Conservative No More?

Conservative No More?

When you descend from lofty rhetoric about “Traditions” and “Values,” it becomes apparent that a huge number of the actual practices and social institutions which built those virtues have disintegrated, not because of Progressivism or Socialism but because of the new environment and political economy generated by technology.

Two recent articles are well worth your time and thought. The first is a piece at The Federalist by John Davidson. He argues that “conservatives” should drop that label in favor of something more descriptive of their position in, and posture toward, predominant liberal society:

[A]ny honest appraisal of our situation today renders [the label] absurd. After all, what have conservatives succeeded in conserving? In just my lifetime, they have lost much: marriage as it has been understood for thousands of years, the First Amendment, any semblance of control over our borders, a fundamental distinction between men and women, and, especially of late, the basic rule of law. Calling oneself a conservative in today’s political climate would be like saying one is a conservative because one wants to preserve the medieval European traditions of arranged marriage and trial by combat. Whatever the merits of those practices, you cannot preserve or defend something that is dead. Perhaps you can retain a memory of it or knowledge of it. But that is not what conservatism was purportedly about. It was about maintaining traditions and preserving Western civilization as a living and vibrant thing.

Radicals, restorationists, or counterrevolutionaries are all suggested as alternative monikers for what is typically now called the “New Right.” I find the invocation of Thomas Jefferson’s brand of radicalism distasteful as a model—albeit there is something to it—but Davidson’s nod toward the Puritan settlers of Massachusetts is one I’ve offered as well. The enduring conservative impulse here is to look to the past for inspiration, an impulse that someone like Yoram Hazony makes definitionally definitive for conservatism. That hasn’t changed with the New Right, though a creative, often eclectic approach now animates that exercise.

Much of the New Right, reactionary energy is fueled by critiques of what has passed for conservatism for the past several generations. Such conservatives, as Davidson justifiably argues, have conserved precious little. Chief among the old conservative defects in the dead consensus was an allergy to state power.

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