Sometimes I think I am going to stop calling myself conservative, since "conservative", "liberal", "left-wing" and "right-wing" don't really seem to have any substantive meaning.
There is a short news item in this week's Catholic Herald (the UK publication) with the headline "Think Tank: Religious are more Left-wing."
The think tank in question is called Demos, and their recent report Faithful Citizens found that "55 per cent of religious believers placed themselves on the Left of politics, compared with 40 per cent who put themselves on the Right." That's fair enough, but this is the bit that got me: "They also found that religious people were more likely to value equality over freedom."
What does that even mean? What sort of freedom? What sort of equality?
Personally, I believe in the freedom that comes from peace and security, social stability, strong communities and families, a respect for eccentricity, and a modicum of wealth and leisure. I don't believe in the "freedom" that means radical individualism, rampant consumerism, transgression as self-expression, and relentless peer pressure.
I believe in equality to the extent that I believe in a spirit of fraternity, a social awareness that a man is more than his job or class or status, a chivalry between men and women and high and low. I don't believe in the egalitarianism that obsesses about symbolic differences, looks under every bush for evidence of discrimination, and aspires towards a bland sameness.
So where does that leave me? And why is the crucial opposition posited as being between freedom and equality, anyway?
If I were to choose a single word to define my own conservatism, it would be "tradition", not "freedom". I doubt any ideal has been as abused in recent generations, by both left and right, as the ideal of freedom.