Conservatism 101 – Week 1
Welcome to Conservatism 101! In this first session, American University professor Christopher Malagisi explains the conservative movement’s origins and key principles, providing an answer to the question: What are conservatives trying to conserve?
Start the video below to begin your first week’s lecture.
PART 1 NOTES
- Conservatives are trying to conserve America’s founding principles.
- America is exceptional not because it fought a war of independence, but because it established a new political legitimacy.
- This new political legitimacy is based primarily on three principles stipulated in the U.S. Declaration of Independence:
- All men are created equal.
- If all men are created equal, then no one man can “divinely” rule over another. Therefore, true political legitimacy is derived from the consent of the governed.
- Our rights do not come from government but instead come from the “laws of nature and of nature’s God.”
PART 2 NOTES
- The greatest threat to conservatism and the American tradition is the progressive movement, which seeks to recalibrate the focus of government by expanding its role in society, while de-emphasizing the Founder’s intent of preserving individual liberty.
- The progressive philosophy is based on three fundamental principles – relativism, positivism, and historicism.
- Today, conservatives believe in certain basic principles, including: individual liberty, limited government, free markets, a constitutional order, strong national defense, and preserving the civil society.
- Quoting Mark Levin from his book Liberty & Tyranny, “Conservatism is the antidote to tyranny, precisely because its principles are the founding principles.”
PART 3 NOTES
- “Fusion” conservatism combines the three major branches that primarily make up the conservative movement – libertarians, traditionalists, and anti-communists.
- Libertarians emphasize a limited government that secures an individual’s liberty and free markets. They believe that political freedom and economic freedom are inextricably linked.
- Traditionalists emphasize the preservation of the civil society (families, schools, churches, local communities and private associations) and believe in a transcendent moral order that has been passed down through the great traditions of Western Civilization, derived from ancient Jerusalem, Athens, Rome and London.
- Anti-communists believe the greatest foreign threat after WWII was the rise of international communism personified by Stalin’s Soviet Russia, Mao’s Red China, and a rising collectivist sentiment in the U.S.
Session 1: Prompting Question(s)
So where are you in this discussion? Are you a conservative? Why or why not? How does this study of ideas affect your daily life?
Further Suggested Reading:
Mark R. Levin, Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto. New York: Threshold Editions, 2009.
George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America since 1945. Wilmington, DE: ISI, 2006.