As I prepare to join the 58th Oklahoma Legislature, I find myself reflecting hopefully on the opportunity we see before us in the form of a substantial Republican majority in all three branches of Oklahoma government. I am profoundly encouraged by the increased number of conservatives entering with me, even as at the same time I find it necessary to discern exactly what a conservative is in the American and more particularly the Oklahoman sense.
Conservatism, according to Edmund Burke, who is regarded as the founder of modern conservatism, at essence cautions against radical disregard of that which society has built before, and rather embraces a humble reverence for the traditions of society inherited from our ancestors. Edmond Burke’s conservatism views with skepticism destroying what our forefathers built under the arrogant certainty that what follows will be better. Burkean conservatism seeks to restrain the ever-mutating social contract of Locke, Hobbes, and Rousseau with the stability of existing society. Burke regards the social contract, because its ends cannot be obtained even in many generations, as “a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.”
In practice the difficulty of implementing conservatism lies in its inherent personal and regional subjectivity. I find large numbers of persons collectively declaring themselves conservative, while closer conversation reveals variability in just what to be conservative means. Ultimately each individual considers those particular ideas he personally favors as defining conservatism. In practice large numbers of diverse minds use similar language to advocate differing fundamental ideas. The all-too-common result, as we have seen repeatedly in past legislatures (both state and national), is broadly like-minded legislators working nonetheless at cross purposes.
In the United States, however, we need never struggle with a changeable social contract ideal. By the wisdom of our forefathers we have an actual, written contract among the several states, between the states and the nation, and more importantly between the individual citizen and the state. Our forefathers, uniquely in human history, derived a working balance between Burkean conservatism and the forward-looking liberalism of Locke, Hobbes, and Rousseau. The transforming brilliance of our particular social contract lies in clearly describing the purpose of government by narrowly defining what government may do and broadly forbidding all else.
In the United States, uniquely, what conservatives ought to conserve is not cultural and societal norms, per se; but rather that actual social contract of ours, the United States Constitution. The Constitution, more than the culture and traditions of society which naturally vary from region to region, is that very glue which binds us together, while at the same time preserves the diverse culture and traditions of the several regions of our nation and of our state. This it does by insisting on that most essential ingredient of any free society: strictly limited government.
Faithful adherence to our unique Constitution therefore provides the practical balance between forward-looking reform and reverence for the foundational wisdom of our forebears. Adherence to the Constitution requires faith in the sovereignty of the individual citizen, of which he cedes a narrowly defined part to his state, which in turn cedes a still more narrowly defined part to the nation. This proper understanding of the just origins of power by consent of the governed effectively addresses all of the perplexing challenges that will face the legislators in the coming session.
As I contemplate joining the 58th Oklahoma Legislature, I am convinced that to be a Constitutional conservative, not merely a subjective conservative, is the just and proper position of any American statesman at any level. Let us therefore resolve together as we proceed into 2021 to restore that essential understanding that sovereignty justly exists in the individual citizen, proceeds in limited measure by his consent to the state, and from there in even more limited and defined measure to the nation. Let us resolve together, in short, to restore the nearly squandered blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.