Who Cares About ‘Conservatism’?

By | 2017-06-02T18:30:05+00:00 February 26, 2017|
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Elite movement conservatives still do not understand what the 2016 election means for conservatism. Many have not evinced even the slightest bit of introspection or curiosity about whether conservatism, in light of its manifest failures, can—or even should—continue on as it’s currently constituted. The very hint that something—anything—needs to change sends waves of paroxysms through the halls of Conservatism, Inc. Even fellow travelers who do not consistently tout the party line are suspect, and their failures, real or perceived, to do so are duly noted.

The preferred argument of the members of Conservatism, Inc. is that Trump voters have given up on virtue and have made a Faustian bargain that will “cost them their souls.” Given what they view as the steep price to be paid for giving Trump any credit, conservatives like this prefer to judge Trump by their endless checklists—checking off boxes as news comes forth from the White House. A conservative constitutionalist nominated to be on the Supreme Court? Check. A cabinet even more conservative than Reagan’s? Check. They are encouraged by Trump’s actions that seem “conservative” and cast disapproval on those—such as what they term his “protectionism”—that fly in the face of their sensibilities.

Conservatives thus measure all political phenomena by how closely they hew to what are dogmatically considered the immutable core tenets of conservatism. Conservatism truly is, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, their “central idea from which all its minor thoughts radiate.”

 

Thinking in Slogans and Clichés

Being so highly attuned to all of the things they call “conservative,” movement conservatives often take special note of anyone who does not mouth the catechisms of orthodox conservatism. Seconds after Steve Bannon, the chief strategist to President Trump, spoke at CPAC, John Podhoretz tweeted out the following:

Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary, showed no curiosity about what Bannon said concerning nationalism (or patriotism, take your pick) or the rise of a globalist class who cares more about securing the good of hedge fund managers in Dubai than out-of-work coal miners in West Virginia. Podhoretz offered no acknowledgment of Bannon’s argument that we must “deconstruct the administrative state” for the people to reclaim their sovereignty and rule again in their own interests.

Instead, Bannon’s unforgivable sin was that he did not once utter the word “conservative.” Podhoretz’s singular focus on needing to hear repetitions of the slogans and clichés that make up much of modern conservative rhetoric is revealing. He gives words a power akin to when God spoke the world into existence as recounted in the first chapter of Genesis. Even Protagoras would have blushed.

But words apart from political action are just that: mere words.

What has modern conservatism done lately that has risen past words to anything fundamental? A few regulations rolled back here, a small uptick in the amount of conservative lawyers there. Yes, Republicans made major gains in statehouses nationwide, gaining nearly 1,000 seats in state legislatures in the past eight years under President Obama.

While surely impressive, what exactly have these gains accomplished? Paraphrasing Michael Corleone’s famous response to Senator Geary’s attempted shakedown in the “Godfather: Part II,” the answer is this: nothing. Conservatives have been content to sit by with satisfied smiles on their faces as the administrative state rolls on, flattening everything in its path.

Mike Lee Misses the Point

Those who walk the halls of Conservatism, Inc. have largely shielded themselves from such uncomfortable truths by launching into pseudo-theoretical discussions of the compatibility of “populism” with “conservatism.”

In a recent speech at the Heritage Foundation and a subsequent interview with the Washington Examiner, U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) argued for a “conservatism for the forgotten man.” In Lee’s understanding, these are middle class Americans who work “hard every day to put bread on the table to feed” their families and strive to be good citizens. His plan is for a “populist” president to identify the problems forgotten men and women have—because, as he admits, conservatives have been unable to do this themselves—and conservatives will then offer solutions to ameliorate these difficulties.

But Lee doesn’t seem to understand what he has just conceded. If conservatives can only provide solutions once others have identified problems, what, exactly, is the usefulness of such a political movement? It would be akin to George Washington and his troops being supplied with munitions and ammo but not knowing they were fighting the British.

Plus, if conservatives can’t identify political problems in the first place, what makes them think they will even be able to provide effective solutions? These are the same people who have been proposing the same stale policies for decades no matter what political realities seem to call for. Conservatives are pilots flying blind with no radar, hurtling through cloudy skies.

And yet Mike Lee seems content with this state of affairs, untroubled by a major defect within modern conservatism that he seems unable, or unwilling, to help correct. Apparently, this is one of the jobs conservatives won’t do.

