“Ever since the end of the Second World War, the tendency of American public opinion has been more or less conservative. But there exists some danger that conservatives themselves might slip into a narrow ideology or quasi-ideology—even though, as H. Stuart Hughes wrote some forty years ago, ‘Conservatism is the negation of ideology.’” -Russell Kirk, The Errors of Ideology
Despite Dr. Kirk’s warning, the slide into “a narrow ideology” has been an ongoing trend for people who call themselves “conservative” in recent years. This hardening of the mind is likely the result of two external causes, 1) a natural response to the leftist ideologies that seem to be carrying the day in government and the media, and 2) a lack of knowledge and understanding of what being “conservative” actually means, according to the minds who have defined it, due largely to an educational system that has worked tirelessly to extinguish such knowledge.
The difficulty is getting people to understand that the antidote to the armed doctrines of Ideology is not more Ideology, but “non-ideology.” In 2007, Erick Erickson from RedState.com criticized Mitt Romney for having “no ideology.” From the ideologue’s perspective, this is unacceptable. At best, the ideological mind assumes there is no way to predict how a candidate will act in a given situation; at worst, the assumption is that the candidate will never measure up to the expectations of the ideologue’s “aggressive political righteousness.” Ideology, the companion to religious bigotry, grants adherents permission to exterminate any opposition that threatens the vision of hegemonic superiority.
In the conservative mind, having “no ideology” is preferable in every way to the alternative. Ann Coulter points out in her column that Ronald Reagan didn’t trounce Jimmy Carter by being an ideological firebrand. “Reagan beat the odds and took out an incumbent by waging a charm campaign to win over independents, moderates and undecideds.” Mitt Romney’s biggest obstacle to the Presidency is not average Americans, it’s Americans who have turned politics into religion, on both sides of the political spectrum.
Ideology is “the politics of passionate unreason.” The Ideologue can never be an effective force for uniting disparate groups of people, aptly demonstrated by the current occupant of the White House and contradicting his own grandiose claims. The Ideologue sees everyone outside of his or her political orthodoxy as an enemy. In contrast, Dr. Kirk points out that “Conservatives…have the habit of dining with the opposition,” preferring reconciliation to the building up of what Edmund Burke called the “antagonist world.”
The conservative is guided by Prudence, what Patrick Henry called “the Lamp of Experience.” But our past experiences have been systematically hidden from us by Leftist historians and journalists, and we are left groping in the dark. Thirty years ago, Russell Kirk worried that, “…since the end of the Second World War, the American public has looked with increasing favor upon the term ‘conservative.’ Public-opinion polls suggest that in politics, the majority of voters regard themselves as conservatives. Whether they well understand conservatives’ political principles may be another matter.”
I worry that, despite our general unfamiliarity with our predecessors’ experience, we think we have found a candle to light our way. But we will realize only too late that what we have lit is a fuse.