White supremacists have a mindset that America is a land of finite opportunity, and gains by others come at the expense of their own. But they are wrong.
The Right will never be the party of white supremacy. Conservatism will never unite behind Richard Spencer and his merry band of Nazi-flag waving cowards. For months, white supremacists have tried to cozy up under the banner of the right characterizing themselves as the “alt-right.” This weekend in Tennessee, white nationalists are holding a two-day “White Lives Matter” rally.
It is often reported that white nationalism is a product of the Right. White nationalists themselves in Charlottesville, in Richmond, at University of Florida make the case that they are somehow part of conservatism or the Republican Party. They do this in the failed hope of blending conservatism with their perverse politics.
Let me tell you as clear as can be said: any coherent conservative philosophy will never harbor space for white supremacy.
In the aftermath of a deadly terrorist attack, it’s important to reclaim conservatism from the clutches of those who would seek to harm others in its name. Let this serve as a reminder of what conservatism is and reclaiming its definition from the perversions that others seek to attribute to its mantle.
First, it’s helpful to show what conservatism is not.
Conservatism is not nationalism. If conservatism were tied to a national identity, the ideology would die with the collapse of the country from which it originated. Conservatism doesn’t end if the fabric of America tatters and tears. What’s special about America isn’t tied to the land or a flag, but rather it is embedded in the desire for liberty and the yearning to breathe freer every day. Embracing the flag is permissible to the extent that the flag represents a symbol of pride. If it ever ceased to be a symbol for the tenets of liberty, flying the stars and strips would be nothing more than waving cloth.
Conservatism is not fascism. How could it be? Over history, conservatism has been suspicious of big government. Conservatism seeks to find the perfect balance of government to protect liberties, but not enough largesse to infringe on them. Those that desire authoritarian rule or worship a nationalism culminating in an autocrat are far from conservative.
Conservatism is not tied to racial identity. Western culture laid a lot of the building blocks of democracy and conservatism. Supremacists like to trot this argument out to show superiority. Yet, their argument is incomplete and fails to note that true equality and conservatism wouldn’t have been achieved without Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, and Martin Luther King Jr. Despite the racial makeup of the architects of democracy and conservatism, no group, no race owns the keys to liberty.
With that background, conservatism is free to be defined by the pillars that it has always been based on: life, liberty, and community.
Conservatism is the ideology of life. As conservatives, we believe in the dignity of the individual and that the role of government is to “execute justice” and “preserve the public good” through limited, balanced, and value based governance. The government should be in the business of preserving and safeguarding life. The unborn share the same protections as those walking around because we are granted personhood by the virtue of being alive. This allows us to be equal under the law and under heaven. There are complex debates about beginning of life and end of life circumstances including abortion, the death penalty, and physician assisted suicide. In these debates, conservatism seeks to move society towards an outcome that produces the most life.
As the ideology of life, it follows naturally that conservatism would be the philosophy that seeks to bring about a people of liberty. If all life is worth preserving, then it must also be true that all life is equal before the law. The government’s role as President Reagan said was to “protect the people, not run their lives.” Revolutions across history have occurred when government intrusion has eclipsed individual liberty and its constituents have thrown off the burden of excessive government.
Finally, conservatism, since it seeks to limit government, places a premium on the importance of communities and local governments to solve issues. Historically, local schools, places of worship, and community social organizations responded to complex issues of poverty, healthcare, care for the elderly, and improving schools. As government has expanded, communities have been forced to rely on an expanding government, but where government cannot or does not have to fill the void to lift the community, conservatives seek to fill that shortcoming with the strength of a community.
By respecting the value of life, preserving liberty, and building community, conservatism provides a guiding light in a changing world though not in every case writing a policy prescription. With this light, there is no space for those that do not respect life or the equality of peoples, those that seek to infringe on liberty through intimidation and violence.
As such, conservatism will never unite under the same banner as white supremacy. Our ideology is removed from rogue populism and interest group gerrymandering. At its root, white supremacy is about a couple thousand vocal racists who have a paranoid view of America; they fear that the presence of an increasing number of ethnic minorities and differing viewpoints will wash away their cultural legacy. They view the rise of women and minorities in education, in government, in the workplace as a threat to their previous grip on the instruments of power. They possess the mindset that America is a land of finite opportunity, and gains by others come at the cost of their own. They are wrong; their mindset directly conflicts with the principles of conservatism, and they cannot unite with a worldview so intellectually separate.
Conservatism will not be rewritten to include or incorporate white supremacists or their ideology. Humanity will continue to shine a disaffected light on those that would seek to harm others from their hearts’ darkness.
Tyler Grant is a lawyer in New York. His work has appeared in National Review Online, The Washington Times, and The Hill.