Chairman and Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Eco­nomics Charles Steele and Mas­ter’s can­didate Caleb Itterly crit­i­cized con­ser­vatism on Sept. 30.
Claire Gaudet | Collegian

Chairman and Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Eco­nomics Charles Steele explained why con­ser­vatism is no longer viable at a meeting of the Hillsdale College Clas­sical Liberal Orga­ni­zation on Sept. 30. 

“Is con­ser­vatism viable? No. OK great, well why not?”

Steele began his pre­sen­tation with a meme por­traying a Repub­lican in the year 2040 saying “Jesus was obvi­ously trans, but he wasn’t a necrophile,” and “Free oxygen? But that’s socialist!”

“It would make more sense if the image said 2040s con­ser­v­ative,” Steele said. “They find them­selves fighting against the latest ideas.”

Steele shifted his focus to iden­ti­fying dif­ferent people throughout history who could be called con­ser­v­a­tives, including Winston Churchill, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Ronald Reagan, Sayyid Qtub, and Osama bin Laden.

“What do they have in common?” Steele asked. “Nothing.”

Steele made the point that the main cat­e­gories of con­ser­v­a­tives — patrician, reli­gious, and eco­nomic — have nothing in common with each other. He quoted Russell Kirk’s “10 Points of Con­ser­vatism,” saying that the problem with con­ser­vatism is that it has “no fixed ideology.”

“That leads to a couple of problems,” Steele said. “Con­ser­v­a­tives find them­selves fighting against the Overton Window. This is the latest idea that’s being made pos­sible, the newest kind of progressive.”

The Overton Window describes how society’s ideas about gov­ern­mental policies change over time.

According to Steele, con­ser­vatism is not grounded in rational phi­losophy because it lacks a foun­dation. This leads to an inability to define what should be conserved. 

“I have heard people, even on this campus, who are self-avowed con­ser­v­a­tives, talk about true freedom,” Steele said. “They say true freedom means doing the good thing so whoever is in charge should force everyone else to do the good thing. And that’s what con­ser­vatism is.”

After Steele fin­ished his pre­sen­tation, graduate student Caleb Itterly pro­vided a similar assessment. 

“A con­ser­v­ative is someone who has a con­sti­tution more pre­cious to him than change,” Itterly said. “He will try to pre­serve this constitution.”

Itterly described this moral credo as being the meaning of some people’s lives.

“Con­ser­vatism is a group of people whose purpose is ulti­mately to advance some set of goals based on shared values,” Itterly said.

This shared set of goals usually has to do with some mix of reli­gious, social, tra­di­tional, or eco­nomic values, Itterly said. Exam­ining political philoso­phies is more important now than ever, due to the effect that the Trump pres­i­dency had on the media. 

“What is con­ser­vatism?” Itterly asked. “Is it viable in this world where the media has a par­ticular bent which is very obvious and isn’t even being denied?”

He ques­tioned whether or not con­ser­vatism could stand up to this amount of pressure, and if there was any­thing worth con­serving con­sid­ering the amount of cor­ruption in gov­ernment today. 

“If someone said my arm is gan­grenous, someone is going to say ‘Well, we can save your body, but we’re going to have to lose the arm,’” Itterly said. 

The meeting was then opened to dis­cussion. This covered a wide array of topics, from what to do about the welfare state to the issues with the edu­cation system.

“It was fun,” Steele said. “I think we covered the points nicely. I don’t know what people were expecting to hear, but it was obvi­ously not just an attack on conservatism.”

“This is the first CLL event that I’ve come to, and it makes me want to come back to more,” junior Samuel Quinones said. “I think the talk went really well given that the def­i­n­i­tions we were working with were so broad.”