicates that patriotism should be a higher priority (or authority) for them (again, by who’s measure?), he indicates that they need to join a church – a traditionally accepted ethical and authoritative social club, he has a problem with those that find spirituality in environmentalism – what is wrong with that?

Then he does the ultimate illustration of authority by comparing the anti capitalists (not exactly sure who he is directing this comment to) to babies being potty trained. There could not be a more clear call to call in an authority to teach someone a lesson.

Even in his description of a rude interaction between he and other attendees at the presentation, he seems offended though his communication might have been more clear-perhaps he was partly responsible for the way the interactions ended. His take away was to take offense, not shrug off the interactions because they were all free to behave as they wished. He seemed to expect – perhaps from culture or tradition (both authorities) – an adherence to an unwritten code of social conduct.

Mr. Butrum is being good natured about sharing his comments and so, again, I am happy for the opportunity to discuss our views. I do think he was being candid in his assessment and deserves the label of being honest, no matter if I disagree on some points of content. He did say that he would be all ears if I could point out how his ideas of freedoms and private rights relate to authority.

There is a reason why “liber” is in the word “liberal” and “libertarian” – it means “free”.




One thought on “Conservatives Still Love Tradition and Authority

  1. Robert Malt says:

    “the Constitution, also happens to codify democracy”

    Actually, that would be a Republic, not a Democracy. A Democracy is rule by people (majority rules), while a Republic is the rule of law….in this case Constitutional law, which (is supposed to) restrict the power of the Federal government, and leave things to States, and the individual (particularly those rights in the first 10 Amendments…the “Bill of Rights”). And if enough people in enough states agree, the Constitution can be amended to change the governing law of the Republic.

    The Founders knew all too well the dangers of a democracy, where people vote themselves money from the treasury (taxes, borrowed, and eventually printed), until the nation goes broke. It has happened over and over throughout history and is happening again today in most of the developed world. I think it was Benjamin Franklin who said that democracy was 2 wolves and 1 sheep voting on what’s for dinner.

    “This is why an American Progressive has no problem with the Constitution…”

    The American Progressive routinely ignores the Constitution, and many I’ve talked with, privately abhor it, and wish it could be thrown away….though few will say that publicly. To be fair, most “conservatives” ignore parts of it too…such as the part that says you need a declaration of war by Congress to wage war.

    If you honestly read the Constitution, putting ideology aside, there is no way you can conclude that most of the things the Federal Government does are permitted by the Constitution.

    “Capitalism itself is based on a dog-eat-dog world.”

    Capitalism is based on voluntary exchange, free from coercion, deception, or fraud.

    The socialist economy (or mixed economy with a highly progressive income tax and redistribution policies) that you seem to prefer depends on the absolute authority and violence of a necessarily large and intrusive government to carry out the confiscation and redistribution of income.

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