My next few columns will address the key principles of “Millennial Conservatism.”
I call it this not because I am a millennial – I fall just short – but rather, for conservatism to have significant impact in American politics, especially concerning elections starting within the next decade or so, it must appeal to the largest voting bloc, and can only do so by appealing to their principles.
Like it or not, soon, Millennials will be the most important electoral bloc in politics. They are already the most sizable, but have yet to notice that and go to the polls in substantial numbers.
As they age however, this will change. And unfortunately for conservatives, their message does not resonate well with this bloc.
They recognize conservatism as being aligned with President Trump; the establishment Republicans; and/or Tea Party Republicans. This is not what conservatism necessarily is, however, and these segments don’t reflect it well or do it proper justice.
So what are the key principles of this updated conservatism? It starts with the difference between ideology and philosophy.
A key turnoff for many American citizens from participating in the electoral process is how stubborn or ideological the parties are. I am not sure this is what the Founders envisioned.
Of course, President Washington warned of partisan ideologies, and believed they would disunite a single American identity, and would hamper American success. This is where we currently are.
Typically, an ideology is a set parameter of values a person or group holds onto without room for gray. It is pretty black and white. An ideology guides every action, and in politics, this means convincing those who disagree with an ideology that they are wrong (an almost impossible feat), and convincing the electorate that the ideological values one wishes to bring to office are explicitly “right,” “just” and “good.”
But are they? And do politicians and everyday citizens actually live out and behave according to their ideological beliefs?
Furthermore, is it possible to negotiate and compromise on set beliefs that people are certain are right? How do we even measure an ideology to see if it is “right?”
Millennial Conservatism is a philosophy rather than an ideology. This means that we believe our values are correct, good, right, and just, but are constantly reflecting on them, constantly having an internal dialogue asking whether these values are truly good for the general interests of society, or if they are only good for a few, or worse, for an individual self-interested goal (described as tyranny according to Plato).
Politics are meant to determine the best interest for society writ-large. This must mean that our political values are to be based upon this notion of the greater good. We can hold other personal values in addition to those designed to enhance the public good, but personal values are just that, personal, and have little place in the public sphere. We will get to these in future columns more in detail.
By being ideological, people have a set of values they believe is the best for all of society. Typically, an ideologue believes that the values are best for him or her, and thus, believe they are best for all. This is the ancient understanding of tyranny. Enforcing what is best for me on the many.
Philosophy seeks the nature of the good of the whole. Therefore, a political philosophy is more open to evolution and progress than is an ideology. By its very nature, it is more related toward society and actually seeking what is by nature “good,” than is an ideology.
All ideologies are damaging to the general interest of society: this includes the left and the right. Political philosophy, on the other hand, is geared toward understanding the truth rather than enforcing a perceived truth.
With a philosophy, I look for people to prove me wrong through logical debate because I seek the truth. Once I am satisfied that I am wrong, I change my understanding of how the world works. An ideology works quite differently; I believe I already hold the truth, and try to convince everyone else that this is the truth, and this truth should guide all politics.
Hence, you can see the dilemma for ideologies. If you already believe you hold the truth, you stop searching for the truth. True critical and reflective reasoning, upon satisfaction of finding the truth, is killed within the public and political soul.
This is what we are facing in contemporary American politics. There is no search for the public good; rather, two sides are trying to convince the wider public, through intellectual force, that they have the truth and it will set us free if we only subject ourselves to it.
A philosophical Millennial Conservatism bases itself on the quest and search for public truth. It bases policies on the idea of the good, the just, and the right, but is always open to the fact that it may be wrong, or that as society becomes unrecognizable, a public philosophy must adapt and adjust to stay relevant.
This is the first principle of this vision of conservatism: It is a political philosophy, not an ideology.
Next week, we will discuss more determined principles, keeping the above in mind.
The writer is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Augusta University. Follow him on Twitter: @polscountrydoc.