J.S. Mill once said, in one of his relatively few statements as a member of Parliament for a short time, that "[c]onservatives are not necessarily stupid people, but most stupid people are Conservatives." His statement related to the Conservatives of his time, but I wonder if it is true regarding those of our time, or to those who call themselves "conservative" in our times, here in this Great Republic.
One doesn't expect profound thinking or perhaps even thought from the likes of Hank Williams, Jr., and I've always been inclined to disregard political pronouncements from our professional entertainers of any stripe, whether they foolishly volunteer their opinions or are egged on by eager members of the media. But there are those from whom we may expect something approaching the ability to think, and among those are such as judges and those running for national office. The recent statements of a county judge in Texas who will remain unnamed here (primarily because I find it difficult to resist the urge to make play with that name) and those of candidate Akin cause me to believe that expectation is unfounded.
There is an honorable intellectual tradition in Conservative thought. But in this country it seems to have been eclipsed by a tradition which is virulently anti-intellectual, anti-reason, anti-science and anti-that-which-is-not-white-American and conventionally religious and anti-intellectual, anti-reason and anti-science. This must be disturbing to any intelligent Conservative, as in our most unfortunate two-party system it means for the most part that those intelligent Conservatives who exist must necessarily associate themselves with members of the Republican Party, who seem intent on demonstrating that they are, mostly, stupid people.
In this farcical presidential election, we have an incumbent president who I think would in normal circumstances be quite vulnerable. However, the association of most stupid people with the Republican Party may very well manage to make a president who has, I think it's fair to say, been incompetent look like the only reasonable alternative to government by ignorant buffoons. It is a horrible situation to be in at a critical time.
Conservatism is generally typified by a caution regarding change, particularly change implemented by government. However, it can be a viable political philosophy only if it can recognize change which has already taken place. The Republican Party seems to have considerable trouble accepting such change; in the status of women, gays, religion and the so-called minorities which will soon enough be a majority. It seems convinced that the majority of the American people are ersatz versions of Bocephus, Pat Robertson and the enormously wealthy. This simply is untrue now, and will be staggeringly untrue in the future.
If a thoughtful Conservatism is to survive, it must disassociate itself from the Know-Nothings, fundamentalists and tycoons who have become the representatives of the Right in these dark times. It must champion reason and freedom and the rule of law. The rule of law includes in this nation a neutral stance regarding religion. It should neither encourage nor discourage it. It should not sanction the imposition of religious views nor should it sanction the prohibition of religious views. Simply put, religion is not the law.
A thoughtful Conservatism as a political force may turn out to be impossible in our two-party system, but I think it would be desirable if a party was formed which could support the idea of limited government and individual liberty and yet manage not to be a tool of the wealthy and a haven for most stupid people.