Conservatives: The New Radicals
Thursday, October 15, 2009 at 11:22AM
John Prothro

It was George Orwell who said that one who accepts the status quo is basically accepting decay.[1]  It makes sense then that our current efforts to promote conservatism have done little to inhibit the corrosion of our first principles.

But as the unrest around the country shows, the new conservative movement is hardly about conserving.  After several decades of playing defense, we are seeing a populace ready for aggressive and far-reaching change.  Indeed, the principle of limited government has fallen so far, the American conservative majority is waking up.  Conservatives are becoming the new radicals.

And that’s a good thing.  Our founders believed in what we call conservative principles and yet they were active radicals of the highest order.  Let us not forget the Revolution was a revolt against taxes and an overbearing government that increasingly intruded upon the rights of the individual.  It was not polite men who threw off the tyranny of the British monarchy; it was a determined and learned group of radicals.

These men—such as Thomas Paine, Samuel Adams, and Paul Revere—were at their heart both true patriots and propagandists.   They understood at their core the wrongs of Britain and fought with their pens and their blood to reverse them. 

Yet when someone like Glenn Beck taps into this sentiment, he is summarily dismissed as nuts.  For all his showmanship, Beck seems to genuinely believe the spirit of the Founding Fathers is once again needed for the country to correct course, even going so far as to publish an updated version of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense.  Paine’s pamphlet was, as conservative British Historian Paul Johnson put it, “a piece of atrocity propaganda,”[2] but Beck, tapping into Paine, seeks to use it to rally the populace to vote out an out-of-touch power structure.

The point is not to promote propaganda or distortion.  Instead, America should harness the passion exhibited at town halls, the tea parties, and the like.  These actions are a good start to what we really need; that is, a passionate and informed electorate ready to not only stand against the statist onslaught but be ready to reverse the decline we’ve already experienced. 

It’s not enough for us to simply oppose the latest round of social engineering.  That would be too conservative.  Instead, we should advocate a more drastic approach.  Why not push laws through Congress that actually reverse the creeping interference of government in industry?  Instead of decrying Obama’s spending, why not come out in favor of drastic cuts?  Instead of expanding the central government’s role in education, why not return it to the states?

These and many other conservative ideas would of course be too radical, and politicians aren’t known for their bravery.

Good thing Americans are.

[1] George Orwell, A Collection of Essays, (New York:  Harcourt Inc., 1981), 219.

[2] Paul Johnson, A History of the American People (New York:  Harper Collins, 1997), 153.

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