“There’s a difference between a conservative and a reactionary.”

If memory serves, it was Mrs. Fiock, my fifth-grade teacher in Victor, Colorado, who explained the difference. She contradicted my parents’ hatred of FDR, who had died about three years earlier, though she couldn’t have known what their political views were. She just intended to educate her students to become good citizens, discerning and thoughtful.

My parents, as staunch conservatives raised on farms in Wisconsin and Bible-believing Lutherans, had a world view that rejected the systemic changes of the FDR years because, they claimed, federal programs like Social Security undermined each person’s individual responsibility in favor of government handouts. They expected that we children should think as they did about politics and life in general. The commandment to “Honor your father and your mother,” and others in rightful authority, was taught in Luther’s Small Catechism, and must be obeyed. Questioning their authority could be grounds for scolding, or even punishment (even though they themselves rejected most of FDR’s works and ways).

They would no doubt have heartily affirmed St. Paul’s words in Galatians 6:5: “All must carry their own loads.” But to their credit, they were not absolutists about this; they reached out to care, especially for fellow church members, when needs arose. They lived, even if they didn’t say, St. Paul’s seemingly contradictory words just before in 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens.” They knew that taking care of yourself to the best of your ability doesn’t preclude taking care of a sister or brother who had burdens too great to be borne alone.

The recent, flawed decisions of the Supreme Court do not, in my judgment, reflect true conservatism. For years I followed my parents in thinking that conserving the status quo as “tried and true” should be the default position because changes too often do not work out as intended. (The “law of unintended consequences,” as it was called later.) But I came to understand that allowing no changes in how our society works is actually reactionary, not conservative. The SCOTUS decisions ignore the reality that the body politic suffers when the individual bodies of women, people of color, and victims of gun violence suffer harm, and even death by actions validated in their recent rulings.

Look around. Isn’t it obvious that our body politic is under attack by those who insist on clinging to their own power and privilege? “My way or the highway,” which is reactionary, not conservative, is no way for a true democracy to work.

Fred Reklau
Oak Park

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