Conservatism is Dead!

That’s the provocative title of my recent piece at The Federalist, which you should check out if you haven’t seen it yet. Here are some excerpts:

[T]here is no conservative movement. The “Reagan coalition” stopped existing as an operational political force some time ago. The conservative movement cannot use the Republican Party to advance its aims simply because, as a non-existent entity, the conservative movement has no aims to advance.

There are three factions within today’s Republican Party, all of them deeply and structurally opposed to one another. All three call themselves “conservative” and berate the other factions for their deviations from “true” conservatism, but each defines “conservatism” according to their own factional priorities.

The populists are nationalist, nativist, and pro-American. They supported Trump almost from the start, and they read Breitbart and Drudge

Because they consider giving voice to “Americans” the defining characteristic of conservatism, populist conservatives see support for illegal immigrants as an excommunicable offense, but are open to raising taxes on the rich to keep middle-class entitlement programs running, and are largely indifferent to (or “pragmatic” about) “culture war” issues like religious liberty.

Going by presidential preference polls, populists make up about a third of the Republican party. The other factions pejoratively refer to the populists as “Know-Nothings,” among other things.

The establishment is chiefly concerned with growing gross domestic product at all costs. They supported Jeb Bush or John Kasich at the end of February, and they read the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times.

Because they view “growth” as the defining characteristic of conservatism, establishment conservatives see tax increases or even tax cuts that do not flow directly to the pockets of so-called “job creators” as grave heresies against conservatism, but they are eager to increase immigration and happy, nay eager, to surrender to the Left on “culture war” issues.

Although smaller than the other factions, the establishment wields disproportionate clout through its well-heeled donor class. The other factions pejoratively refer to members of the establishment as “plutocrats,” among other things.

The grassroots, which fights for a culture that protects life, liberty, and the family, supported Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio by the end of February. They read the National Review,The Federalist, and First Things.

Because they see “culture” as the central feature of conservatism, grassroots conservatives obviously view so-called “culture war” issues as essential. They see economic growth as just one aspect of the movement (and do not take the establishment’s rigid view of how to achieve it), and they take a more nuanced, even “pragmatic” approach to immigration than either of the other two factions. Like the populists, they seem to make up about one-third of the GOP. The other factions pejoratively refer to the grassroots as “religious fundamentalists,” among other things.

When the modern conservative movement started out under the political leadership of Barry Goldwater and later Reagan, it was built on centuries-old principles handed down by men like Edmund Burke and Alexis de Toqueville. In 1953, the great intellectual, Russell Kirk, summarized those central premises of conservatism.

In his “six canons,” Kirk articulated a conservativism that embraces “a transcendant order, or body of natural law,” because “[p]olitical problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems.” Conservatives, Kirk said, reject “uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims,” even as they recognize “ultimate equality in the judgement of God and… before courts of law.” They maintain the importance of property rights against Leviathan government, and distrust “sophisters, calculators, and economists who would reconstruct society on abstract designs.” Finally, a Kirk conservative is prudent, recognizing “that change may not be salutary reform: hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress.”

The modern “conservative movement” has lost touch with these essentials… Yet those core, conservative ideas, plainly stated and honestly championed, are still popular across a wide swath of American society, including large groups of voters who wouldn’t be caught dead identifying themselves as “conservative.” (I think here of black economic moderates, various first- and second-generation immigrant groups, white union Democrats, and others.)

The implications for the “new party” are clear: we need to return to the core ideas of conservatism, while at the same time we need to compromise on, attenuate, or even abandon some of the core policy commitments that have come to define the modern, corrupted conservative movement.  For example, if we grassroots conservatives are to establish a successful new anti-abortion party based on Kirk’s core conservatism, we are not going to be able to maintain a commitment to the “abstract designs” of the “sophisters, calculators, and economists” on the Wall Street Journal‘s editorial board.

In this process of realignment and reassessment of our policy commitments, we will lose some old allies — the WSJ comes to mind — but, if we are honest and not too stubborn about old political habits, we will gain many more.

More on this later.  (Soon, I hope!)  For now, go read the article.

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