Posted by: Chris | March 10, 2010

Sometimes Andrew Should Know Better Than to Be Wistful for Something That Will Never Be Again

In response to Captain Falcon’s’ post on Andrew’s latest harumph at the linguistic mess of the American Right, I think it is, contra the Falcon and the wayward [pun redacted], entirely a point of semantics.  At this stage, conservatism means whatever it is the conservative movement stands for, because they are the large preponderance of people recognized as conservatives.  They have held the mantle for long enough that they own the word now.  Nor do I think, at a deep level, that this regrettable development is somehow bad for people who disagree with their intensely ideological definition.  The residual connotations of conservatism don’t linger nearly as deeply as CF seems to fret that they might, for either the conservative movement or the country at large.  Noted intellectual Jonathan Krohn has literally written the book on this sort of thing and he defines conservatism as:

★ Respect for the Constitution
★ Respect for human life
★ Belief in minimalist government
★ Insistence upon personal responsibility

I doubt he would recognize a Burkean sentiment if he saw one.  Relatedly, but also unrelatedly, my FSOT test had a question on the definition of conservatism that defined it as basically ideological libertarianism.  I know the musings of Trig Palin 14 years from now and a random, poorly written question on a government test are hardly indicative of anything, but I think they at least underscore the totality of the word’s conversion over the past fifty years.

Because of the success of the conservative movement and their prominence in various media outlets, the definition of conservatism has morphed into something synonymous to William Jennings Bryant with guns for legs.  I think that this is simply one of those unfortunate irrational but immutable trends that true conservatives (or whatever) know better than to fight.  I think its time for people sympathetic to Andrew’s definition of the word (a group I suspect we both belong to) to lament its passing and move onto a new word, just as classical liberals did to libertarianism.

Completely off topic: why does WordPress put less than a pixel between the logout button and the comment textbox?  This post started as a comment before I was inadvertently booted.  Nick, based on your research on designing interfaces, how can WordPress best address this issue?  Android Dashboard?

Update: Thoroughly bowdlerized by CF.



  1. […] been established in conversation that Chris isn’t much of a philosopher of language, and his latest outburst is case-in-point. He has three main data points in favor of his conclusion that “conservatism […]

  2. […] connotations, the modern conservative movement can and does claim traits it does not posess.  I replied that the conservative movement neither regularly claims or is seen to believe in the older […]

  3. […] Lilla and I also have our differences vis-a-vis what a conservative actually is – in our old debate about whether American conservatism has, in any meaningful sense, misappropriated the […]

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