Political movements have a life cycle. They are born of the particular circumstances of their time. They thrive to whatever extent they can, but then they fade and die. The main reason they run their course is people don’t live forever. That and careers in public life are short, usually lasting no more than two effective decades. There are some exceptions, but twenty years is a good number. That means the people who start the movement and bring it to preeminence are usually half way done by that point.
Liberalism, for example, has gone through a number of reinventions over the last century because the trends run their course and the people move on. Wilsonian Democracy petered out with World War I and was replaced two decades later with the New Deal liberalism of FDR. That ran out of steam and was replaced with the New Left and the sixties counter culture. That fell apart in the 70’s with Carter. The neoliberal movement of today is a replacement for the largely defunct New Left radicalism of the 60’s.
The fact that today’s liberal spasm is sort of a walk down memory lane for aging lefty boomers suggests this phase of Progressive politics is the last. Instead of supplanting the nold movement and old people, with something new championed by new people, the modern Left is more of an echo. It’s a reconstitution of old ideas from past movements into something of a Frankenstein’s monster of politics. Regardless, the point is mass movements have a life cycle and they eventually either die or stagnate.
Conservatism, at least was passes for it these days, has clearly run out of steam and is now just a husk of a movement. A good example of this is National Review. It was one of the founding publications of the conservative movement, a response to New Deal liberalism. The insanity of the sixties breathed life into the movement eventually leading to Reagan and the conservative reformation of the 1980’s. Throughout those years National Review was the platform for radical conservative thinkers to spread their ideas.
Today, it is a market platform for conventional mediocrities looking for talking head gigs on the cable channels. Anyone that is slightly edgy gets tossed out and the magazine mostly functions to promote dullards like Ramesh Ponnuro and Rich Lowry. Neither of whom have said or written anything anyone has bothered to remember. As John Derbyshire once told me, they are just career men with mortgages and families. He was being nice about that. They are squatter living in the ruins Buckley old mansion.
One magazine is no big deal, but it is emblematic. They have a piece up by that technocrat Newt Gingrich. For two decades now Gingrich has been peddling his brand of right-wing technocracy. He obviously had success with this, as it put him in the Speaker’s chair. The fact that his tenure was a failure and he had to leave under a cloud should be judgement on him and his ideas. Instead, he’s another guy shuffling around the remains of Conservative Inc., repeating the old lines from the old program.
The fact that there’s nothing remotely conservative about him seems to be lost on everyone. Within living memory, the editors of National Review would have been railing against Gingrich and his crackpot ideas. Today, they collude with him to sell books. The gist Gingrich’s pitch is that the state should meddle in your life so you do things Newt things are a good idea. It really is incredible what passes for right-wing these days. In the 1980’s, Ronald Reagan would have labeled Gingrich as a nanny-state liberal.
That’s why the Right is dying. It ran out of ways to jam conservative goals into the Progressive moral framework, so it is reduced to repackaging liberalism as “big government conservatism.” Young people, we are told, are more libertarian and maybe that is true, but libertarianism is mostly childish nonsense. What they mean by libertarian is what people used to call libertine. Of course young people want to party, fornicate and avoid responsibility, duty and sacrifice. That’s what it means to be young.
Getting high and hanging out with friends is not the foundation of a political ideology or a cultural movement. If anything, it is further proof that the Right is dead and this new thing called neoliberalism is not getting many takers. In fact, what passes for both Left and Right are now just excuses for the people in charge increasing their power and privilege, while not having top fulfill their duties to those over they rule. It’s just a series of complex arguments based only in the authority of the people making them.
That’s why conservatism is dead. It was, at its heart, the promise to create a legitimate alternative to the prevailing Progressive orthodoxy. That’s why it flourished in the 1980’s and carried Reagan to victory. For a lot of reasons, it never fulfilled that promise. Instead, it was co-opted and corrupted into predictable opposition, willing to throw every fight to the Left. That’s increasingly obvious as the demographic changes cry out for a new opposition to the ruling class. The conservatives are instead defenders of the status quo.