While admitting conservatism’s fatal weakness, Lee at the same time elevates conservatism to a place of importance that it does not deserve. He claims that Trump’s brand of “populism”—a word that goes largely undefined—is not an “existential threat to conservatism, republicanism and constitutionalism.”

But since when did conservatism, which Lee just admitted is defective in a major way, suddenly rise to the level of a regime principle? Why should we spend any time at all worrying about what poses a threat to it?

Conservatism… or Constitutionalism?

Republicanism, in Publius’s Federalist 39 formulation, is defined by “a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people, and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure for a limited period, or during good behavior.” Constitutionalism buttresses republicanism by promoting the principles that must undergird republican government in order for it to survive for more than one generation. Important principles of American constitutionalism include the protection of natural rights, equality under the law, and a written constitution that sets down limits on the powers of government.

Conservatism, by contrast, is best understood as a political coalition formed in the mid-1950s between “free-market” libertarians and traditionalist conservatives who wanted to beat back the Soviets abroad and the New Deal bureaucracy at home. This coalition reached the zenith of its political power during the 1980s when Ronald Reagan and his administration began implementing some of the items on the conservative wish list.

Since that time, however, conservatism has been in free fall, resigned to fighting ineffective rearguard actions on the “culture wars” front and becoming an ever-smaller coalition that has a negligible effect on the trajectory of national politics. Conservatives today have largely forgotten conservatism’s political origin and instead have elevated its disparate policies created in light of specific circumstances to the level of principle itself. As Gladden Pappin recounts in a masterful essay in the inaugural issue of American Affairs, the “mainstream conservative platform that has devolved into a checklist of incongruent planks now that the underlying conditions which afforded it some coherence as a political strategy no longer apply.”

This also means that, contra Ben Shapiro and countless other conservative commentators, conservatism is not a “philosophy.” Philosophy in its original meaning is the quest for wisdom for the sake of attaining truth whereby opinions are replaced with knowledge. While American conservatism seeks to pass along to future generations the philosophical ideas enunciated in the Declaration of Independence, it itself is not a philosophy apart from the things which it has attempted to conserve.

‘A Referential Term’

Ultimately, conservatism is merely a vehicle by which certain political ends that are outside of itself can be secured. The word conservative is derived from the Latin word “conservare,” which is a verb that means to keep or preserve something. As Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn recently told the audience at CPAC, “It’s a referential term. It doesn’t really mean anything of itself.” Thus if conservatism fails to secure the common good of the citizens of the United States—the only reason for its existence—then it should step aside and let another political movement that is attuned to current political realities take the reigns.

Thus obsessing over whether Trump is or is not a conservative is, in the final analysis, a meaningless question. Beyond placating and flattering movement conservatives, such ideological navel-gazing inverts the proper distinction between means and ends, turning conservatism into an end to which everything else—including the good of the country—is sacrificed. Such discussions are driven by a mournful nostalgia for circumstances that have long since vanished.

Put another way, who is more nostalgic: Donald Trump, who understands the threats posed by unchecked globalization and the overall loss of the people’s sovereignty, or a reform conservative, who wants to tinker around the edges of the administrative state but essentially offers moderate strategies which might have been appropriate for Edmund Burke’s Great Britain? Who gets closer to one of the “primary truths” of politics which is, as Publius argued in Federalist 31, “that the means ought to be proportioned to the end”?

Combined, these errors have helped to render much of movement conservatism blind to the lessons of the 2016 election. They don’t understand that this election was a fundamental reordering of the political map—and one that has been in the works for quite some time. They don’t understand that the old left-right dichotomy—if it was ever useful theoretically—is insufficient to make sense of this new reality.

Hillsdale College politics professor Kevin Portteus can help us understand this realignment:

In 2016, the most consequential division was not between Democrats and Republicans but between the “court party” and the “country party” of whatever formal affiliation. There was a general dismay at the cronyism of bailouts and the stimulus package, a regulatory state with its tentacles in every aspect of individuals’ lives, trade deals that benefit multinational corporations, mass immigration, the imposition of same-sex marriage on a nation that had voted overwhelmingly against it, and the passage and subsequent sustaining by the Supreme Court of the Affordable Care Act.

