For all the “conservatives” who rail against the ACA as a liberal take-over, you should go back and read your Adam Smith (remember, the guy who wrote Wealth of Nations – or more correctly An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations – the founding document of modern capitalist economic theory). His first book was The Theory of Moral Sentiments, a fascinating philosophical book that lays out the basis for what makes the Wealth of Nations work. His moral philosophy is undergirded by the Golden Rule. For example, this paragraph is from Chapter 1 of The Theory of Moral Sentiments:

And hence it is, that to feel much for others and little for ourselves, that to restrain our selfish, and to indulge our benevolent affections, constitutes the perfection of human nature; and can alone produce among mankind that harmony of sentiments and passions in which consists their whole grace and propriety. As to love our neighbour as we love ourselves is the great law of Christianity, so it is the great precept of nature to love ourselves only as we love our neighbour, or what comes to the same thing, as our neighbour is capable of loving us.

The entire philosophy in the roots of conservatism is self-restraint and caring for neighbors – i.e., his definition of the perfection of a society – in a way that ultimately makes selfishness a virtue because the individual’s selfish motivations are for her/his own perfection as a restrained and virtuous citizen, and one who sees her/his own economic well-being as a function of the well-being of the larger society.

We can argue over mechanisms of achieving that (I don’t agree with Sen. Bernie Sanders about how to accomplish a lot of this, but I completely agree with him about what the problems are), but this is the moral basis of conservatism to me.  Senator Ben Sasse, also a Ph.D. in American History, has a book out now, The Vanishing American Adult, which does not reference Theory of Moral Sentiments, but is a good guide to instilling Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments into children.  One may not agree with everything he suggests, but everyone should take his analysis seriously.  See excellent reviews here and here.

And the “conservatives” who criticized President Obama‘s statement about “you didn’t build that” (video below, courtesy of C-Span) should think very hard about the consequences of taking such a stand. President Obama was standing on the shoulders of Adam Smith, the founder of modern capitalism – not Ayn Rand, a utopian fantasy novelist.


Note: This post was first written as a Facebook comment to a post on The Conservative Case for Universal Health Care that appeared in The American Conservative.