What Does a Principled Conservative Outpost Look Like?

Thoughts from a Principled Conservative Outpost—Tenth and last in a series on the aspects of Panhandle conservativism.

First, a principled conservative outpost values free thought. Free thought is not an intellectual straight-jacket of conforming to laws, rules, ideas, concepts or traditions without question or reason. Free thought is a principled position on the spectrum of thought; a space defined by generally agreed-upon standards is not confining; it is liberating; it leads to a form of pragmatism alive in the principles (values) of the Panhandle. Panhandle values get the job done.

Second, a principled conservative outpost sees the power of families in building a free society. The family is the genesis of a republican form of government stemming from many classical perspectives understanding of family. Family life plays a critical role in shaping the moral and civic virtues of its members, which in turn are essential for a well-functioning hierarchical social structure and the operation of a constitutional republic, according to the Hoover Institute. The simplest and smallest hierarchical structure is a family built on the qualities of self-reliance, responsibility and public and private virtue.

Third, freedom is essential to a conservative environment, and freedom is dependent on trust. No trust, no freedom. John Locke’s political philosophy, particularly as presented in his Second Treatise of Government, is a cornerstone of classical liberal political theory and has profoundly impacted modern governments’ development. In the treatise, Locke lays out a detailed account of civil society, natural rights and the role of government, which he sees as fundamentally tied to protecting the freedom of individuals’ rights to life, liberty and property. One of the key concepts in Locke’s philosophy is the state of nature, which he describes as a pre-political condition where individuals are free and equal, bound only by the law of nature. The law of nature dictates, in a principled conservative environment, that individuals should not harm another person’s life, health, liberty or possessions—a variant of the “Law of Reciprocity” commonly known as “The Golden Rule.”

Fourth, in a thoughtful conservative environment, the power of all comes from the freedom for each to exercise his or her free will. Thomas Jefferson’s view of free will reflected his engagement with Enlightenment ideas and his observations on human behavior and governance. In a letter to Isaac H. Tiffany, written in 1819, he wrote, “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.” The balance between individual rights/opportunities and respect for other’s rights/opportunities is a knife edge to be walked in a constitutional republic.

Fifth, free will is governed and guided by an understanding of the impact of each on all, and simultaneously the impact of all on each. This balance is the magic of a free society. Individuals have the freedom to make their own choices without undue interference; thus, allowing people to pursue their goals and lives according to their values and beliefs. Emotionally healthy individuals recognize when personal actions lead to positive community consequences. Moral and ethical foundations are built on the bedrock of respect for others’ rights and well-being. Personal freedoms are bordered where they infringe upon the freedoms and rights of others.

Sixth, individualism, people freely being who they aspire to be, is a foundation for healthy conservativism. Individualism, and the freedom implied by it, without a sense of corporate or community responsibility, is a pipedream that may approach anarchy. Ayn Rand hints at the delicate balance in “The Virtue of Selfishness.” She writes, ”The principle of man’s individual rights represented the extension of morality into the social system — as a limitation on the power of the state, as man’s protection against the brute force of the collective, as the subordination of might to right. The United States was the first moral society in history.”

Seventh, patriotism is ultimately free expression evidenced in group membership. Ethnic, cultural, political and/or vocational groupings are all provided for in a healthy constitutional republic. “Patriotic Assimilation is an Indispensable Condition in a Land of Immigrants,” declares Mike Gonzalez. True patriots and compatriots recognize the value of smaller groups to a healthy composition of larger groups, up to and including the largest group, one’s homeland. A cascade of compatriotism creates order in society through a hierarchy. These voluntary assemblies, despite a wide range of diversity of thought, opinion and action are part of a healthy constitutional republic, and they become parts of the jigsaw puzzle that constitutes a nation, our nation.

Eighth, the place where live makes an indelible impact on how and what people think; freedom supports and is supposed by where people live.. To borrow a line from Winston Churchill, “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” His argument was being made during the height of World War II to ensure the bombed-out British parliament building would be replaced exactly as it was originally constructed. The Prime Minister thought the building’s shape and organization impacted British thought. If he was right—as an architect I believe he was—the same logic suggests geography (place) impacts how and what we think and do. The earliest known historical documents, up to and including the Jewish Bible, were influenced by place. One of the oldest known literary works, the Sumerian Kesh Temple Hymn, almost 4,500 years old, is about place. Tip O’Neil had it almost right when he quipped, “All politics are local.” “Politics is about making arrangements between people so that they can live together in groups such as tribes, cities or countries,” according to Wikipedia Simple English. Not to put too fine a point on it, but all politics are driven by geography, and all geography is defined by locale.

Ninth, performance powers freedom. Joseph A. Hill advocated for what has been called a “performance culture” within the University which encourages people to continually learn and grow. Accomplishment and merit should be held to the highest standard. Universities can and should play an essential role in understanding the human condition, person by person, and its influences on social responsibility free from the burden of identity, other than the individual soul and accompanying accomplishments.

These nine ideas lead to the establishment of a principled conservative outpost. They will help guide West Texas A&M University into the future. They will project how we live into the world from the Panhandle, guided by the desire of all, for all, to be responsibly free.

Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at https://walterwendler.com/.


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