Because most elite conservatives do not, or will not, see this truth, conservatism in its current form has outlived its usefulness. The particular conditions that led to its creation have ceased to exist. And it has proven to be clueless not only to what current circumstances seem to dictate on the level of policy but what the current circumstances even are in the first place.

Ultimately, whatever comes in its place—and whatever name that political movement takes—must focus on securing the good of the citizens of this nation. We need to stop worrying about the psychological state of mind of our precious conservatism and begin to think about how to blow holes through the walls of the administrative state and allow the people to govern again, which is their right and our duty to help secure. Whether conservatism has anything to do with this project is to miss the point entirely.

About the Author:

Tom Hagen
Tom Hagen is the pseudonym of a writer residing inside the Beltway.
  • tz1

    The preferred argument of the members of Conservatism, Inc. is that Trump voters have given up on virtue and have made a Faustian bargain that will “cost them their souls.”
    The cuckservatives that have let the abortion holocaust go on for a generation while posturing, avoiding even jury nullification, failed to repeal the Freedom of Access to Clinics Entrances (FACE) Act are the ones who made the Faustian bargain.
    Even the bumbling Bush brothers. They signed papers! But Terri Schiavo was horribly tortured to death.
    Cuckservatism kills. Body and soul.

    Cuckservatism, Inc. have made a virtue of losing respectably and playing by rules ignored by the other side. But losing is losing, and they lost to demonic powers.

    • Hominid

      If by the term “cucksevative” you’re referring to phony conservatives like Trump, I agree.

      • stephen duval

        No he is referring to cuckservatives such as yourself.

  • colleenaplin

    Many of these ‘pundits’ were think tank aligned, esp. with the think tanks that backed TPP, based on “conservative” principles apparently (cronyism and supranational socialism is ‘conservative’ for them it would seem). Never mind that we are for bi-lateral deals, not “isolationism” as they project it, and never mind that Romney and Ryan were/are some sort of messiahs for them. Apparently the one who pushed a healthcare program in Massachusetts based on early Jonathan Gruber lies and has been a squish on Agenda 21 (with Holdren as an advisor) ended up as some sort of better ‘conservative’ for them than Trump. Come on, it’s obvious it doesn’t add up, and that’s because it is all a con (on behalf of the donor class).

    Think tanks: Remember that private island meeting hosted by AEI for example.
    http://www.breitbart.com/video/2016/03/09/huffpos-grim-54-private-jets-at-meeting-to-stop-trump/

    Think tanks and spoiled self-entitled brats:
    https://spectator.org/trumps-revolution/

    From there they’ve just kept digging, and it is an ego thing. If they admit they were wrong the worry is they’ll be at the back of the bus, which doesn’t sit well with their delusions of grandeur. No, it has to be that they were never wrong, and they will eventually be proven right, that’s the way they can keep feeding their egos and sense of being “experts”. On top of this because they see their irrelevancy they spend quite a lot of time going after people who were right, out of jealousy, because those people earned trust as far as Trump (and the movement) is concerned.

    • Hominid

      Bah-loney!

  • jack dobson

    Essentially you have described True Conservatives as monomaniacal Ghost Dancers who, while on the take at times, believe their checklist will live soon if their faith is strong. This is too generous. They always are on the take and they know the Great White Buffalo ain’t comin’. Never Trumperism, which if successful would have meant a left-wing Supreme Court for generations, proved them all frauds. They are now just as irrelevant as the fake news.

    • Hominid

      Another Lib liar pipes up with baseless accusations.

    • “Elite movement conservatives” = Phony-con neolibs. A ‘conservatism’ that conserves nothing.

      We can all thank Trump for exposing this sham and, with some luck and persistence, providing us a way out.

