With President Trump’s courtship of the Republican Party and its brand complete, what does it mean to be a political conservative in this day and age? Well, it’s complicated.
During a talk Wednesday evening at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), Alice Stewart, a CNN political commentator and an Institute of Politics (IOP) fall 2019 fellow, asked a conservative panel from media, academia, and politics to define the values and ideas at the core of the belief system. Each characterized the political and social philosophy quite differently.
George Will, the veteran Washington Post columnist and political commentator, said American conservatism means “conserving a government organized around a belief in natural rights. … Natural rights require a regime of liberty, and the regime of liberty requires a separation of powers. All of which frames the American constant, which is a never-ending debate about the proper scope and actual competence of government.”
Former Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said, “Conservatism is achieving the maximum amount of freedom consistent with order,” paraphrasing a famous line from the late Sen. Barry Goldwater’s highly influential 1960 book, “The Conscience of a Conservative.” That has come to manifest itself, in recent decades, in a kind of conservatism that’s animated by “principles of limited government, economic freedom, individual responsibility, free trade, free markets, strong American leadership around the globe,” said Flake, also an IOP fall fellow.
As someone who came to the philosophy after the rise of President Ronald Reagan, and who, like Reagan, strongly favors immigration, Kennedy School Professor Arthur Brooks said he believes conservatism “is open to the embracing of the idea of dignity and potential for ambitious riffraff,” foundational ideas that he hopes one day will define American conservatism once more.