The problem, of course, is that most of this framing has been achieved through radical reinterpretations of those sources by more recent thinkers, and the “core principles” have become severely distorted so that the new lens of conservative values teeters on a cherry-picked mountain of half-truths. This has been going on for a long time in the U.S. and elsewhere, as conservative religious and political figures have sought to harness authoritative source material to justify their own power, influence, wealth, and gender and racial superiority. Citing such authorities in conservative propaganda makes it a lot easier to persuade a conservative-leaning rank-and-file to vote a certain way and dutifully conform to the party line.
I suppose some examples would be helpful here, and there are many. It’s just that you have to really study that source material carefully to understand just how distorted conservative reinterpretations have become. Take women’s rights as one example. Established culture always trumps religion, and the Europeans conformed what was actually a radically feminist Christianity to their own misogynistic cultural tendencies, and that misogynistic strain of Christianity then migrated to the New World. If we spend any time at all studying the acts of Jesus and the writings of the Apostle Paul, we quickly realize that they both promoted a woman’s spiritual authority and position in the Church as being equal to a man’s, and frequently deferred to female leaders and influencers in critical situations. The words and deeds of the New Testament are radically feminist in this sense. That is…except for two (and only two) verses in the epistles (i.e. the letters at the end of the NT) that denigrate women and put them in subjection to men, and which conservatives have often liked to cite to justify ongoing oppression of women. However, nearly all — and certainly all of the most credible — modern Christian scholars recognize that these epistles are rife with interpolated verses…that is, with verses that were written centuries later and inserted into those texts…and due to their style and content these epistles were very likely written or rewritten at a much later time than the rest of the New Testament. Again though, we’re talking about two verses that contrast the majority of other NT writings that quite markedly liberate women from oppression and inequality.
So, as I say, this “cherry-picking” of conservative authorities has been going on for a long time. The same is true of Adam Smith, who promoted “good government” and its control over and taxation of commerce so that workers and the poor would be protected from the abuses of big business. Hmmm….why is it we never hear conservatives quote Adam Smith’s discussion of good government? Because it doesn’t conform to their narrative about unfettered free enterprise being synonymous with liberty and American patriotism. And of course similar distortions have arisen around how the U.S. Constitution is interpreted, which clearly states government is to provide for the common welfare of the United States, enshrines enduring socialist institutions like the Postal Service, and so on. Equally distressing, conservative distortions go so far as to invent — in what is a stark contrast to “principled” originalist or textualist interpretations of the Constitution — self-serving ideas about what a particular passage means. For nearly 200 years the phrase “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” was understood to relate to the “well regulated Militia” referenced in the same Amendment — even among conservative SCOTUS Justices. But, thanks to modern conservatives and the revisionist judicial activism of Antonin Scalia in his DC v Heller ruling, Amendment II now somehow refers to personal self-defense…!
Essentially, then, conservatives have traditionally begun with a self-serving objective — usually having to do with creating or maintaining white male pseudo-Christian privilege and wealth in society — and then carefully gleaning selective passages from authoritative sources from the past to support those self-serving objectives. These distorted justifications then become their “conservative principles.” Ironically, most of these self-protective and highly destructive conservative ideological habits can be quickly countered with other selective references from those very same sources — for example, both Jesus Christ and Adam Smith frequently warned of the dangers of greed and lust for power, the toxicity of lording it over others, and so on.
But in my experience very few “principled conservatives” spend much time really understanding or even reading those original sources. Some do, and their views are much more nuanced (but not at all popular among other conservatives!). Instead, the average “principled conservative” relies on the reinterpretations of much later thinkers and influencers who became conservative authorities in their own right — Hayek and Friedman, Gingrich and Buchanon, Scalia and Rehnquist, Graham and Falwell, the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation, Breitbart and Blaze, Buckley and Limbaugh, and so on. So with each passing generation, the abstraction from first principles becomes more and more elaborate and rationalizing…until we end up with a fascist, racist ignoramus embodying the very worst of human nature, and 70 million GOP voters supporting it as their “conservative” choice for POTUS.
Essentially, then, the principles of “principled conservatives” have become very far removed from the ideals of the original thinkers that supposedly inform them, and are reduced and upended into the very things those authorities warned against and attempted to countervail:
“All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.” — Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant…” — Jesus Christ (Matt 20:25–26)
“For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” — Apostle Paul (Rom 13:3–7)
“We should replace the ragbag of specific welfare programs with a single comprehensive program of income supplements in cash — a negative income tax. It would provide an assured minimum to all persons in need, regardless of the reasons for their need.” — Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom
“I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised, for the preservation of freedom and happiness...Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish & improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [tyranny, oppression, etc.] and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance." — Thomas Jefferson, Letter to George Wythe, 1786
There are so many more examples…!
My 2 cents.
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