    • TempoNick

      Just look at McConnell’s reaction to Trump’s rumored 37% proposed cut at the State Department. Yeah, this is the party that’s going to balance the budget. /sarc

  • J.j. Cintia

    That Faust reference is funny. What good is conservatism? What is conservatism? Its not much. Pay off donors, give lip service to voters, hold up Bibles and principles, and wave them around while doing nothing for people who elected you. Lets face it, the GOP doesn’t win because its not supposed to. They don’t lose with “dignity”, they lose for the game played for the “folks” back home. Lincoln’s Log Cabin Boyz are the Washington Generals for the Democrat Globetrotters to beat. Even that clown Buckley knew it. He threw out every tough and great player and kept only the weak tea and limp wristed slappy girly boyz. He and the other bow-tied clowns like the execrable George Will supped with the Manhattan Project to blow up America and put up a giant ghetto project like Mega-City One from Judge Dredd. Dese nutz don’t seem to get what happened, but they better get it quick. Americans aren’t sick and tired anymore, they’re mad now. Existential threats have a way of clearing the mind and making the concept of niceties like law and playing by rules seem slow and outdated. I’m not sure there actually is a rulebook here. All the referees in the media are crooked, and there seems to be a lack of law in our so-called legal system. That Tree of Liberty looks parched.

    • dmac8889

      words of a man walking back to the locker room believing the clock ran out time, when in fact he got flat out beat, and overtime would not have saved his butt.

      • J.j. Cintia

        Who’s out of time? Can you tell time? What time is it? What side of “history” do you take?

        Let me tell ya funny little man, you don’t want to take some tone like that with me. I’ll flatten you out. I have all the time in the World. Your “future” doesn’t exist. There is no “new world”.

        There is only one outcome, and its the one I want. What you want is as dead as you will be.

    • Perry Widhalm

      All civilized cultures – past and present – are conservative (reinforce traditional values) by necessity otherwise the culture collapses. You are confusing Neo-Liberal Corporatism with conservatism. For instance, your silly rant is protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution. There is nothing more conservative in the US than upholding its Constitution. For a lesson in what happens when conservatism (valued traditions) fail, read a history of the Spanish Civil War or the Russian Revolution. Or, take a long look at all the hysterics from the Left about President Trump. Nothing the Leftist lunatics claimed would happen has happened because of the conservative nature of our Republic (i.e. the court system).

  • Severn

    I don’t see the word “conservative” here either. I do see a disturbing degree of fixation on the best interests of Jews though.

    https://www.commentarymagazine.com/about/

  • QET

    Could this be Decius Phase 2?

  • crushlimbraw

    Absolutely and exquisitely on target – and posted as such on my archive for future reference! Thank you for your realism, Tom.
    If anyone is interested in inquiring further, you may Google my name and get to my website and archive for the details.

    • dmac8889

      The problem with people who get paid to advocate Conservatism, is that they demand perfection of too many dictates, and get lost in an almost religious dogma, where even its followers or supporters no long support. As a Conservative I am not wedded to have to support ideas that are no longer being debated, yet they interfere with conversation when I have to stop and answer for an idea that the public has clearly moved away from. However, Conservatism meaning “blowing holes through the walls of the administrative state” I am solidly behind. I get that the “gum chewers” need to butter their bread by preaching the orthodoxy endlessly, but they are far closer to being right, than those who see no end to feeding the Federal albatross that is now devouring our future. Who will get to spend my grandchildren’s paycheck, the six year college student not paying a dime for his education, or the life of a 70 year old who the ‘Death Panel’ is informing him that his ‘ration quotient’ has just been reached.

      • Hominid

        You’re a muddle-head.

  • Sofia’sDad✓ᴰᵉᵖˡᵒʳᵃᵇˡᵉ

    Hagen writes, “Even Protagoras would have blushed.” If I understand his point here, he refers to Plato’s Republic, Book 1, where Thrasymachus blushes, not Protagoras.

    • tedshepherd

      I didn’t get the point of the reference, and I still don’t. What do you take to have been Hagen’s point? All I know about Protagoras is the quotation: “I know not whether the gods exist. The question is difficult and life is short.” I’m with him.

      • Hominid

        Really? You don’t know whether the gods exist?

        • tedshepherd

          Yes, really. I post only my honest opinion. In truth, I am full of doubts, especially concerning transcendental matters. In my humble, rational way, I think I could not believe in a god who has contradictory properties and still retain my sanity. YMMV. I do not proselytize. It would be a very weak faith indeed that would crumble in the face of anything I might say.

