Note (12 Jul 2022): This post, written in 2010, contains a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. In that quote is a six-letter derogatory term for black people, which has become much more taboo since I wrote the post. I include this note so that the term’s appearance in the King quote does not hit readers as a surprise.
A flip side of the previous post: while I am not a right-winger and would never want to be called one, I have far less antipathy to the term “conservative,” and sometimes even describe myself that way. For at least to some extent, I see myself as a conservative in the literal sense of that word.
Literal conservatism is a view I have found increasingly appealing after the radical political transformations of the ’80s and (in the US) the ’00s – this not despite, but because of, my left-wing convictions on many particular issues. The literal meaning of the word “conservative” should be fairly obvious: it is about conserving, preserving, existing states of affairs. That’s what it would have meant in the time of Edmund Burke, considered the father of modern conservatism. The problem with the word is that in the ensuing two centuries, the world has changed drastically in ways that Burke would have wished it hadn’t. And that means that if one wants the kind of society that Burke tended to advocate – especially if one wishes “small government” – one will need to change society in quite drastic ways from what it has become. Which, in turn, means not being conservative – not in the literal sense of the world.