GK Chesterton, writing about English Progressives and Conservatives, wrote in 1924:
The business of progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of conservatives is to prevent those mistakes being corrected. Even if the revolutionist might repent of his revolution, the conservative will still cling to it as part of his tradition. Thus we have two great types, the advanced person who rushes into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins. Each new blunder by the prig becomes instantly a legend of immemorial antiquity by the snob. This is called the balance, or mutual check in our constitution.
The American conservative movement is into its 60Th year, so certain laws of generations apply explaining its descent into little more than a for-profit business line, carrying with it a style manual of clichés and emojis, and a Cliff’s Notes Guide to Conservative Orthodoxy. As Mark Twain once wrote about the Christians of his day, we can now safely call these “professional conservatives” versus the more ancient “professing conservatives”, who, like myself, have been relegated to a back bench.
To this second, and entering into its third generation, conservatism has no real history before World War II, since none of its practitioners were alive then. In fact, many of their parents weren’t even alive. Having been born at the end of that war, and a living memory of the Korean, and nuclear drills under our school room desks, I can look back at least that far and find a connection, thanks to my father, who was an ardent supporter of Barry Goldwater and early subscriber to National Review, leaving copies around, for me to read until I went off to college.
History for me has always been on a need-to-know basis. If I wanted to know something beyond what they taught in the American or World History courses, I picked up a book and read it.
These days I read Richard Brookhiser’s series of biographies of he Founder’s, begun in 1992, for while a Never-Trumper, I think, his disdain is more New York than American, being that Trump is from Queens. I have the same feeling for people from Letcher County, at least until we meet up with a bunch from Mingo County, West Virginia. (There’s a pecking order of loyalties in there which I confirmed in the Balkans.)
Even with the instant access of Wikipedia (a modestly good site for older history) I’ve found modern conservatives of the second generation type seem not to have a handle on that sort of thing.
I’ve found it’s difficult to ask questions if one already thinks he knows everything that can be known.
A couple of years ago, I wrote a long article, part of a series, about Article V and the still-active Convention of States group, headed by Mark Meckler and Michael Farris, at least one of which, I believe, have mercenary motives, which is the point about conservatism’s rising pointlessness I’d like to discuss here.
When there is money and profit in conservatism, does conservatism’s true purpose take a back seat?
The rise of Donald Trump and recent “establishment” conservative opposition to his candidacy has engendered an equal inquiry into just what conservatism really is these days.
This is a good thing.
I am conservative, and am not the least bit ecumenical about it, but I also know what the purpose of my conservatism is, and it is not pay-check- or status-related. (Although it would be nice is someone would drop a twenty at VeteransTales.org from time to time, where we do grass roots work, to cover the night shift.) You see, the people who true conservatives are foresworn to protect have always marched to the beat of a different kind of conservatism; less scholarly, less noble, more rawboned, but of late greatly mocked by more than their arch-enemies, the Left, who would return them (us all) to the kind of rank servitude their theory of history has always believed Nature had bequeathed to them. Just ask that “FBI Employee” in the recent OIG Report.
This has gone far enough. Many modern conservatives are no higher than Jonathan Gruber in the way they perceive the purpose of our government as laid out by the Constitition. Their way is tried and tested, having been around about 5000 years in one form or another.
Even among the Left this disdain for the common masses rests on the same two foundations; political power and class. Too French for me. Libertarians self-identify as A-students, and are thus a cut or two above the masses (C-students), which, despite its nature as a personal philosophy, has rendered it a dud as a governing philosophy. Libertarians, even the real ones, cannot fully grasp the plebeian nature of the Constitutional blueprint. They are simply too Greek in a society designed on the nobility of reciprocity, a notion the Greeks never really took a liking to.
Conservatism, while genuinely an intellectual class above the C-student common man, still was married to his dreams and aspirations via a philosophy and ethic new to this world. The freedom of those men and women to “…pursue life, liberty and happiness without the permission of the state…”(from my Soviet law professors) has always been conservatism’s prime directive, and was always embedded, over the years, in conservative positions on subjects ranging from a strong national defense (in the 1950s) to a call for smaller government (Ronald Reagan in the 1980s). In all those things there has been a direct cause-and-effect back to the original founding propositions in the Constitution.
Scholarly debated for years, just as internationalism versus isolationism were debated before Pearl Harbor, both became bedrock political principles when America and conservatism’s prime directive were threatened.
I’m old enough to be able to say that I no longer find that link anymore. In fact, I’d say you could browse the journals of American conservatism today, and even more, its blogs, over the past decade, and you couldn’t find any consideration for conservatism’s prime directive with a divining rod. As Donald Trump seems to be proving, any negative response by the masses against their betters is met with mockery or scolding. Populism and nationalism are being made bad words for all the wrong reasons, and their use against the citizenry the last refuge of the scoundrel.
My own view is that there are several pretenders out there, just as faux-libertarians are proliferating, and much of them defined by the paycheck or their French-sense of elitism; people who define themselves by who they are not. To the extent we can always distinguish them, modern conservatism is not quite as uniform as one might imagine, and as he already accomplished in the political sphere, Trump is causing a shaking-out of the definition of conservativism as both a political force and a body of ideological thought.
This is a good thing, for this shaking-out will redound to the benefit of Ted Cruz as much as it will Donald Trump, not to mention America in general, as both represent a real survival-benefit for the Republic (a little Darwinian lingo there), so I am not of the camp that in order to prop one up, the other must go down in flames. I’ve already spoken, for some weeks, that in order to rescue the Republic, and restore its generation-to-generation regenerative powers…again, a little Darwinian lingo…we will need four or five successive leaders of a particular type, and that Trump and Cruz each epitomize some of those skill sets. More will follow.
(This fact alone points out the need to restructure the entire political consultancy business, big money there, which is built around selecting one candidate by crushing the other candidates into oblivion. My own place as a writer at RedState.com ended when it was learned that I would be favorable to the candidacy of Herman Cain in 2011. RedState has gained an undistinguished history of intolerance toward any discouraging words on their positions, and has become little more than rice-bowl profiteers, typical of the above-described faux-conservative type.)
Donald Trump is the most recognized name in the world, and the only politician with no visible means of external financial support or hidden financial loyalties. A demagogue? Maybe, but he carries no one else’s water other than his own, and that seems to be a trait a genuinely disgusted and threatened citizenry is seeking, a man of no particular ideological or partisan party affiliation.
Trump didn’t pick them, they picked him.
The American people have finally decided that the political establishment, en mass; Democrat, Republican, and seemingly several sacred agencies, DOJ, FBI, and yes, many conservative pundits admitted to or seeking approval by that establishment’s inner circles, are a threat. And they see in Donald Trump a rescue. Many conservatives have come to their defense..
And considering this very recent “conservative” counter-reformation, witness the dedication of an entire issue of “National Review”, my favorite conservative journal of-record since the early 1970s, to the conservative apostasy of Donald Trump. To be Trump is to be “not conservative”, equals “bad for America”, again without the least bit of input from, or consideration of “the people”.
Official conservatism should be on its collective hands and knees begging the people’s forgiveness for the slight rather than mocking them.
I doubt Bill Buckley would have taken this tack. He may have thought it, but for very good reasons, likely would have held his fire, for there are many connections there between Trump and the people post-Buckley conservatives have either lost sight of, or never knew were there, or maybe never knew about the ordinary man’s function in defining conservatism from the outset.
But the question of the day is just how holy is the holy writ of conservatism? Is there a catechism, a set of doctrines to which every conservative refers when doctrine is questioned, or disputes are to be settled? Is there really only One True Conservatism…and only One True Church?