The core of Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind is the core definition of conservatism, contained in 10 principles. The movement is built around these principles which encompass moral restraint, moral foundation, a respect for history, and a respect for the lives and properties of others. This is what it means to be conservative.
But conservatism has evolved. The movement has changed its emphasis. Over the past century there have been compromises with progressives, compromises with libertarians, compromises with pragmatists, and compromises with internationalists. The compromises with progressives include the use of state power for enforcing moral restraint. No longer is it solely the domain of the individual and his God but instead a state imperative. The progressive will enforce a moral code concerning smoking or homosexual rights, practicing its positive liberty. At the same time the modern conservative will borrow the method to enforce liberty in a manner suggesting that the struggle for liberty is given by the state rather than sought by the individual. The two have also acted as partners in the war on drugs again seeing the state as the all-powerful protector of conscience and health.
Conservatives have compromised with libertarians by tolerating evil with our ranks. We accept racists within the movement. (This the progressives also do, but they have no moral foundation for resisting such for it is they who tolerate the wrongs of Sharia.) While conservatism would in principle reject racism it seems that some find the compromise of pragmatic benefit.
Conservatism has moved from principle to pragmatism. The movement gives all the appearances of being a simplistic “anti-liberal” movement. It seems that we have taken the “knee-jerk” mantle away from the liberal of old. When President Carter cut grain exports to the U.S.S.R. the Republican establishment, along with the conservatives in the party, denounced this action. But this seemed in fact to be the most conservative and patriotic act of President Carter. Reagan won against Carter partly on his challenge of this action.
Conservatism is seen as a movement among business elites. At least that’s the perception lent in the popular media. Ever since the boom of international capitalism under the guidance of Milton Friedman (whose basic economic principles are sound) the conservatism movement changed from a set of guiding moral principles to a set economic principles. All will be well, it seems, if the economy is opened up and there are jobs for all who need one. This confuses the fruit of what conservatism might provide with the definition. It’s a cart-horse problem.
What Is to be Done?
I borrow Lenin’s title for a reason. Conservatism is in need of a revolution. It has confused nationalistic capitalism with conservatism. The first speech of President Trump to the joint session of Congress appeared self-evident of this. He challenged the socialists of the Democratic Party. But he did not challenge them with the principles of conservatism, for President Trump seems no philosopher. He instead challenged them with the matter of owning an agenda.
Trump’s proposals were a mix of progressive (paid maternity leave leave, business loans for female entrepreneurs, replacing the ACA, aka Obamacare), pragmatic (rebuilding infrastructure), Constitutional (defense of the border), and even a little conservative (emphasis on the rule of law). This is not by any means a conservative agenda. It is a strategy. It may be a good strategy for political ends, and that certainly has its place. But it is not representative of conservative principles.
Of course any demand for strict orthodoxy can be destructive. Looking at the demands for a rigid progressive orthodoxy has split the Democratic Party. At this point the party is splintered because they have separated themselves so much from the mindset of the average American that they’ve given progressivism the respect that it deserves.
Perhaps our challenges to President Trump (and any successors) might be one of education. What can the President do to persuade the American people that the principles of conservatism are better for this nation than the principles of progressivism? The public pulpit of the President need not be one owned by a bully but by a leader who charts a course with the principles that define America.
It’s the kind of revolution that Lenin would not like.
The Other Counterfeit
Not all counterfeiting comes from within. We’ve all read the propaganda and sometimes it’s difficult to challenge and sometimes it’s easy. Vox Populi published this essay segment from Chris Hedges. Here is a part of it:
The warmup act for a full-blown American fascism and orchestrated race war is taking place in immigrant and marginal communities across the United States: Racial profiling. Random police stops. Raids at homes and businesses. People of color pulled from vehicles at checkpoints. Seizures of individuals with no criminal records or who never committed a serious crime. Imprisonment without trial. Expedited deportation hearings and removal proceedings that violate human rights[.…] Parents separated, perhaps forever, from their children. The hunted going underground. The end of the rule of law. The abandonment of the common good. The obliteration of a social state in which institutions and assistance programs—from public education to Social Security and welfare—make justice, equality and dignity possible.
White Europeans who are undocumented are not being targeted. The executive orders of President Trump are directed against people of color. They begin from the premise that white Americans are the true victims of neoliberalism, deindustrialization and falling living standards. The Trump orders are written not to make America great again but to make America white. They are an updated version of the Nazis’ Nuremberg race laws, the Jim Crow laws, the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Naturalization Act of 1870. They are intended to institutionalize an overt racial hierarchy in the United States, one already advanced by the miniature police states in which marginal communities of color find themselves. In these impoverished enclaves there is no right to trial or due process. Militarized police kill with impunity, and the courts lock people away often for life. Rights are treated as privileges that can instantly be revoked. The poor, especially poor people of color, have been exempted from moral consideration. They are viewed as impediments to social cohesion. And these impediments must be eliminated. This is the template for what will come. Jews—their community centers under threats of violence and their graveyards being desecrated—will be persecuted. American fascism will be cemented into place by uniformed and heavily armed paramilitary squads clutching the flag and the cross and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and the Lord’s Prayer.
Besides the obviously high level of paranoia what Hedges is suggesting is that, whatever President Trump is, he is going to do the things that the progressives did in the early 20th century. It was Woodrow Wilson who reinforced racial segregation in government while re-energizing the KKK in the private sector. It was the eugenics movement of the era that oversaw the plan for racial extermination, led my progressive leftist Margaret Sanger. It is the progressives who keep her methods functioning with tax dollars. It was she who consulted with the Third Reich regarding their solutions. It was FDR who further segregated the military and interred the Japanese. Jim Crow was a product of the Southern Democrats. And so forth.
While Bannon is no conservative he is also not functioning as President of the United States. He is in a higher position that conservatives would like to see a person of his opinions. The same for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The racism, or openness to it, of both radical libertarianism and progressivism serves no good for this nation.
Unfortunately both parties and their information agencies have become quite effective in persuading true believers in their respective causes. To the popular liberal voter the Republican Party and the conservative movement represent the evils of big business and greed. To the popular “conservative” voter the Democratic Party represents little more than big government, encroaching socialism, and high taxes. But the stories of both are inadequate and insufficient for wise decisions.
That’s the issue. The “fake news” that we hear daily is highly counterfeited. That is, we are given a picture which, while the details may be correct, the framing might be all wrong. The best a person can to do understand politics in today’s world is to read. Understanding what has happened in the past will, absolutely, give the reader a perspective on what is happening and what is going to happen. There is nothing random and there are very few coincidences. I would suggest that you begin by reading Richard Weaver’s classic “Ideas Have Consequences.”
Where Do We Begin?
There is no simple solution. It is a long-term educational process. There are some ideas on how the church might adapt in Keven VanHoozer’s “The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision.” The rise in home schooling and the increasing number of private educational institutions have their place. I am highly optimistic about many things. But stopping the progressive juggernaut will be difficult. It will require more than simple nationalism. It will require a conservatism which has a theological foundation.