Why the Conservative Movement is a Terminal Case

“The Conservative Movement” is a catch-all for the publicly acceptable, college-educated right in America. You can identify a member by their ability to say things like: “my principles kept me from fighting as hard as I could have” and “Ben Sasse, Marco Rubio and Jeff Flake are the direction this country is headed”. I come here today to declare the movement spawned in the post-war era as a terminal case. Conservatives today are not only detached from the founding values of the movement, they are widely uneducated in the history, philosophy and the theology of the worldview they purport to uphold. They will treat the phrase: “All men are created equal” as if it were scripture without a stray thought for Locke or Paul who laid the foundations for the founder’s vision.

The most damning thing of all for the conservative movement, is that they fail to come close to the principles outlined by Buckley when he founded the National Review, as good of a barometer as anything for what the conservative movement was supposed to be about. Principles are, by their very nature, things that should be just as true when Buckley wrote them 62 years ago as they are today. A movement that has given up on the principles that it was founded on only continues by sheer inertia. Without a motivating force to compel it forward, eventually the conservative movement will whither and die.

In his mission statement for the National Review, Buckley laid out seven convictions for the conservative movement. What follows is an accounting of all the core components of these principles as well as their relationship to  today’s conservatism.

It is the job of centralized government (in peacetime) to protect its citizens’ lives, liberty and property. All other activities of government tend to diminish freedom and hamper progress.

Written in 1955, this conviction obviously would oppose the continued existence of Great Society and perhaps even New Deal social policies. Today, conservatives are content manage these proto-socialist behemoths and take heat for being the responsible managers of the progressive order. When given the opportunity to repeal bad and destructive legislation like Obamacare, even with a mandate from their voters, conservatives in Congress are content to let the bloated government stay bloated. The beltway right can’t come up with something innovative that pushes the cause of liberty. When it comes time to do potentially unpopular things that will get attacked by Democrats and their co-conspirators in the media, conservatives lack conviction in their principles to do what they supposedly think is right.

Don’t think those of you who are merely talking heads and columnists are exempt either. You have a job where your only duty is to talk about what you believe to be true. You don’t need to be elected, you claim to be free to speak your mind. Are you, like Buckley, skeptical of the New Deal and against the radical programs of the 60s? Or are you writing “The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage”? As we’re about to see, a conservative doesn’t get to change his views between 1955 and 2017 just because what is popular changes.

We believe that truth is neither arrived at nor illuminated by monitoring election results,…, but by other means, including a study of human experience

The truth and principles for good government don’t change just because fashions change. Moldbug’s example of a moderate from the year 2007 being transported to 1907 Vienna and being not-at-all a moderate illustrates the uselessness of identifying one’s political philosophy relative to the era they inhabit.

The problem is that people who wish to wield political power in a democracy must appeal to the general population. Conservatism, once it became the animating philosophy of the GOP had to become unmoored from positions rooted in philosophy to ones rooted in capturing 50%+1 of the electorate. As the electorate changed, conservatives had to choose between their political position and their commitment to principle. They chose the former and so they drifted. Some stuck it out adhereing to the original principles which led to Pat Buchanan and the paleocons.

While this split was caused by Reagan’s ascendancy, his figure as both a popular president and someone who reflected the principles described here, the rift did not become apparent until the collapse of the Soviet Union and the evaportation of conservatism’s biggest raison d’etre.

We consider “coexistence” with communism neither desirable nor possible, nor honorable; we shall oppose any substitute for victory

Soviet style communism died twenty five years ago and those states that didn’t endure revolution and fracture made fundamental market-based reforms and with it died the most important reason for the conservative movement to exist.

The conservative movement set itself up as an alternative to communism and social democracy, and while the Soviet Union existed conservatives worked tactically to keep the US from sliding down the same horrible path. However, in the wake of the Soviet collapse, conservatives have been either unable or unwilling to root out the Marxism in what were once Soviet-sympathizing institutions: universities, media, and the New Left. Over the past 25 years, Marxists in the mold of the Frankfurt school have completed the Gramscian march through our institutions.

