John Davidson contends that those of us who still call ourselves “conservatives” ought to knock it off already.
Why? Because the conservative project has largely failed, and it is time for a new approach. Conservatives have long defined their politics in terms of what they wish to conserve or preserve — individual rights, family values, religious freedom, and so on. Conservatives, we are told, want to preserve the rich traditions and civilizational achievements of the past, pass them on to the next generation, and defend them from the left. In America, conservatives and classical liberals alike rightly believe an ascendent left wants to dismantle our constitutional system and transform America into a woke dystopia. The task of conservatives, going back many decades now, has been to stop them.
In an earlier era, this made sense. There was much to conserve. But any honest appraisal of our situation today renders such a definition 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.
Well, too late. Western civilization is dying. The traditions and practices that conservatives champion are, at best, being preserved only in an ever-shrinking private sphere. At worst, they are being trampled to dust. They certainly do not form the basis of our common culture or civic life, as they did for most of our nation’s history.
It’s a very good essay, of which you should read the all. Despite making a solid case for dropping the “conservative” appellation due to an acute case of terminal meaninglessness, however, it’s extremely doubtful that any such change will happen anytime soon. While I do wholeheartedly agree with Dan Gelernter’s conceptual reframing of the current conflict as involving not “Democrat versus Republican” but “America versus politics, people versus government,” the moldy old “liberal” and “conservative” labels are almost certain to be with us for a good while longer yet. They’re just too convenient, too easily understood by almost any politically-aware person for them to be disposed of casually or hastily.
Which, there’s not a thing in the world wrong with that. People need labels for things sometimes, and staying with the tried and true, familiar old nomenclature during the transition can be helpful in all sorts of ways. Yes, the old liberal-conservative dichotomy has become stale and imprecise, particularly after the Left misappropriated “liberal” from its rightful owners to disguise their iniquitous designs on American liberty. So stipulated. Nonetheless, the various alternatives Our Side’s punditry has tried on for size—Patriots, classical liberals, Heritage Americans, Normals, etc—are every bit as imprecise, even incomplete, as well as being somewhat unwieldy.
Again: so stipulated. Those issues aside, Davidson’s argument is about more than just the names we use to call ourselves. One hell of a lot more, in fact.
So what kind of politics should conservatives today, as inheritors of a failed movement, adopt? For starters, they should stop thinking of themselves as conservatives (much less as Republicans) and start thinking of themselves as radicals, restorationists, and counterrevolutionaries. Indeed, that is what they are, whether they embrace those labels or not.
Whatever the term or image, the imperative that conservatives must break from the past and forge a new political identity cannot be overstated. It is time now for something new, for a new way of thinking and speaking about what conservative politics should be. The fusionism of past decades, in which conservatives made common cause with market-obsessed libertarians and foreign policy neocons, is finished. So too is Conservatism Inc. and the establishment GOP it enabled, whose first priority was always tax cuts for big business at the expense of everything else. The election of Donald Trump in 2016 heralded a populist wave and the end of Republican politics as we knew it, and now we are in uncharted waters.
To be sure, there has been plenty of talk on the right lately about what should be done differently now. Some, such as Sohrab Ahmari, Gladden Pappin, and Adrian Vermeule (along with a larger cohort of conservative Catholic thinkers), advocate a conservatism that is comfortable with big government and in fact sees it as necessary not only for the common good but to tame what Ahmari recently called the “private tyranny” of woke corporations empowered by unrestrained market forces. Conservative Catholics, he argues, should today claim ownership of a pro-worker, even pro-union political agenda that once belonged to the left, and which produced generations of Democrat-voting Catholic workers.
Indeed, a willingness to embrace government power has been a topic of fruitful debate on the “New Right” in recent years, as it should be. However uncomfortable traditional “small-government” conservatives might be with Ahmari’s argument, it is more or less true.
Put bluntly, if conservatives want to save the country they are going to have to rebuild and in a sense re-found it, and that means getting used to the idea of wielding power, not despising it. Why? Because accommodation or compromise with the left is impossible. One need only consider the speed with which the discourse shifted on gay marriage, from assuring conservatives ahead of the 2015 Obergefell decision that gay Americans were only asking for toleration, to the never-ending persecution of Jack Phillips.
The left will only stop when conservatives stop them, which means conservatives will have to discard outdated and irrelevant notions about “small government.” The government will have to become, in the hands of conservatives, an instrument of renewal in American life — and in some cases, a blunt instrument indeed.
