What does it mean to be a principled conservative today?
Over the past three months, groups of grassroots Americans have gathered around the country to answer that question. We came from different backgrounds and different persuasions. We supported different candidates.
But these conversations were not about who we each supported. They were about the big ideas underlying our politics – not specific policies, but principles.
The following Declaration is the product of those conversations.
Declaration of Principles
For some time now, the conservative movement has been in the thralls of an identity crisis. Fealty to party and politicians has completely obscured the values that give substance to our public associations. Today in America, who you support has become more important than what you believe. As a result, the terms “conservative” and “Republican” are now mere team names that have lost all meaning.
This development spells troubling consequences for our republic. When our political choices cease to revolve around what we believe, we lose our independence and our voices as citizens matter less. Politicians and parties realize that they can leverage their brands to do whatever they wish and their voters will fall in line. Accountability vanishes and power coalesces into the hands of the few who already hold it.
This is antithetical to the concept of self-government. We don’t elect kings or queens to rule us as they alone see fit – we elect fellow citizens to represent our interests.
That’s why principles are so important. They anchor our politics to core values and ensure that those we elect today wield power tomorrow according to some blueprint larger than themselves.
That’s why principles are so important. They anchor our politics to core values and ensure that those we elect today wield power tomorrow according to some blueprint larger than themselves. They don’t care which party’s letter sits next to your name. Principles define who we are, what we believe in, and the type of country we’ll become. That’s why we choose to put them first – before politicians and before party.
In declaring these principles, we seek an America that delivers opportunity and hope to all who actively pursue happiness. We champion an America unleashed from its limitations, unhampered by pessimism, and undeterred by fear – one that achieves its full potential. The America we seek celebrates its diversity but remains united by its core commitments. It is also a good America that does good in both word and deed.
We also love America. We love its ideals, traditions, and aspirations. We love its complex history and the never-ending pursuit of a more perfect Union. Our patriotism is rooted in appreciation, not for a particular version of American culture or an ancestral lineage, but for our shared commitment to freedom.
Our patriotism is rooted in appreciation, not for a particular version of American culture or an ancestral lineage, but for our shared commitment to freedom.
We enjoy the privilege and recognize the responsibility of living as Americans. That responsibility binds us to ourselves and to others across generations. It calls us all to leave behind an America that is better than the one we found.
So, collectively, we choose action – to lay out our beliefs and engage rather than passively accept the status quo. The Constitution places a duty on each of us to play a role in shaping the course of our government. We declare these principles today as part of meeting that duty and commit to holding our government and ourselves accountable to them.
Integrity, character & virtue matter.
The strength of our republic depends upon the moral conviction of our elected officials. If we don’t pick inherently trustworthy people to lead us, they will bring the character of the country down with them. Unethical and immoral behavior can never become the norm.
Every person has quality, dignity, & worth.
We are all created in the image of God. Each of us deserves the same level of respect and dignity from our government and fellow countrymen. All citizens are Americans and none of us is more American than any other.
Truth, honesty, rationality, and facts are non-negotiable.
No one is entitled to their own facts – regardless of party. Data isn’t something to be afraid of and intelligence isn’t something to demean. We aspire to an objective political discourse that is uncompromisingly honest. The currency of good ideas must again be their rationality and logical persuasiveness, rather than how loudly they are shouted.
The Constitution and rule of law are paramount.
The law is a great equalizer. No one is above it. It maintains order and commits us to common rules. The Constitution isn’t perfect, but its mix of individual rights, enumerated and separated powers, checks, and balances is the greatest formulation of self-government yet devised. The rule of law and the Constitution must be defended.
Our government is a limited one with enumerated powers.
There are plenty of things that government could do, but only certain things that government can do. The Framers specifically enumerated the powers of Congress in Article I, Section 8 – everything else was left to the states and to the people. Whichever challenges the government chooses to tackle, it must tackle them within the boundaries laid down by the Constitution.
Congress passes laws, the executive executes laws, and the courts interpret laws.
Each of the branches have a clearly defined constitutional role. They ought to remain within their respective spheres of authority and zealously guard them against encroachment. We were not meant to be ruled by emergency declaration or an expansive bureaucracy. Such an imbalance should not persist.
Government closest to the people is most accountable.
When the government performs one of its enumerated powers, it should do so at the lowest level that can effectively accomplish the goal. This limits the social cost of bad policy and permits experimentation and adaptation across differing local needs. One size very rarely fits all.
People reach their full potential when they are free.
People are meant to be free, not controlled. They often achieve more when left to their own devices to organically work together towards shared goals instead of at the state’s direction.
Free and functioning markets deliver prosperity.
When barriers to entry are low and sufficient competition exists, the free market is the single-greatest mechanism that the world has ever known for allocating scarce resources, making goods more accessible, improving the human condition, & driving innovation and progress.
Equality of opportunity, not equality of outcomes.
We believe the pursuit of happiness requires a fair shot at success, but does not guarantee a particular outcome. And for good reason. Opportunity empowers us to push toward our own better versions of happiness, while a guarantee dampens that uniquely American spirit and often leaves us all worse off.
Government must responsibly steward public resources for the next generation.
The government oversees the people’s money and other resources – not its own. As a result, it has a duty to manage the public fisc, public lands, and other public resources responsibly and in the long-term interest of the people. Ever-growing debt is a national security risk and our environment will be the same one our kids inherit. We have a moral duty to leave things better and more secure than we found them.
Civic associations, faith communities, and families should be the primary engines of our culture – not the state.
We should not entrust our culture to the outcomes of our elections. Instead, we should let American culture be the product of the civic associations, faith communities, and families that comprise the great fabric of our country. Limited government and small-l liberalism make this possible.
Strong families are the building blocks of society.
A strong family is a significant determinant of a child’s success and does more to develop children than any government program ever will. As such, a family has utility and worth no matter what form it takes. Each and every family unit – regardless of its shape – deserves to thrive in America.
Sovereignty is critical to self-government.
The principle of national sovereignty permits us to successfully govern ourselves. Part of that principle is the constitutional duty to define immigration laws and ensure they are enforced. To that end, borders matter and should be secured. However, enforcing our laws should never require us to deny humane treatment to anyone.
America’s role on the world stage is unique.
The United States cannot afford to be the world’s policeman, but it cannot afford to be a passive bystander either. We live in an increasingly connected world where the oceans that separate us from our enemies are no longer buffers. Possessing the strongest military in the world is both a strategic advantage and moral responsibility – and we must wield it with purpose and circumspection.