Today’s media panics, forced admissions of guilt for thought-crimes, and other Bolshevik and Maoist style methods of conformity enforcement are only slowly being recognized for what they are. Conservatives failed to recognized that the left has been putting itself in a position to set off a cultural revolution without mass murder. So-called conservatives should reflect on the consequences of failing to deal with the growing menace.  If they think Trump is bad, there are plenty of historical examples of what a more extreme reaction to communist revolution looks like.

[W]e are … on the side of excellence (rather than “newness”) and of honest intellectual combat (rather than conformity).

Conservatives today find themselves without anyone to do honest intellectual combat. The left refuses to engage in this sort of debate with anyone, and I don’t fault conservatives for being unable to find an intellectually honest defender of the latest progressive lunacy. However, conservatives could still make a case against the foundations of our modern system if they weren’t straitjacketed by the enforced intellectual conformity of political correctness. Conservatives find themselves consistently losing because they must accept the axioms of the left’s argument, lackluster as it is, when discussing issues in public. Likewise, when it comes to the insurgents on the political right who make substantive arguments against social justice progressivism as a philosophy, today’s conservatives are perfectly happy to use the same dismissive and fallacious tactics of the left. In a nutshell, conservatives are unable to engage in honest intellectual combat because: the opponents they’d like to face are unwilling, they are unwilling to engage honestly with people like Steve Sailer, and they are unable to force the left to engage by attacking the foundations of their worldview.

Likewise, conservatives are unable to demonstrate a commitment to excellence rather than newness in culture, because  the pursuit excellence simply doesn’t exist. This is a two-fold issue. The first is that the left, controlling nearly every cultural institutions in the country, are committed to newness, diversity and subversion rather than excellence. Conservatives, are unable and unwilling to mount a serious artistic movement. After all, the donors pay hundreds of millions for talking heads, blog posts and useless consultants, not television shows, art exhibits and concerts. It is almost like those donors like this state of affairs where progressives control the zeitgeist, while dissenters are pushed into a malformed opposition.

The most alarming single danger to the American political system lies in the fact that an identifiable team of Fabian operators is bent on controlling both our major political parties

This conviction is a very important one that has been totally jettisoned by the conservative movement for one very simple reason: the Fabian operators started calling themselves conservatives. An example of a Fabian operator is someone like Paul Ryan. He chooses to use his position and his talents make the progressive agenda sustainable. There are a lot of reasons why that’s actually a good thing. It probably represents the consensus of what his constituents want out of government, and the country as a whole. But there’s one thing that is not, and that is ideologically conservative.

There’s a rotten equivalency that has been made about conservatism, and that is that conservatism is equivalent to political seriousness, soberness and responsibility. Those are all fine qualities in politics, but possessing them doesn’t make you conservative. The fact that Democrats have been reduced to winning elections by stirring up feelings of resentment in every conceivable minority group as they wait until the importation of a new population dispossesses the current one of its political power, doesn’t mean that disliking it makes you conservative.

The competitive price system is indispensable to liberty and material progress.

This conviction is one that conservatives have stuck to, especially in Buckley’s specifically anti-union context. However, it is one that I’d like to see turned back in the faces of creeping consolidation in many markets. Every year there are fewer and fewer airlines, media companies, and tech companies competing in the same markets. I would like to see this commitment to the competitive price system upheld, not merely a commitment to the pro-corporate policy position Buckley envisioned. However, I will not hold that against the conservative, there are enough points against him already.

Perhaps the most important and readily demonstrable lesson of history is that freedom goes hand in hand with a state of political decentralization, that remote government is irresponsible government.

This final conviction is another one that conservatives tend to follow, and conservative policies, when they are put forth follows this prescription. To be fair though, programs from the Bush Administration like “No Child Left Behind”, certainly went against this principle. However, that met with significant dissent among conservatives and demonstrates that Republican and conservative do not have to be synonymous.

It is that ray of hope, that Republican and conservative do not have to be synonymous, that portends a possible resurrection of the conservative movement. While a political resurrection requires death and re-branding, the principles Buckley outlined in 1955 could still form the basis of a political movement. Many questions with that proposition are immediately evident: What would that movement look like?  What would its goals be? Would it enshrine or reject the tactics that Buckley used to keep the movement politically relevant through 25 years of social upheaval until it had a champion? Would it be worth doing? Those are all good questions to ask, but ones that I am without answers for today. They are nevertheless questions that are worth asking when considering the future of the American right.

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