December 21, 2008
A Conservative Vision StatementBy Christopher Chantrill
For the next few weeks our Democratic friends will be focusing on the inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States. It's a good opportunity for conservatives to have an "off-site."
You all know what that is. You take off a day or two from work and go to a meeting facility where, facilitated by an expensive consultant, you and your co-workers figure out what it is you are supposed to be doing.
I know. You are asking: Do we have to? Hey, it's an opportunity to clear our minds and think Big Ideas.
The first thing to do at an off-site is to develop a Vision Statement. That's a blue-sky definition of what your organization does, a statement of its values. It is not a nuts-and-bolts thing about what you are going to do next week. For instance, if President Reagan had ever gone on an off-site, he would probably have created a Vision Statement something like this:
I will lead America towards that shining city on a hill, because America is "still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom" whose best years are yet to come.
Good old Ronnie. There was a man who never needed to go on an off-site and figure out what life was all about.
But Ronald Reagan is gone now. It falls to us to devise a Vision Statement for a post-Reagan era. How hard can it be?
First of all, the Vision Statement must cover all the bases of Michael Novak's three sectors: economic, political, and cultural. This is just common sense. All Novak is saying with his three sectors is that our modern society is best understood as three centers of power, three ways in which we all interact with society.
(If you want to be sophisticated about it, you can rumble on about Eric Voegelin's notion of the "leap in being" from compact to differentiated knowledge. Simple minds think in terms of "society" but we sophisticated conservatives have made the leap in being to a higher, nobler understanding of society where we differentiate society into three parts.)
In the economic sector, conservatives believe in the fundamental community of interests. We believe, unlike many others in our society, that Americans can offer their labor in the marketplace and themselves into marriage, and their children into the world, and trust that everything will turn out all right. But we don't want to talk merely about the free and competitive marketplace. Conservatism must not just appeal to men, who believe in competition, but belong also to women, who major in cooperation.
When it comes to the political sector, we believe in freedom. That means we believe in law, which is the sophisticated way of resolving conflict, and we believe in limited government, because you cannot have freedom unless you limit the powers of government. We do not, by the way, believe in "pure" or, as our lefty friends say, "genuine" democracy. Our US Constitution was designed as a blend of the democratic principle in the legislature, the monarchical principle in the presidency, and the aristocratic principle in the judiciary. And a good thing too.
When it comes to the moral/cultural sector, we conservatives believe in transcendence. We do not believe that the "answer to life, the universe, and everything" can be captured or achieved in this material, mortal life alone. We believe that meaning, as a fundamental mystery, must transcend mortal life. There is a word for this ultimate mystery. It is God.
I think we are ready to put our Vision Statement down on paper. Here it is:
We believe in an America that lives and works together, with limited government, under God.
Everything in this terse statement is pregnant with conservative meaning. When we talk about an America where we "live and work together" we are evoking the system of voluntary cooperation under law that we call capitalism. But we also include the girl side of voluntary cooperation, the community of women working and relating together, sharing and caring. The conservative economy is not just guys battling all the other guys for market share, but gals trying to make the whole world into a relationship.
When we talk about an America with "limited government" we are talking about an America where the government doesn't get its fingers into every pie as it does today. That would be an America that wasn't spending 20 percent of GDP on government pensions, government healthcare, government education, and government welfare.
When we talk about an America "under God" we are talking about an America where the dominant belief system is transcendent religion not secular religion.
But what do you think? What do you think our Vision Statement should be? Feel free to comment and help develop a vision for the future of conservatism.