Alfred S. Regnery, in his article “The Pillars of Modern American Conservatism,” The Intercollegiate Review 47 (Spring 2012): 3-12 wrote about the four pillars and the four cities that form the basic foundations of American conservatism. The Intercollegiate Review is a publication of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.
According to Regnery, “the first pillar of conservatism is liberty, or freedom.” This means that
“Conservatives believe that individuals possess the right to life, liberty, and property, and freedom from the restrictions of arbitrary force.”
Regnery said that “the second pillar of conservative philosophy is tradition and order.” This means that conservatives believe in the preservation of the values “that have led to an orderly society.” It also means that individuals have the ability “to build a society that respects rights and that has the capacity to repel the forces of evil.”
As for tradition, Regnery wrote: “And tradition is an important dimension of belief in God. What could demonstrate tradition and order more fully, for example, than the Old Testament and the history of the Jewish people, or the doctrines of the Christian Church?”
The third pillar that forms the basis of the conservatism movement in America is the rule of law. Regnery wrote: “Conservatism is based on the belief that it is crucial to have a legal system that is predictable, that allows people to know what the rules are and enforce those rules equally for all.”
According to Regnery, the fourth pillar upon which the conservatism movement is based is belief in God. Regnery wrote:
Belief in God means adherence to the broad concepts of religious faith—such things as justice, virtue, fairness, charity, community, and duty. These are the concepts on which conservatives base their philosophy.
Conservative belief is tethered to the idea that there is an allegiance to God that transcends politics and that sets a standard for politics. For conservatives, there must be an authority greater than man, greater than any ruler, king, or government: no state can demand our absolute obedience or attempt to control every aspect of our lives. There must be a moral order, conservatives believe, that undergirds political order. This pillar of conservatism does not mean mixing up faith and politics, and it certainly does not mean settling religious disputes politically. It also does not mean that conservatives have a monopoly on faith, or even that all conservatives are necessarily believers.
According to Regnery, the four cities that have influenced the conservative movement in America are Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, and London.
Space limits me to write about the contributions of Athens, Rome, and London. But what Regnery wrote about Jerusalem is important as we consider the importance of the Old Testament in the formation of American values. Regnery wrote:
The first city is Jerusalem, where the concept of a transcendent order originated—the understanding that true law comes from God and that God is the source of order and justice. From Jerusalem came one of the most essential ideas of conservatism—that man does not have all the answers, that there is a power greater than man to which we owe our lives and everything that is good. The Hebrews in the Old Testament taught that God made a covenant or compact with His people; He decreed laws by which they should live, and from that revelation we eventually developed modern ethics and modern law. The idea of a compact forms the very basis of our modern political order.
Today most people are aware that secularism is growing in America. And as people depart from the four pillars that made our country an exceptional place, they become less and less familiar with those famous words that are the bedrock of our very existence as a nation:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
The Creator who gave us these unalienable rights chose Jerusalem to be his dwelling place (Psalm 132:13).
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary