Voltaire said, “If you wish to converse with me define your terms.” Often people argue only to discover that they agree but are confused by slightly different definitions of basic terms.
Similarly, people use terms incorrectly or without knowledge of their meaning. It was enlightening and disturbing, but not surprising, when Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Chair of the Democratic National Committee, could not answer Chris Matthews' question: “What is the difference between a Democrat and a socialist?”
The blurring partly reflects the growing awareness of individuality and diversity in all segments of society. Nowhere is this truer than in politics and yet nowhere is it more important. Yes, there are political shades, but there is a central philosophy essential to any definable political party. Voters need to know the basic beliefs of candidates when they vote.
In the past when Canadians were asked to identify politicians they admire they invariably list NDP leaders. Among them was J.S. Woodsworth, a pioneer in the social democratic movement and founder of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF,) the forerunner to the NDP. Others included Ed Broadbent, but most respected of all was T. C. (Tommy) Douglas, who was voted the greatest Canadian in a nationwide poll of over one million people.
The problem is none of them ever led a party to power. This seems like a contradiction, but it is logical and identifies an important tenet for all politicians, especially conservatives. All clearly knew and enunciated with clarity their political philosophy.
People respect that, but it also means they are not likely to vote for them because a majority of Canadians are small “c” conservatives. Combine that with the growing awareness of individuality and small groups and you have the need for a well-defined conservatism.
There is evidence of the failure to enunciate a clear understanding of conservative principles in many western nations. The tendency is to think it necessary to move to the political center to win an election.
Harper did it twice. In his first two elections, polls showed a conservative majority, but he shifted to the center resulting in lost votes and a minority government. Often these conservatives fail to follow through with conservative principles after their election, as the US Republicans demonstrate.
Here is a brief list of principles a conservative must stand for, based on a British list. Conservatives stand:
- - for the family and the individual;
- - against the state and bureaucracy;
- - against monopolies and cartels;
- - for people and against collectives.
A conservative must resist the temptation to expect the state to behave as a nanny, and strive for recognition for citizens.
Herbert Spencer (1820 - 1903) summed up the last point when he wrote,
The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.
The challenge is that these are not the principles most think of when thinking of a conservative.
It is essential that people know clearly and concisely a person’s political principles. Only then can they can make a clear, informed, decision and elect people who are more likely to do what they promise. Despite this, there will always be a percentage that prefers government running their lives.
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