“As we approach Thanksgiving, are we truly thankful? Or do we simply say we are thankful because a date on the calendar says so?”
Both are likely true. I am certainly thankful, and I do my best to express that to God and others around me as often as I can. But it’s helpful to have a day to say so. It’s an annual reminder to do something we should be doing all of the time.
We seem to be worse at expressing thankfulness in politics than in other areas of life. I am thankful for my wife, children, family, job, health, and so on. But when it comes to politics, gratitude is not something I usually consider. One glance at my Twitter feed, and I know I’m not alone.
For conservatives, this is a big problem. This is because conservatism is based on thankfulness. One cannot be a conservative without it. As Yuval Levin says, "Conservatives tend to begin from gratitude for what is good and what works in our society and then strive to build on it, while liberals tend to begin from outrage at what is bad and broken and seek to uproot it."
To be a conservative means that there is something worth conserving. It means that there is much more right with this country than wrong. It means that we don't throw our hands up and recklessly tear it down. Conservatism seeks to conserve that which we should value, and so we cannot identify what is worth conserving without expressing gratitude toward what is good.
Of course, there is plenty to be upset about: Conservative policies seem stalled in Congress, the national debt continues to climb, an un-elected and unresponsive bureaucracy seems entrenched in Washington, Obamacare hasn’t been repealed, society continues to secularize, our culture continues to struggle with the fallout of the sexual revolution, and our divided country struggles to confront bad actors like North Korea and Iran.
We cannot, however, let our frustration with what is wrong blind us from all that is good.
Conservatism recognizes the harsh realities of nature, history, and the fallen state of man. Despite these things, we are blessed to live in a nation that emphasizes freedom, equality, rule of law, private property, and minority rights. We recognize that that these blessings are exceedingly rare occurrences in this world, and we are among the few, living or dead, to ever experience them.
Gratitude also has a way of putting our problems in perspective. “Thanksgiving is set aside not to plunge us deeper into political division, but to fix our eyes on the good which we share in common,” C.C. Pecknold, a professor at the Catholic University of America wrote . When we list out the things for which we are most thankful, there is a reason friends and family so immediately come to mind before any political matter. The most precious and important parts of our lives exist outside of the politics.
Once again, thankfulness informs a conservative political philosophy that says not all things should exist in the political realm. We leave it to liberals to politicize everything from sports to food to weather. They are the ones writing articles on how to proselytize their cranky conservative uncle over the Thanksgiving table. Conservatism, rooted in proper gratitude, gives perspective to such matters and puts political issues of the State in their proper place.
If we are to be conservatives in the day to day slog of controversies and news cycles, it is important that we never forget the foundation of our political philosophy. We should not be living out our days in constant outrage or anxiety. In order to advance the cause of conservatism, we must have gratitude for the things worth conserving. If there’s nothing worth conserving, then we are simply progressives of one shade or another.
What are some things you think are worth conserving? What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? I'd love to read about it in the comments.