Post number one on Weyrich and Lind’s Next Conservatism

The American Conservative, in its 12 February 2007 issue, ran an article, titled, simply, “The Next Conservatism”, co-authored by Messrs. Weyrich and Lind, which argued that “By rejecting ideology and embracing “retroculture,” the Right can recover itself and perhaps reverse America’s decline.” I’ve mentioned before that I intend to comment on, at least, a couple of the essays on this Next Conservatism. First, then, I believe that I ought to introduce readers to this fine summary of what Weyrich and Lind contend conservatism must be and become if conservatives wish to remain a) relevant and b) conservative. Numerous excerpts, then, from the AmConMag article follow.

Conservatism has become so weak in ideas that during the presidency of George W. Bush, the word “conservative” could be and was applied with scant objection to policies that were starkly anti-conservative. Americans witnessed “conservative” Wilsonianism, if not Jacobinism, in foreign policy and an unnecessary foreign war; record “conservative” trade and federal budget deficits; major “conservative” expansions of the power of the federal government at the expense of traditional liberties; and nonchalant “conservative” de-industrialization and dispossession of the middle class in the name of Ricardian free trade and Benthamite utilitarianism. No wonder the American people are confused and disillusioned by conservatism if these are its actions when in power. Were Russell Kirk still with us, what would he now call himself?

If conservatism is to be re-established as an intellectual force, and not merely a label for whatever the establishment does to its own benefit, it must first re-awaken intellectually. We need a new conservative agenda.

[ . . .]

If the next conservatism is to reverse this decline and begin to recover the America we knew as recently as the 1950s, the last normal decade, it must do three things. First, it must aspire to change not merely how people vote but how they live their lives. It must lead growing numbers of Americans to secede from the rotten pop culture of materialism, consumerism, hyper-sexualization, and political correctness and return to the old ways of living. The next conservatism includes “retroculture”: a conscious, deliberate recovery of the past.

This recovery should not be, indeed cannot be, imposed through political power. This is the second action the next conservatism must take: putting power in its place. Tolkien’s ring of power is power itself, which in the long run cannot be used for good. The rejection of the counterculture that has become the mainstream culture must proceed bottom-up, person by person and family by family, on a voluntary basis.

[ . . . ]

In summary, then, the next conservatism as we envision it is cultural conservatism, with an agenda both cultural and political, and activity both within and beyond the political process. It seeks to win elections with no less ardor than in 1980 or 1994, but, having perhaps more realistic expectations of what politics can do, it includes a bottom-up, grass-roots movement, similar to the home-schooling movement or the 19th-century temperance movement, devoted to restoring traditional ways of living.

. . . The next conservatism still opposes abortion and supports traditional marriage. It seeks further cuts in marginal tax rates, though it insists on spending cuts as well, and a balanced federal budget. It wants a strong national defense, including missile defense. It demands effective control of our borders, elimination of illegal immigration, a reduction in legal immigration, and effective acculturation of recent immigrants. . . .

But the next conservatism also looks to new situations.

Its agenda should include the abandonment of a Wilsonian foreign policy, which is promoted by neoconservatives and neoliberals alike, and a return to a policy based on America’s concrete interests. . . . [T]hrough most of our history we related to the rest of the world, actively and successfully, through the private means of trade and ideas rather than by playing the game of Great Power. The Founders warned that we could either preserve liberty at home or seek Great Power status but not both. The next conservatism prefers liberty to the trappings of empire.

[ . . . ]

. . . Restoring the Republic requires breaking the monopoly of professional politicians and two parties that are for the most part one party—the Party of I’ve Got Mine. The next conservatism should promote increased use of ballot initiatives and referenda, term limits, putting “none of the above” on the ballot and requiring a new election with new candidates if it wins, and ending legalized bribery under the name of campaign contributions. . . .

Further, the next conservatism should revive the dormant conservative agrarian tradition. As the Amish demonstrate, the small family farm can be economically viable. Organic farming, conservation and restoration of the soil, farmers’ markets and “crunchy cons” should find an honored place in the next conservative agenda. Family farms are good places for children to grow up. While environmentalism is becoming an ideology, conservation and care in the use of God’s creation have long-standing conservative credentials. In turn, agriculture has always been a conservative culture.

Similarly, the next conservatism should include the issue of scale of enterprise. Conservatives have long recognized the danger big government poses to free markets. Is there not a similar threat from big business enterprises, especially when those enterprises are international corporations with no concern for the homeland? Is the market truly free when vast corporations can manipulate prices and politicians to destroy local businesses, both manufacturers and retailers, that are anchored in the local community and contribute to it in ways big companies do not? When everything for sale is labeled “Made in China,” Heaven decrees fair trade instead of free trade.

Another old conservative issue the next conservatism should revive is aesthetics. America may be the richest nation in history, but that has not made it the most beautiful. Strip malls, suburban sprawl, and hollowed-out cities have created an environment few people can love. The New Urbanism offers an alternative that looks to the past to recover traditional designs for towns and cities.* . . .

[ . . .]

So the next conservative movement is just this: a growing coalition of people who are committed to living differently. They share a common rejection of the popular culture, of a life based on wants and instant gratification, and of the ideology of multiculturalism and political correctness. They seek to work with other Americans, and perhaps Europeans as well, who know the past was better than the present and are committed to living as their ancestors did, by the rules of Western culture. They carry their quest into the political arena, lest their enemies mobilize the power of the state to crush them. But they look beyond politics to lives well lived in the old ways, as lamps for their neighbors’ footsteps, as harbingers of a world restored, and as testimonies to the only safe form of power, the power of example. We might add, as gifts to God as well.

*I, as a student of urban planning possessed of a great deal of affinity for the New Urbanism, plan, in particular, to address this. I’ve left out some of the authors’ further comments, from this article, whereto I find myself to stand in contradistinction. I’ll allow the authors to have their say in toto in a post dedicated to this aspect of the Next Conservatism.

I believe, on the whole, that Messrs. Weyrich and Lind offer a more-than-acceptable vision of conservatism, one rooted in tradition (both in the Conservative Tradition, and in the cultural customs and mores of the American people, or, at least, a large segment thereof) and keenly aware of the concerns of the present day: environmental degradation (which, as I noted long ago, Kirk lamented), corporate(-government collusion-caused) distortion of the market, aesthetic debasement, detrimental reliance on the automobile, and so forth. They present a conservative movement welcoming to — meant for — the rest of us: for me, for John Schwenkler, for Rod Dreher, et alios. This is the conservatism of Mark’s hypothetically revived Federalist Party; of Wilhelm Röpke’s nobilitas naturalis, the “moral aristocrats . . . . [B]usinessmen . . . who view the great questions of economic policy unprejudiced by their own . . . interests; . . . journalists who resist temptation to flatter mass tastes or to succumb to political passions. . . .” (Wilhelm Röpke, A Humane Economy, pages one hundred thirty, one hundred and thirty-one)

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One Response

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