On election night last year, Fox News rolled out Britt Hume to editorialize on the results and what it meant for conservatism. Hume went through the list of things that he said defined conservatism over the last number of decades. He then pointed out how Trump rejected these items, in full or in part, to win the GOP nomination and then the general election. Hume’s definition of conservatism sounded like a lunch order. It was just a list of policy goals, like cutting taxes, reducing regulation and free trade.
That’s because over the last several decades, Official Conservatism™ has been reduced to a soulless list of agenda items, based on the same assumptions about the human condition as Progressivism. In many cases, the official Left and the official Right agree on the same goals, but disagree on tactics. Tax policy is a great example. Both sides agree that tax policy is about social engineering, by rewarding certain behaviors and punishing others. The debate, such as there is, is about which behaviors to prioritize.
The critique of Official Conservatism™ from the Right is rooted in the observation that Conservatives now agree with Progressives on base assumptions about the human condition and human organization. Humans are infinitely malleable and human society has no organic, natural form. As a result, both Left and Right now share a moral code, which is a Progressive moral code. This has reduced conservatism to an assistant’s role, where its primary job is to police the Right and purge those who threaten the moral order.
For the last 25 years, the institutions of Official Conservatism™ have done a good job of imposing their will on the other elements that allegedly make up the coalition of the American Right. Social conservatives have been coerced into supporting globalist economics. Foreign policy realists have either been purged or forced into accepting the neocon position. Everyone has been marinated in immigration romanticism to the point where even the most sensible will genuflect when passing the Statue of Liberty.
The trouble is, the old paleocons were right all along. The hip and modern version of conservatism, what the alt-right boys call Boomer Conservatism, has been a complete failure, even by its own standards. Globalism has not made the typical American more prosperous. In fact, we have experienced a decline in living standards. Wars of choice to bring the joys of social democracy to the savages have resulted in America looking like a police state. The effort to spread liberty has made all of us less free.
It is the area of social policy where Official Conservatism™ has been an unmitigated disaster. It’s not just the trannies stalking the girl’s restroom or the degenerates running wild in the public square. Those are the sorts of things that can be rectified in an hour, if the state feels the need. The real disaster is in the institutions that define the culture at the street level. Social groups, churches, even religion itself, has seen its legitimacy undermined by the new consensus forged between the Left and the Right.
This post on National Review the other day by Ramesh Ponnuru is about the rethinking of this arrangement by social conservatives. He is working off this essay by the editor of First Things, a religious-right operation founded by Richard John Neuhaus. Ponnuru’s post is mostly hyperventilating and hand-waving, in an effort to not address the main observations made by the author. Guys like Ponnuru never imagined they would need to defend themselves from their Right, so they have no way to do it, other than dismissal.
One thing that stands out about the First Things post is the acknowledgement that the bargain struck between traditional Christianity in America and the political Right was deal salient in another age. It no longer makes sense in a post-Cold War America where the challenges are purely cultural. This is a critique of Official Conservatism™ that is popular with blogs like this one. The marriage of convenience between social conservatives, anti-communists and libertarian economists stopped being convenient when the war ended.
Now, First Things is not about to embrace the alt-right, or even biological realism anytime soon. You see that in the post, where the author goes through the usual rituals to signal his fidelity to anti-racism. His discussion of Charlottesville brings to mind a man trying to bury something that keeps rising to the surface no matter how much dirt he piles on it. The thing that is rising from the earth, despite his frantic efforts to cover it up with scare words, is the realization that the old moral paradigm is no longer useful in this age.
For the longest time, Official Conservatism™ was defined by the three key elements of its coalition. Social conservatives, free market libertarians and hawkish anti-communists made up the Grand Army of the Right. They even sang The Battle Hymn of the Republic at the GOP convention. Once the Cold War ended, the anti-communist leg no longer had a reason to exist, which is why the coalition spiraled out of control. Social conservatism had always been a junior partner, but after the Cold War it was reduced to window dressing.
Fundamentally, the Dissident Right, of which the alt-right is a part, is a reaction to the failures of American conservatism. If Official Conservatism™ is unable to keep men in sundresses out of the girl’s restroom, what good is it? The answer from the Dissident Right is that it is no good at all. Seeing elements of Official Conservatism™ begin to openly question their arrangements along the same lines suggests the shadow of the Dissident Right is starting to reach the walls of the Orthodoxy. They are noticing us.
It goes beyond noticing though. Read conventional right-wing journals and what you find is a vapid recitation of 1980’s dogma, salted with references to Buckley and Reagan. It’s like listening to disco. Read sites on the Dissident Right like American Greatness and you find thoughtful criticism and reasoned attempts at making sense of the current age. The shadow of the Dissident Right is growing, because relative to the legacy right, the people in this thing are intellectual giants. Ideas do matter and we’re the ones with the ideas now.