We have, in my previous columns, thus far established the premise of Millennial Conservatism as being more of a political philosophy than an ideology.
But what does it stand for on principle? What are its main tenets? What sets it apart from mainstream conservatism?
Remember, when articulating political principles, we assume these are starting points, or foundations for the future. If conservatism is to appeal to millennials and their children (as well as more traditional conservatives), it must adapt and evolve in some form, while keeping true to its foundations.
This part of the series will take a few columns to explicate.
The overarching foundation that distinguishes this vision from leftist thought is much-aligned with all forms of conservatism: liberty. The highest form of political virtue, of humanity, is personal liberty.
This is perhaps the key to all understanding of Enlightenment principles. After all, a purpose of the Enlightenment was to establish individual liberty, free from government interference.
Our Founding Fathers were products of the Enlightenment, and of centralized government, so it is understandable that this premise is in line with their orientation.
Centralized government, whether in the form of monarchy, oligarchy, or democracy, represents by its very nature a threat to individual freedom. The more power a regime has, the less freedom an individual has.
Of course, centralized power needs to exist in some aspect: this is what separates conservatism and libertarianism from anarchism.
But with each decision the central government makes, it must take seriously the concerns of how that decision will affect individual liberty.
Liberty is the highest form of political expression.
It is the quintessential natural right that makes us human. We have it and are born into it just from our very existence. Each time a regime takes over something that ought to be in the hands of the individual, people lose a part of what makes them human. There must be a balance between centralized power and individual liberty.
Closely following this is equality of opportunity, which in millennial conservative thought is closely associated with self-reliance and personal responsibility.
These concepts cannot be thought about in isolation from each other. The government cannot prevent individuals from self-empowerment and the opportunity to succeed. This means it does play a role in making sure all individuals are free to try to excel in their daily lives.
What separates millennial conservatism from the left, for instance, is that there is no obligation for success.
In other words, you are free to try to excel, but you are not guaranteed success and the government has no obligation to help you toward success. Its only job in this regard is to not impede your chances to succeed, and yes, to protect the extremely underrepresented or indigent.
A conservative philosophy must deem it virtuous to bring up the less-fortunate.
The Declaration of Independence is clear that we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which of course Thomas Jefferson loosely borrowed from John Locke’s concept of property. We are not promised happiness or property. We are promised only that the government will not prevent us from achieving it.
Thus, the burden of achieving happiness remains with the individual.
It is up to you to determine the course of your life. It is up to you to determine how hard you want to work to have the luxuries of life. It is up to you to decide whether you want full or limited health coverage or any other everyday “necessities” such as television, cable, an Xbox, or an iPhone.
Your right to determine which you prefer is promised by our sacred Constitution. But your right to not have any of these is also given by our Constitution. It is up to your individual skill and determination to choose the course of your life.
If the government interferes and takes over parental authority for our decision-making, we lose liberty and become subjects to the whimsy of government. We also lose that which makes us human: dignity, trial by fire and that never-quit mindset that makes us fulfilled when we achieve a long-sought-after goal.
With this said, millennial conservatism is perhaps more compassionate than mainstream conservatism for those who have environmental, societal or just personal setbacks that prevent them from living a life of dignity.
The government ought to provide for those who are left behind in a significant manner. In other words, if a person is living below a certain level of dignity and the local community has not been able to provide a helping hand, the government should provide a hand up – never a handout.
But social programs for the less-fortunate need to be reshaped and calibrated in such a way that they teach individuals how to provide for themselves and to become self-reliant. It also comes with expectations that if one takes from the government, one owes something to society in return.
The key point is that this ought to be rare. The government is the last resort; and if one takes from the government, one returns the favor.
Craig Albert is associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Augusta University. Follow him on Twitter: @polscountrydoc.