Emblematic of the intellectual failure of American conservative politics is that the word “progressive” has been abandoned to the left. It seems that in order to prove your conservative chops these days, you must take stances against change rather than for it.
This is a pity. Being conservative does not mean being adverse to change, but being adverse to change for its own sake. American history is replete with examples of conservative Presidents who rejected reactionaries in the name of progress. America’s greatest Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, did not only issue the Emancipation Proclamation, he also championed progress by laying the regulatory groundwork for the transcontinental railroads. Theodore Roosevelt placed conservation, the environment, and trust-busting at the head of his agenda.
It is unfortunate that, beginning with Calvin Coolidge, we of the American right have forgotten that change, that progress, is not something to be fought, but something to be crafted. That collective amnesia has led conservatism to embrace an increasingly change-averse, reactionary agenda.
Maintaining the status quo is a pathetic response to the issues and dangers that confront the Republic in this century. Conservatives must learn to re-embrace change by crafting a vision of the future, and a path to that future that are principled, practical, and wise. The alternative is to forfeit the nation to a battle between radicals and reactionaries.
In the end, what separates progressive conservatives from progressive liberals are the principles that guide our agendas. The liberals have articulated theirs. It is time we articulated ours.