Our political culture is largely filtered through the lens of how the left, or progressivism, sees the world. This is easily explained by the dominance progressivism holds in academia, advocacy and media, but also from the reality that conservative commentary is utterly dependent on the excesses of the left to thrive. Without the progressive left, the right would be fairly boring and detail-driven regarding specific and largely local issues. We all begin with the assumption of progressivism and either advocate for more of it or advocate against it. It is human nature.
One major flaw in conservative thinking for many decades has been the assumption the majority of people view Constitutional liberty as their default, and preferred, setting and would naturally reject progressivism if it ever attempted to take over. While the left has marched steadily on, imposing their worldview through legal means, the right has watched in baffled confusion by their successes, often only bitterly complaining of the aftermath. But the right is rarely proactive. We tend to intelligently and passionately argue against what is already happening or what has already been put into place. Such is the nature of conservatism.
We face a crossroads today as a global crisis has forced the hand of even the most fiscally conservative among us to argue for government intervention. True, it is easily argued that said intervention is necessary right now. But in reality, through the lens of progressivism, we have become a tortured ideological minority barely clinging to what we once thought was correct, faced with a tsunami of doubt. Progressivism is eagerly prepared for a national or global crisis. Conservatism is not.
I have heard it said that during a crisis liberals become libertarians and conservatives run to the government for help, and in a way this is absolutely true. Regular life does not represent how people think and feel during an emergency and neither do our politics. What works during peace does not always work during war. Progressivism can easily adapt to all of these conditions because their worldview relies on external authority to guide them. If that authority is corrupt, the people rise up and take over, otherwise it is to be trusted with absolute faith.
But conservatives can see beyond the crisis. We understand the consequences of our actions, regardless of how necessary and justified they may be. We are tortured not only by these decisions but also by the ground we cede to the left in making them. Ground we know we may never recover. For us it is not the battle that matters, but what happens afterwards. The left sees every action unto itself. We know better. But we are also driven by morality and cannot stubbornly hide behind principles and ideology while society collapses.
Today we understand that the COVID-19 global crisis has upended everything we rely on for normalcy. The markets have collapsed because of panic and the legitimate danger they currently pose to health. People are legally barred from working at their jobs and making money to support themselves. Our monthly obligations, agreed to years or even decades prior, are still in place regardless of our current income. Personal responsibility has been bound by external forces. Liberty alone cannot impact this crisis and in many ways only serves to compound it. As we have seen, defiantly gathering in groups, defying state and federal orders and insisting on independence is putting millions at risk.
While the left sees all of this as validation that liberty has failed, or never worked to begin with, and cheers on the sudden recognition by most that the government is the best authority to guide the people through this time, the right remains uncertain. But beyond this crisis we know that reliance on the government cannot last. Yes, providing the people with funds, sourced largely from their own paychecks in the form of taxes, strictly regulating businesses and in many places, even movement and interfering with private agreements such as loans or rent may be the only way to keep the country afloat today, but it cannot last.
The right has not “woken up” to the notion that socialism or communism is the answer, as many on the left believe. We have recognized that in a crisis this widespread, there are no good answers and the best options today may not be preferable tomorrow. But we also must stay strong in our convictions of individual liberty and independence, as this will pass and life will go on. Our responsibility is in ensuring the shift to progressive government authority we need in this moment does not become the new normal once the crisis has passed.
Conservatism works because it is based on the belief of human ingenuity and individuality. But it is not the answer to all issues a society can face, as we have seen. Sometimes we need a government authority to step in and manage society, for a time, until a crisis passes. But in the next few months, the trust in individual ability will be challenged as all of us adapt to living under progressivism and reliance on our government to keep us afloat. When it’s over we have to remember who we are and be ready to rebuild in a society that may very well have lost faith in itself.