Conservatives are too often stereotyped as reactionary, narrow-minded and angry. As someone who faces these stereotypes every day, whether pointed at our clients at the Center for Religious Expression, or me personally, I was heartened to come across a speech given last week that articulates conservatism in a fresh, thoughtful way: as an expression of gratitude.
Since 2004, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation has awarded up to four prizes of $250,000 each to innovative thinkers and practitioners whose achievements promote conservative ideals, relating to limited, competent government and a dynamic marketplace for economic, intellectual, and cultural activity. One of this year's recipients was Yuval Levin, a conservative intellectual and journalist who previously served as a congressional staffer and a member of George W. Bush's domestic policy staff.
Levin remarked in his Bradley Prize acceptance speech about the kind of vision conservatives share.
To my mind, conservatism is gratitude. Conservatives tend to begin from gratitude for what is good and what works in our society and then strive to build on it, while liberals tend to begin from outrage at what is bad and broken and seek to uproot it.
You need both, because some of what is good about our world is irreplaceable and has to be guarded, while some of what is bad is unacceptable and has to be changed... But we can also never forget what moves us to gratitude, and so what we stand for and defend: the extraordinary cultural inheritance we have; the amazing country built for us by others and defended by our best and bravest; America's unmatched potential for lifting the poor and the weak; the legacy of freedom-of ordered liberty-built up over centuries of hard work.
We value these things not because they are triumphant and invincible but because they are precious and vulnerable, because they weren't fated to happen, and they're not certain to survive. They need us-and our gratitude for them should move us to defend them and to build on them.
Those of us who formally or even loosely refer to ourselves as conservative ought to be moved in this way. Our actions should reflect gratitude for the liberties that have been preserved in our great nation, and for the tireless efforts expended in defending them, so that our children, and their children, can retain the same measure of freedom we enjoy.
When our liberties are infringed upon, we too should figuratively (and perhaps literally) take up our arms and defend them, knowing our motivation is not because we are angry, but because we are humble. We do not presume to do a better job than our forefathers and are slow to abandon the fruit of their labors.
It is this spirit of gratitude that has carried the conservative movement since Edmund Burke and this spirit will continue to be an important key for insuring conservatism in the future.
Nate Kellum is the Chief Counsel at the Center for Religious Expression, a non-profit organization based in Memphis.