The definition of conservativism has changed over the years and it can mean very different things when applied to different concepts, so I am going to limit my statement to the two most commonly referred-to arenas: social policy and fiscal policy.
Conservativism, in both cases, protects those who have a strong foothold in the mainstream and "encourages" outsiders to fall in with them. It is comforting, self-affirming, and stoic. However, it is downright brutal to those on the fringes. And that's the core of my argument: an ideology cannot be moral if it does not nurture all people.
Here, we're talking about "traditional family values" and other veiled excuses to hate, denigrate, ostracize and exile those who don't fit the mold of a heterosexual, nuclear family that goes to church on Sunday and whose two (2) central figures perform missionary sex whenever the patriarch deems necessary. It's not even ironic, but actually quite insidious, that social conservativism leverages the word "morality" like a gun at a peace rally. In fact, if not for the keen use of language, the social conservative movement would be laid bare. But none of this is really controversial and this is not what you're reading this article for. You knew this about social conservativism already.
It's incredibly easy to advocate for fiscal conservativism. In fact, it's probably the biggest no-brainer that any political hack can stumble into. Don't spend more than you earn? Balance the budget? Reduce bloat and overhead? Sign me up! These are all reasonable goals, however the means are often overlooked because the ends are so blatantly desirable. There's a seedy underbelly to this philosophy that its advocates haven't even thought past.
Many people who advocate fiscal conservativism do so because they feel like taxation is the true immoral practice. For them, the argument stops there; any practice that minimizes their taxes is therefore better than one that increases them. But if a government's eye on your wallet is at the limit of your moral looking glass, allow me to lend you a telescope.
Let's imagine a world where taxes are minimal. The government could not be very robust; only large enough to support a few agencies central to administration and infrastructure. Everything else would be left to local municipalities and private corporations. The "invisible hand" would supposedly balance out all of the market forces and the world would be a place of complete freedom and self-reliance. Right?
There's only a billion problems with this concept. The first is that the "invisible hand" is an idea based on the economics of 240 years ago. We're talking about local markets controlled by the upper social classes and absolutely none of the financial and social technology that we have access to today. The assumptions (and they are assumptions) made by classical capitalist economic theory are simply no longer valid in today's world. It's a lovely idyll to daydream about, but I would never actually entrust an economy of 300 million people to it.
The second (of 1,000,000,000) problem with the small government concept is that no neutral party is looking out for the little guy. This means that the big guy can bully, or even lock out the little guy at will. Without the invisible hand to somehow balance things out, the little guy has no legal recourse against the "fair and square" method in which he was squeezed out of his livelihood by a manipulative tactic. Regulation requires funds (and yes, a little bureaucracy) to enforce.
Third, relying on market forces actually elevates the almighty dollar to a new height of importance - and that's bad. In this world, a person's worth is determined by their contribution to the economy. This means that the elderly, sick, and the handicapped are screwed. The go-to argument against this point is that charitable donations would increase if people had a larger portion of their income to spend. The counter-argument to that is two-fold: For one, I don't believe it for a second. Two, having individuals decide which charities their money supports is actually a terrible idea. In fact, that's the fourth problem.
A social safety net is crucial to a good economy. However, if you want to let the "free market" provide things like health care, social security pension, minimum livable wages, paid time off, and financial assistance to those simply unable to work, I'm 100% confident that you'll end up a few sides short of a polygon. (I'm just gonna let that metaphor percolate for a while.) The capitalism-drunk USA is a country where currently only workers protected by unions can expect paid leave. And look how charities work today: they have to compete and posture for funds. In fact, lecherous firms like Susan G. Komen exist mostly as marketing and litigation juggernauts, with very little of their funds going to actual charity. So what you'll end up seeing in the free market is only the most marketable and popular causes will get support (with only a fraction of that support working to make a difference), while the unpopular ones will mortify and slough off like humanely castrated goat nuts. Where's the morality in that?
We need a neutral party in the middle to provide the social safety net without bias. That's fine, one might say, but the government can't be trusted even in that capacity. It's a fair point. There's also a lot of waste in government. Not to mention the havoc governments can wreak when they are afforded too much unchecked power. These are all very real and important concerns. But they are not actually arguments against taxation and government spending. They're definitely concerns that need to be addressed intelligently, but leaning on them as the pillars of your exclusionist fiscal ideology is a short-sighted, selfish and apathetic stance.