To stop Big Tech, for example, will require using antitrust powers to break up the largest Silicon Valley firms. To stop universities from spreading poisonous ideologies will require state legislatures to starve them of public funds. To stop the disintegration of the family might require reversing the travesty of no-fault divorce, combined with generous subsidies for families with small children. Conservatives need not shy away from making these arguments because they betray some cherished libertarian fantasy about free markets and small government. It is time to clear our minds of cant.
i’m finding it difficult, practically impossible really, to argue with any of that. The proposition that it might be necessary to temporarily abandon a fair-sized chunk of our Constitutional ideals in order to reinstate the Constitution seems contradictory on the surface, and rightly so. The idea of it is distasteful, to say the least. But, well, here we all are.
What Davidson is suggesting is pretty much word-for-word the very thing I’ve said myself for years here, if from a slightly different angle: any serious, pragmatic effort to put our country right again will require us to seize the abominable Statist machine the Left built and use it against them, however unappealing such a tactic is to right-thinking people. If Big Government is what we must have, and for now it is, then let Big Government work FOR us, and not AGAINST us as it has for many decades.
The first step on the path to the restoration of our Constitutional Republic is to defeat the Leftists—to destroy them so completely, so utterly, that the very thought of ever daring to rise up against us again is anathema to them. Only after they’ve been crushed can we move on to destroy all their works. And then?
On the transgender question, conservatives will have to repudiate utterly the cowardly position of people like David French, in whose malformed worldview Drag Queen Story Hour at a taxpayer-funded library is a “blessing of liberty.” Conservatives need to get comfortable saying in reply to people like French that Drag Queen Story Hour should be outlawed; that parents who take their kids to drag shows should be arrested and charged with child abuse; that doctors who perform so-called “gender-affirming” interventions should be thrown in prison and have their medical licenses revoked; and that teachers who expose their students to sexually explicit material should not just be fired but be criminally prosecuted.
If all that sounds radical, fine. It need not, at this late hour, dissuade conservatives in the least. Radicalism is precisely the approach needed now because the necessary task is nothing less than radical and revolutionary.
To those who worry that power corrupts, and that once the right seizes power it too will be corrupted, they certainly have a point. If conservatives manage to save the country and rebuild our institutions, will they ever relinquish power and go the way of Cincinnatus? It is a fair question, and we should attend to it with care after we have won the war.
Just so. Human nature being what it is, we well know that those who are attracted to power will fight to hold on to it with grim determination once they’ve gotten their hands on some, regardless of how passionately they once may have advocated for limited government. Throughout history, I can call to mind no government that has ever relinquished power and agreed to its own dismantling willingly and peaceably, based solely on principle alone. The irony is that, at some point, force of arms and violence will still need to be used, no matter what, to complete the task before us. First of all, though, we must win the war. Failing that, this is all just idle chatter.
“Those who have seized power, even for the noblest of motives soon persuade themselves that there are good reasons for not relinquishing it. This is particularly likely to happen if they believe themselves to represent some immensely important cause. They will feel that their opponents are ignorant and perverse; before long they will come to hate them…The important thing is to keep their power, not to use it as a means to an eventual paradise. And so what were means become ends, and the original ends are forgotten except on Sundays.” — Bertrand Russell
Maybe we should have a war before we win it. Conservatives have done nothing but conserve the communists. We have valued comfort over conviction, which the founders did not.
I stopped using the word conservative long ago, for the most part. In company that know what it means I might still use it as a descriptive term.
What is most important is freedom and liberty. And that is sometimes harder than it seems for people. Far too many “conservatives” try to impose their beliefs upon everyone else by force.
If you want to be a drag queen, I don’t care. If you want to be a drag queen in front of my children then you should lose your life. IOW’s, you can choose any dopey ass thing you desire, but you cannot impose your dopey ass self upon the rest of us.
If you wish to pretend to be a girl, complete with having your male bits chopped off and chemically inhibited, fine, I don’t care. But if you wish to now “play” on the girls team you can just die. You can pretend to be a mountain lion and go play with the mountain lions if you like.
If you are a true believer in some religion, that’s fine. But if you try to impose your religious beliefs upon the rest of us, you can die.
Nobody is dying and they are winning. And that is conservative
Sorry, but Davidson and any other revisionists are F.O.S. (And for Common Core grads, the F.O. stands for “Full Of”. Work the rest out yourselves.)
