The Nature of American Conservatism #6

The Nature of American Conservatism #6

This series of blogs is based upon William Bennett and John Cribb’s new book, America the Strong: Conservative Ideas to Spark the Next Generation.

They suggest that the key features of Conservatism are easily remembered using the acronym “FLINT”. This word stands for:

F=Free Enterprise

L=Limited Government

I=Individual Liberty

N=National Defense

T=Traditional Values

“T” stands for Traditional Values.

I will let Bennett and Cribb, along with the great conservative Russell Kirk who they quote, explain and illustrated the meaning of traditional values.

The following are quotations from Bennett and Cribb’s America the Strong:

The word Conservative comes from the Latin word conservare, meaning to keep safe, observe, or maintain. Every generation has the responsibility of preserving our best values, along with the customs and institutions that help pass those values to the next generation.

When one generation fails to pass along traditional values, things can go very wrong. It leaves people without a clear sense of what’s important, of the differences between right and wrong. That can ruin lives and harm entire cultures. (Kindle Loc. 2415)


First and most important, traditional values include good moral values—old-fashioned virtues like honesty, courage, compassion and responsibility. The moral values you hold make all the difference in how good your life is. That truth of the human condition has never changed and will never change.

Conservatives believe there are enduring moral truths in the universe. That is, there are rules of right and wrong behavior that have come down to us through the centuries and apply to all. Moral rules such as it’s wrong to steal. It’s good to help others in need. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

In many ways, trying to live by these rules is the central par of life. The striving to acquire virtues like self-discipline and perseverance is perhaps the greatest challenge we all face. Life is, in essence, a moral and civic endeavor.

You don’t have to be religious to have good moral values, but for many people, faith is the most vital part of morality. God anchors their sense of right and wrong. They believe that God has established the moral order of the universe. Faith lifts each person outside the self and inspires a larger sense of purpose.

None of us is born knowing right from wrong or having good moral values. These things have to be learned. So the task of each generation is to pass good values on to the next generation.

Conservatives believe that education is largely about the formation of good character. Young people acquire virtues like kindness and loyalty largely by practicing them until they become habits. They learn morality through the examples, expectations, and rules set by adult around them.

The family is the most important institution when it comes to forming character. The moral lessons parents teach make all the difference. That’s a big reason conservatives are so concerned about the breakdown of the American family and the fact that so many children are growing up in homes without both a mother and a father.

Conservatives want the traditional institution of marriage to thrive because it helps keep families together. Strong marriages are not only good for men and women, but they’re also the best way to raise children and give them solid values.

Community institutions play critical roles in teaching good moral values. Institutions like churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship. Schools. Neighborhoods. Volunteer groups such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

In fact, the entire culture is involved in transmitting values from one generation to the next. That includes popular culture—The movies we watch, the books we read, the advertisements we see on TV, the music we download. Some of the messages our popular culture sends—like do whatever makes you happy and it’s fine to sleep around—are directly opposed to traditional values. They’re the kind of values that can get us in trouble. (Kindle Loc. 2421-2441)


The authors quote Russell Kirk, a great 20th Century conservative philosopher.

“A society in which men and women are governed by belief in an enduring moral order, by a strong sense of right and wrong, by personal convictions about justice and honor, will be a good society—whatever political machinery it may utilize; while a society in which men and women are morally adrift, ignorant of norms, and intent chiefly upon gratification of appetites, will be a bad society—no matter how many people vote and no matter how liberal its formal constitution may be”. (Kindle Loc. 2446)


I will leave you with this question: Regarding what Bennett and Cribb have written and from Russell Kirk’s perspective, how do you think America is now doing?

V. Thomas Mawhinney, 11/8/15

P.S. There will be more to come about the philosophy of Conservatism.

I am now reading one of Russell Kirk’s books entitled, The Conservative Mind: From Burk to Eliot, and I will soon share some important insights gleaned from this powerful book with you.

I believe that a firm understanding of traditional American Conservatism will not only tell us what has gone wrong with America, it will also explain what must be done to restore it to its former glories.

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