I have felt alienated from politics my entire life. Having made a career studying it, this of course has caused internal angst and personal alienation.
I have sojourned the ideological landscape for the last two decades. As an undergrad, I was a devout progressive liberal; in graduate school after being “mugged by reality,” to quote the great Irving Kristol, I identified with the Neoconservative movement and fought vigorously to legitimate its core foreign policy initiatives and political philosophy.
Now I no longer recognize that movement, nor any semblance of “conservatism” that I would understand through a philosophical lens. I am abandoned in the woods, searching for a habitable refuge.
I do not agree with party politics; this is against my training as a political theorist, and I believe ideology is a threat to true Republicanism, as James Madison warns against in Federalist 10: any faction is dangerous to the Union, and ideologies by nature, are factious.
In my core, I know I am conservative, but I am not sure what that means.
It is not the American Conservatism we are accustomed to. It is not the conservatism “represented” by the Republican Party. It is a conservatism based upon the principles of Jean-Jacques Rousseau; Alexis de Tocqueville; Edmund Burke, Augustine and Aquinas, and other doctors and fathers of the Church; and of course, a majority of America’s Founding Fathers.
It is a philosophy rather than an ideology. But what is this conservatism I am trying to define? What are its principles, and what does it stand for? These are the questions and topics I seek to address through a regular column entitled, “The Pols Country Doc.”
In this column, I will seek to explain what a philosophical conservatism looks like. Currently, I don’t believe there is an intellectual conversation happening within our political landscape. And certainly, within academia, serious philosophical discourse on the merits of conservatism is phantom.
In fact, within higher education generally, one who identifies as a conservative risks becoming a social pariah. This is unfortunate, but understandable since there has been relatively little attempt to explain the beauty that is conservative political thought.
But there has been a recent call for serious attention to conservatism writ large. In an insightful piece for The Wall Street Journal, Wesleyan President Michael Roth called for an opening of the liberal mind, beseeching a sort of affirmative action for conservative, libertarian, and religious thought in higher education, and in society more generally.
Roth acknowledges that conservatism isn’t well thought of, or thought about much at all, and believes it should have a more pronounced discourse. Humbly, this regular column seeks to answer Dr. Roth’s call to enhance the liberal mind, by taking conservative thought seriously.
What will this column look like? Each time, I will address key principles of conservatism as understood by our Founding Fathers, but more so as understood from philosophers since Plato.
What this will not be is an apologist column for the Republican Party, nor will it be a bitter column again the Democrats. To quote Alexis de Tocqueville, this column “is not precisely in anyone’s camp; in writing it I did not mean either to serve or to contest any party; I undertook to see, not differently, but further than the parties; and while they are occupied with the next day, I wanted to ponder the future.”
While this sounds pompous, it is what America needs. Politicians and citizens are too focused on narrow self-interests, on short-term gains. They pick and choose parts of political philosophy to apply to narrow interests. Both sides are guilty of this. Consequently, the grand strategy and intellectualism of liberalism and conservatism are destroyed, and looked upon negatively by opposing camps mainly because they are not viewed holistically.
Generally, individuals seek a part to evince their claim, ignoring the larger body of thought. This column will seek the whole at the expense of the parts.
To do so, however, I will need your patience. Each column will be an intellectual exercise in trying to discern what is conservatism. This is where, unlike most columns, I invite your feedback.
I will engage in discourse on the Chronicle’s online discussion forum (within each of my columns), under my nickname and on Twitter, both labeled polscountrydoc. I will engage in proper discourse. In other words, I will not respond to passionate rage or hate, emotional rants, nor to trolls, but only to those seeking to search for higher meaning in a philosophical line of reasoning that reaches back since the dawn of rationality.
I will engage with criticism toward my thinking and writing, but not toward bigotry. Feel free to discourse with me as I continue this personal journey of understanding conservatism that I invite the public to. Additionally, if you have an issue, topic or idea that you would like me to address from a conservative perspective, tweet that to me and I will do my best to address it in a forthcoming column, if I deem it within my competence.
This column will be an attempt to re-establish intellectual conservatism specifically in the lines of Buckley, Bennett and Kirk, updated to account for political realities – but generally is an attempt to establish rational discourse about politics and life. I write it with care and love; if anything in it offends, it was not my intent. But if something is offensive, to engage in critical self-reflection on why it’s offensive is a healthier approach than disparaging the other. For those who understand my meaning, I am ready to start a dialogue.
Next week’s column will focus on the larger meta-principles of conservatism. Then I turn to specific policies or to your concerns. The choice is yours.
The writer is associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Augusta University. Readers may follow him on Twitter: @polscountrydoc.