Weyrich’s Next Conservatism

This is the first of a series of columns I intend to write on “the next conservatism.” In them, I will lay out where I think conservatism needs to go after the end of President George W. Bush’s second term.

Some people may wonder about the theme, “the next conservatism.” Isn’t conservatism always the same? Don’t we call ourselves conservatives because we believe in what Russell Kirk called “the permanent things,” truths that hold for all time?

Of course we do. We believe that truth comes from God, who does not change. We hold certain beliefs, such as the impossibility of perfecting man or human society, that define conservatism in any period. In fundamentals, what was true for Russell Kirk was also true for Edmund Burke. We are not relativists. We do not hold that there is or can be a different “truth” for each time, place or person, depending on what is “true for them.”

Yet it is also true that conservatism changes over time. Sometimes, that is because ideologies that are not really conservative try to disguise themselves with the conservative label (real conservatism is not an ideology at all). But more often, it is because new events face conservatives with new challenges. While our basic beliefs do not change, the circumstances to which we must apply those beliefs do. Burke and Churchill were both conservatives, but in the face of the French Revolution Burke stressed the importance of hierarchy and order, while under the threat of Nazism Churchill spoke of defending liberty. Their views were not contradictory, but the situations they faced were different. – Paul M. Weyrich, 18 July 2005

Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation’s Next Conservatism web-page, replete with articles dedicated to topics ranging from “Country Life” to “Conservative New Urbanism” to “A Post-Literate Culture”, absolutely fascinates me. As Weyrich posits in the excerpt above, the Next Conservatism is no-thing more (or less!) than the immutable, non-ideological conservatism of Kirk’s permanent things; it’s also, in a manner of speaking, an ideology, as conservatism must become in the political ring; not just an ideology, though, particularly not that of modern main-stream conservatism, the Next Conservatism embraces the crunchiness of Rod’s conservatism, the protectionist sentiments of M’r Buchanan, Wendell Berry’s agrarianism, a paleo-conservative/Old Rightist skepticism toward foreign intervention, and just about every other scrap of belief espoused by the diverse traditionalist conservative veins for which I am possessed of any affinity. From some ideas Weyrich presents, I deviate, but, by and large, I endorse the platform of the Next Conservatism. Expect, in the next couple of days, some commentary on specific essays, expressly those on New Urbanism (He defends sprawl, and I wish to suggest that, for the worse, he confounds sprawl with what can be a perfectly healthy sub-urban alternative to city life.) and agrarianism.

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