I've often stated that I am not a conservative, but I've never stated that I couldn't ever become a conservative. After reading two fascinating defenses of conservatism, by Andrew Sullivan and Fareed Zakaria, I have to admit that I fully understood and appreciated what they had to say about conservatism as they understood it, and what "conservatism" has become.
Their explanations of conservatism, invoking political theory and political history, were compelling. I still have some reservations, because believe that we should strive to improve on what we have, and push continually toward that "shining city on a hill" ideal. Conservatism's role seemed, to me, to be about curbing overreach; liberalism's role seemed, to me, to be about pushing boundaries. Both of those perspectives seek the greater good for the nation.
I think that Sullivan's and Zakaria's critiques of "conservatism" are spot on. What I see as "conservatism" in 2011 is nothing like the conservatism they described, and I think that's why I've felt comfortable saying that I am not a "conservative." However, I think I can now say that I am not, and never hope to be a "conservative," but I could see the possibility of embracing aspects of conservatism, as defined by Sullivan and Zakaria. As an historian, I think that it is particularly important to know the past, in order to help inform current decisions. I've argued that President Obama should have spent some time reading the histories of the administrations of both Roosevelts, so that he could see how they approached the pressing issues of their times. Yet, I don't advocate for remaining stuck in the past and never moving on; that's useless.
It's been a long time since I studies political theory and philosophy, but I am glad to get reminders like the two I've linked to in this post. It's good to have one's perspectives and positions challenged and/or refreshed.