Yesterday's approval by North Carolina voters of Amendment 1 – a constitutional amendment defining marriage in the state as a pact between one man and one woman – is being seen widely as a victory for conservatism and as a potential wedge issue in the upcoming presidential election.
Although most conservatives have deep convictions on the institution of marriage and would prefer not to see the meaning of the word changed, they have been seduced by the promise of progressivism, which pledges to help them achieve their ends through government.
Amendment 1 proves that so-called conservatives today have become the big-government progressives they fear most.
Progressivism itself has no particular policy preferences. Prominent progressives in first half of the 20th century were in favor of government-imposed eugenics and sterilization programs, while today's proud progressives would advocate for nothing of the sort.
The guiding philosophy of progressivism is simply this: using government to achieve desired ends.
Just as progressivism is a blank slate through which well-meaning individuals advocate rapid social and economic changes through government, true conservatism is just the opposite. Far from being stuck in the past, conservatism sought to limit the power of government to make decisions for everyone.
Conservative firebrand William F. Buckley phrased the mission statement of his conservative magazine National Review carefully: "It stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it."
Indeed, old conservatism's primary value was that it urged deliberation, debate, and patience. Buckley himself did not remain static in his beliefs throughout his lifetime, most notably changing his views on the policy of drug prohibition when he recognized the costs to be too high. Were those who decried the effects of drug use on individuals and communities to have had more patience when developing public policy, they may have reached the same conclusion Buckley did and we would not now have to live with the horrific consequences of the futile War on Drugs.
The contrast between thoughtful patience and the temptation to act in haste was stated beautifully by 18th century British statesman (and proponent of American independence) Edmund Burke. "Our patience will achieve more than our force," said Burke.
Government cannot be regarded as anything but force. Sometimes its power and authority are used in ways that protect the rights of individuals in society. But more often government is commandeered by a few to impose their vision on all.
It was because of the inevitable corruptability of human beings inside any government that actual conservatism became a viable governing philosophy. Conservatives desired to limit government strictly because they recognized that the more government is empowered to do, the more opportunities emerge for cronies to profit at public expense.
Today, however, conservatism is just a word that describes a set of policy preferences to be enacted through government-expanding means. As in the example of Amendment 1, these means obstruct and relieve individuals, families, and communities from finding solutions that work best for them.
Conservative or liberal. We're all progressives now.