There’s nothing wrong with conservatives, nor conservatism.
The problem, since ever, is electing people who aren’t that, but pretend to be, and not literally tarring them with steaming hot tar, applying feathers, running them out of town on a rail, and then taking them for a ride over Niagara Falls in a barrel every time they’re found out.
Look no farther than Mittens the Carpetbagger in Utah, or Liz Cheney From Wyoming via K Street, for the most glaringly obvious examples.
Trump, who is no conservative, governed more conservatively than any president since Calvin Coolidge, even leaving Ronaldus Magnus in the dust of second place. And between Cal and Ronnie, just as between Ron and the Donald, there hasn’t been a single conservative president in the entire lot.
You couldn’t name five conservative senators at one time in any senate since Coolidge was president, and you couldn’t find a dozen conservative congressmen in any Congress in living memory.
The ones who last, aren’t, and the ones who are, don’t last.
Elect a conservative president, 51 conservative senators, and 208 or so conservative congressweasels, all at the same time, and get back to me if it still doesn’t work out. If that ever happened, it’s far more likely the US Code would be pared back to the 1791 edition, and the scales would fall from peoples’ eyes.
For a contrary example, look at what 2-3 conservative justices on SCOTUS have done for the Bill of Rights in the last 20 years – all of the amendments. It’s been universally the turncoats, the squishes, the posers, and the liberals who’ve done all the damage.
T’was ever thus.
Conservatism isn’t the problem.
Lying wolves in sheep’s clothing are, and they need to be burned out with fire. And I’m not talking metaphorically.
And how do we do that? The problem seems to me to be too many dumbed down people that are living on the gov or pay check to paycheck.
who is no conservative, governed more conservatively than any president since Calvin Coolidge, even leaving Ronaldus Magnus in the dust of second place.
FIFY. I’ll never understand the absolute opposing view expressed here. You are a conservative if you govern conservatively. The rest of the sentence is 100% correct.
Before Trump was elected, when I was predicting he would get the R nomination and win, I said he would be the most effective conservative president since Eisenhower, and he was.
Trump is absolutely a conservative, 100%. A genuine conservative, not one that talks only.
But but but Trump didn’t pass 100% of my conservative checklist!
Nor mine 🙂
But way more than any other…
Trump did not get anything done wall etc. He is not a fighter he is a deal maker his whole game is compromise. he continually says how good his opponents are including hilldabeast. He might make a good SOS. But he will not create change. read his book
As is typical you are full of shit.
He stopped illegals from crossing the border, something a wall cannot do without the will to stop them.
I read his book(s). You didn’t.
Let’s just start with a short list of things President Trump did:
1) stopped ISIS cold
2) EO stopping the drug companies from charging medicare more than what they charged foreign countries
3) EO forcing hospitals to disclose their prices
4) Move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem
5) ENERGY INDEPENDENCE for the first time in my lifetime of 70 years, and record low energy prices
6) Started no new wars
7) Elimination of regulations, required to eliminate 8 to add a new one
8) Cut Taxes across the board
9) Increased the individual tax credit eliminating the need to file more complicated returns
10) Started the space force, sorely needed today
11) Replaced NAFTA with an agreement better for American workers
12) Put tariffs on china, starting the process of moving American production out of the enemy’s land
13) Brought back massive amounts of money saved in foreign countries
14) Withdrew from the farce know as the Paris Climate Accords
15) Withdrew from the Iran deal
16) Increased the $$$ of the average family by over 5K IIRC
17) Started the process of fixing the VA
18) Increased the spending by other NATO countries
19) Killed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
20) Created several million jobs, actual creation not bafflegab bullshit
21) Economic growth rates were going up, somewhere around 4% before the marxist killed the economy with the scam chinaVirus
22) Lowest rate of unemployment ever, across the board for blacks, hispanics, asians, veterans, etc.
23) Opened ANWAR and had the Keystone pipeline being constructed
There is much more of course.
That’s just a short list. Trump did this by himself, with
little to no help from the republican partyopposition from the republican party and the democrats. He did this while the deep state through the FBI, intelligence agencies, congress, and the DOJ were conducting illegal surveillance and investigations. But Trump didn’t falter, didn’t stop. He just kept on working.
No one else was capable of doing this, no one else has ever done this, no one else will.
Please do remember that Reagan was hamstrung by the original filthy Koch-sucking swill, Shrub I!