A few days ago Tyler Cowen described what he thinks are the main tenants of conservatism. I agree with some of it, but not necessarily that these are the main items on my list.
Here is my version, based on my personal views of conservatism:
1. People are inherently bad. Therefore, life is naturally imperfect (unfair, difficult) and there is no way to completely “fix” this. There are ways to ameliorate society but this is an eternal struggle and an uphill one for that matter.
2. Determinism is pure BS. Each one of us has the power to change behavior in most cases and therefore change personal outcome in most situations.
3. Because people are by nature bad but also free to choose their paths, Conservatives trust themselves more than anyone else. We know our own weaknesses and know how hard it is to make the right choice. Expecting other people to be nice or to do the right thing most times is just way too risky.
4. Government is truly necessary but it can only do so much. The best analogy I have for it is that Government is like an antibiotic. It is a great solution against specific illnesses and it has improved our lives immensely. However, if overused it will cease to work and if misused it will actually make the problems worse. If truly abused, it will kill you. When Government is required, the smaller the better just because it is easier to make your voice heard and because when they mess up the damage is not unrecoverable.
5. Education, culture and religion are all vital social tools used to “tame” us and to help us guide our energies into positive activity. Just like any tool, these can be used for bad as well so be always cautious. The ways these social tools are applied vary greatly, and there are some that are superior to others. The best way to judge these is by looking at the results, that is, the people who follow each and see how they compare in wealth, health and knowledge.
6. Immigrants should recognize that they are moving to a new country for a reason and adopt the new host country’s culture as much as possible.
7. It is hard to identify when a social norm is broken or when people are simply expecting too much from it. Creating these rules is hard and changing them might make things even worse in the end.
8. Science is how we tame the world around us. It is a very dangerous tool in itself since it changes the natural balance of things, so it needs to be used with caution.
9. Free Markets, Capitalism and everything else around it are simply ways to bring decision power down to the individual level. We don’t trust a business to do the right thing out of the goodness of its heart. We want to be able to choose among many so we can check for ourselves who is doing things right and who is not. We trust the root of the profit motive.
10. Foreign Policy is a nasty game that is mostly played at the raw power level. To try to apply internal concepts among different countries is foolish. Mistakes at this level are incredibly dangerous and it is better to err on the side of caution (which sometimes means being more aggressive than it would be actually required).