RSG Dean Hosts Regent Conservative Union
By Amanda Morad and Dr. Eric Patterson | February 15, 2013
Dr. Eric Patterson, dean of the Robertson School of Government, shares a meal with students at his home on Friday, Feb. 8.
"Why am I a conservative? What does 'conservative' mean?" These questions were addressed by Dr. Eric Patterson, dean of Regent University's Robertson School of Government (RSG), over dinner at his home on Friday, Feb. 8.
The event was a casual night for graduate students from various schools, including Business & Leadership and Divinity, to spend time with the dean and his family before the discussion began.
"I had a great time at the dinner," said RSG student Eric Lupardus, president of the Regent Conservative Union. "It was really nice to get to spend time with our dean in a more relaxed setting, enjoy fellowship with other RSG students, and discuss what it means to be a conservative."
Patterson began the discussion with a story. "Ten years ago, I had dinner with three other young professors. They promised to buy me lunch if I could explain to them how I could be an intellectual and be a conservative," he said. "It turned out our experiences were very different. I came from a family where people had to work; my father was a successful small business owner who lost half of his income to taxes but still managed to give generously to the church. I worked every summer at real jobs.
"However, those three idealists had never earned real money: their parents were college professors and the next generation spent their summers doing internships and traveling and got a free college education. They had no sense of personal responsibility," Patterson concluded.
At this point, the conversation turned to theory. Patterson outlined that political and social conservatives have typically favored time-tested, local, customary solutions to life's problems over revolutionary, top-down, elitist social-engineering.
"Conservatives value the organic elements of local culture," he said. "They do not want outsiders to impose radical schemes upon them, nor do conservatives wish to force their views upon others. Although conservatives relish the opportunity to defend their beliefs and way of life, they do so in the marketplace of ideas and in local institutions, not through national and international force of any kind."
Patterson noted that what makes conservatives different from libertarians is the belief in "ordered liberty." Libertarians argue for emancipation from all social mores and conventions. Conservatives believe that human beings are the most free in community: in family, church and other institutions.
When asked about those "institutions," Patterson noted that the Protestant tradition has provided a good deal of teaching on this point. Abraham Kuyper, a late nineteenth-century Dutch thinker, articulated "sphere sovereignty," he explained: different social organisms such as the church, family, guild and state are sovereign only in their own sphere of responsibility and should generally operate autonomously.
This model was observed by Alexis de Tocqueville when he noted that America's societal wealth could be found in its rich associational life: Americans were joiners, helpers, entrepreneurs and partners in a vibrant civil society with little central government regulation.
Patterson suggested that a classical conservative approach to governing the United States would mean an anemic federal bureaucracy and vigorous state governments and local communities. "In such a confederation, one could have imagined a polygamist Utah bordering hedonist Nevada with far less harmonization of policies at the national level," he said. "Of course, since the Civil War, this is not how the American polity has developed."
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