The True Conservatism

Reading The American Conservative magazine has been an illuminating experience for me over the last couple of years. The conservatism that the writers of the magazine often describe is not the grotesque, cartoonish, venal version of Fox News or Karl Rove or Rush Limbaugh, or of the cheerful, thoughtless bromides-generating WSJ editorial pages. I found American Conservative version of conservatism unexpected and refreshing.

This latest article is a good summary of that worldview. The author doesn’t waste any time weeding out the usual suspects:

(Fans of Ayn Rand or Milton Friedman will want to stop reading here and flip to the next article. If Ronald Reagan’s your hero, sorry—you won’t like what’s coming. Ditto regarding Ron Paul. And if in search of wisdom you rely on anyone whose byline appears regularly in any publication owned by Rupert Murdoch, well, you’ve picked up the wrong magazine.)

So I continued reading.

As human beings, our first responsibility lies in stewardship, preserving our common inheritance and protecting that which possesses lasting value. This implies an ability to discriminate between what is permanent and what is transient, between what ought to endure and what is rightly destined for the trash heap. Please note this does not signify opposition to all change—no standing athwart history, yelling Stop—but fostering change that enhances rather than undermines that which qualifies as true.

As someone who became weary of the ubiquitous and dogmatic neoliberal notion of self-determination as an ultimate virtue, no matter the price to society, I can appreciate the idea that not all change is good. If everyone wallows in and celebrates his own uniqueness then what is left of social bonds and social contract? Wall Street and DC are great examples of what can go wrong when everyone thinks he’s unique and special and should be celebrated for his aptitude and sheer will.

But this kind of conservatism celebrates community. It’s antithetical to the idea encapsulated by Margaret Thatcher, who is also considered a conservative, that “There’s no such thing as society.” It attacks the current market culture, the hunger for profit as destroying the individual (ironically, individual is so worshipped in the right-wing circles, but only when he consumes or buys guns) and turning him into a mere consumer.

Conservatives take human relationships seriously and know that they require nurturing. In community lies our best hope of enjoying a meaningful earthly existence. But community does not emerge spontaneously. Conservatives understand that the most basic community, the little platoon of family, is under unrelenting assault, from both left and right. Emphasizing autonomy, the forces of modernity are intent on supplanting the family with the hyper-empowered—if also alienated—individual, who exists to gratify appetite and ambition. With its insatiable hunger for profit, the market is intent on transforming the family into a cluster of consumers who just happen to live under the same roof. One more thing: conservatives don’t confuse intimacy with sex.

Further, it acknowledges the futility of the culture wars and dismantling of the safety net – the two biggest platform planks of the current “conservative” flag bearer, the Republican Party.

So forget about dismantling the welfare state. Social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and, yes, Obamacare are here to stay. Forget about outlawing abortion or prohibiting gay marriage. Conservatives may judge the fruits produced by the sexual revolution poisonous, but the revolution itself is irreversible.

The solutions offered by the author can find resonance in the entire political spectrum, including the far-left and far-right. He sites the environment, excessive militarism, deficit reduction (this one, I think, can wait) as issues that require national attention, although he doubts that the modern-day Republican party will jump at the chance to champion anything that doesn’t involve the coddling of the well-to-do.

It probably won’t, but at least someone on the right is talking about it.


3 thoughts on “The True Conservatism

  1. I don’t understand why this is called “conservatism”. Whatever “conservatism” used to be 50 years ago has been hijacked and conservatism IS now the Fox and Tea Party. I’d call this pragmatic liberalism.

      • I’d rather not dignify this movement with the word “patriotism”, since it doesn’t really have much to do with actual patriotism – in what universe wanting to give your own country as little money as possible is defined as “patriotism”? How about the “regressivism”?

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