A Conservative Life
I woke up early this morning thinking of how blessed my life is.
I live a simple life, in a small house on a quiet street. I own a few possessions that I have inherited or acquired over a lifetime, but nothing of much value. I drive a ten-year-old Toyota, which will probably last the rest of my time as a driver. I obtain much of what I need, including most of my clothes, from garage and church sales, and I obtain my books and videos from the public library at no cost.
I am a vegan, and I fast 16 to 20 hours every day. I eat vegetables, beans, grains, a few fruits, and home-grown herbs picked fresh daily. For exercise, I walk and lift light weights, and I practice deep breathing and meditation. I am a Christian who tries to practice my faith and who prays many times every day. I love to read, write, and play and compose music. I have a small group of friends — good, ordinary people who share my interests.
I choose to live as I do so as to remain free. And as a conservative with libertarian leanings, I believe in self-responsibility and freedom of choice, and I accept the consequences of my choices: I don't have a lot of money to spend, I don't take trips or purchase entertainment, I don't have a smartphone, and I don't wear new clothes or drive a new car.
There are many ways to live as a conservative, and my life of simplicity and frugality is just one of these. What they share is belief in individual liberty, a belief that by definition requires strict limitations on governmental powers. James Madison was wise when he stated at the Virginia convention to ratify the Federal Constitution that "there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." Those gradual and silent encroachments are now more pronounced than ever.
Government at all levels combined should not claim more than 5% of a nation's GDP. For the first 180 years of its history, up until the administration of Woodrow Wilson, America's federal government operated upon some 2% of GDP, most of it generated from tariffs. As of 2020, U.S. taxes at the state, local, and federal levels amounted to 25.5% of GDP.
It is not just a matter of how much government collects, but of what it does with that money. Increasingly, government has used its resources to interfere with the lives of its citizens. Biden's plan to spend an additional $80 billion to double the size of the IRS is a horrific assault on American freedom, and it is only one of thousands of actions by the Biden administration that will restrict our freedom. New ESG disclosure requirements will put small businesses at great disadvantage and contribute to declining productivity and a lower standard of living for everyone. Biden's war on fossil fuels has already doubled the price of gasoline, heating, and every other product dependent upon energy; it is one of the chief reasons the current inflation rate is 7.48% as opposed to 1.46% under President Trump in 2019.
I am frustrated with the growth of the State toward what may, in time, become a totalitarian socialist nation from which I might have to flee. Even now, I am unable to publish freely, since most media and social networking outlets practice extensive censorship. Still, on a personal level, I continue to live beneath the radar of State control. I can't be fired or intimidated at work because I am retired. I can't be made homeless unless my house is seized or taxed away. I can't be threatened with want because there is little I need except for a few vegetables and grains, some of which I grow myself. I receive basic medical care funded by my contributions to Medicare.
According to Gallup polling, only 42% of Americans rate their lives as "very happy," and in comparison with other nations, the U.S. ranks 19th in happiness rankings. Happiness has declined significantly from its peak of 55% in 2003, and the intrusion of government and government-allied media is one cause.
Ironically, I am happier in the frugal way I live than I would be with a typical middle-class American lifestyle. I don't worry about what to buy and when. My latest purchase was a 5-lb. bag of dried pinto beans. I don't dress for special occasions or for dining out because I stay home or socialize with friends who share my values. I don't get frustrated driving in traffic because I drive only about 10 miles a day, and at times when the roads are less crowded. I don't compete by displaying my wealth because there is none. And I have one of the most precious gifts of all: time to read, write, and think freely.
There is nothing exceptional about my conservative life. Anyone who wants to be free can work long enough to obtain a small pension and eventually Social Security, and with these, he can live as he wishes as longs as he restricts his wants and needs. A simple life is far healthier and happier than the life of "getting and spending," as Wordsworth put it, that most Americans seem to prefer.
Truly, there is nothing I want or lack. I look forward to every day, and every day brings surprises in a different sunrise, in stretching and walking on an empty stomach and feeling the lightness of it, in the pungent taste of fresh herbs from my garden, in the company of true friends, in the discovery of new books and videos from the library, in prose or songs I have written and found pleasing, and in the comfort and security of my faith. Although I own almost nothing, I am far better off, I suspect, than Jeff Bezos or Mark Zucherberg. I encourage them to contact me, just not via Amazon or Facebook, if they want to learn how to really live. I could also teach them a few things about politics.
There is no reason a conservative should not enjoy the finer things in life, as did William F. Buckley, for instance. But conservatism does demand freedom of thought and an independent spirit, and one cannot enjoy these things if one is under the thrall of material consumption and electronic servitude.
There is nothing remarkable about the way I live; it is just as most Americans once lived before government and media grew so mammoth and burdensome. But if there is one thing that is unusual, it is that as a conservative, I am uncompromising. I will never be enslaved by society's "mind-forg'd manacles," to quote Wordsworth again.
The pleasures of life are astonishing, but they are not to be found in what is purchased or imposed by bureaucracy or corporations. Conservatives know the value of simplicity, independence, and freedom, and in time they will lead America back to these founding virtues.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).