  • Matthew Kilburn

    In the great divide between “Liberal” and “Conservative”, I am unquestionably and unashamedly a Conservative. But ultimately, my loyalties are less to any “Conservative” movement than they are to the outcomes which such a movement [at least, once] desired. And there we see the two big indictments of Conservatism as we’ve known it:

    1) It hasn’t been particularly effective. Yes, taxes are somewhat lower than they used to be, but they’re also more progressive. Welfare comes with more hoops to jump though, but it is still more widely used. Other than that, the achievements of Conservatism have been dismal. Abortion remains legal, contraception use is nearly ubiquitous, gay marriage is legal, out-of-wedlock parenting has exploded, divorce remains rampant, the federal budget is larger than ever, and of course what I just mentioned – reliance on the state is still so common as to be unremarkable when you encounter it.

    and, by extension:

    2) Because we have faced these problems for so long, we no longer have much that is actually worth “Conserving”. The America of today, as a whole, is not an America of God-fearing families with young children who believe in the superiority of the American ideal, and who feel a responsibility to do their part to advance it.

    The goodness of our nation can no longer be conserved, it must be restored. And that requires, sadly, dispensing with the notion that has seemed to guide Conservatives for decades: that humans are best left to their own devices, and will, in the absence of outside force, make intelligent, responsible decisions. It simply isn’t true.

    • dmac8889

      What you state is true, but the answer is not Progressivism in an age when everyone wants everyone else’s money, by having the federal gov’t redistribute it and we are already $20 Trillion in debt and eight years of no growth. Social Conservatism was always destined to fail, because Gov’t can’t mandate values, thus it was always low hanging fruit for anarchists. There is always profit and fame to be gained with chaos as the norm, but if fiscal Conservatism fails than there is nothing worth saving.

      • Hominid

        Government is the authoritative manifestation of a society-culture. If it cannot mandate values through law, then it is useless and we should just accept anarchy (which, needless to say, cannot stand). Fiscal conservatism cannot succeed without social conservatism or – stated backwards – a morally irresponsible society cannot be fiscal responsible. To think it can is just LIBertarian fantasy.

      • Marshall Gill

        ” Social Conservatism was always destined to fail, because Gov’t can’t mandate values”

        Everything that government does mandates values of one kind or another. The claim “you can’t legislate morality” is almost always followed with “it is immoral to fail legislate X”. Wealth redistribution, or it’s opposition, is a moral position. Outlawing murder, a moral position. Outlawing or legalizing abortion are both positions which are based upon morality. If you are opposed you think that it is immoral to kill the unborn. If you are in favor you believe it is immoral to prevent a woman from terminating a pregnancy. Both moral positions, even though in opposition to each other.

        People who use the term “social conservatism” are simply saying that they do not care about certain types of morality. It is immoral to over tax me. Claiming my opposition to taxes isn’t based upon morality is simply being obtuse.

    • Hominid

      Genuine Conservatism refers to the notion that we should live BY THE FOUNDING PRINCIPLES of AMERICANISM as articulated in the Declaration and the Constitution.

      The rest is nothing but non- and antiAmerican agendas pretending to be conservative!

      Trump supporters don’t care any more for Americanism than Libs do – they are just a different group of whiners, squatting with their palms up, wanting big daddy government to take care of them.

    • Hugh Miller

      I don’t understand why conservatives worry about things like contraception and divorce? Without contraception, familes would have too many children and without divorce, people would be stuck in marriages that are abusive, depressing, and filled with mistrust and possibly unfaithfulness. Nothing conservative about forcing people to live that way!!

      • IssacNewton

        Conservativism (and the American Constitution) only works for a virtuous people. Individuals who as singles want as much sex with as many people as possible need extensive contraception and abortion. They do not honor the need to raise happy children who will replace them when they die. Wives who seek self-fufillment will not obey their husbands, seek divorce, and damage their children. The Individual dies, the conservative realizes his life goes well-beyond his individual desires. This realization and the change in a person’s behavior in light of eternity is where virtue happens (or Not). It is the attempt to understand and follow universal ethics that is conservative and that makes you live in many ways that as an individual you would prefer not to. It is this virtue that we have been losing at least since the 1960s.

        • Hugh Miller

          Hmm, well I totally disagree but no surprise there. Note, married couples use contraception so they can enjoy the biblical sactioned ability to have sex and be financially responsible! Note, over half of abortions are married women. Note, wifes are NOT slaves to their husbands, that obey crap is not truly biblical. Note, no problem with women wanting self fulfilment just as men do.

          • IssacNewton

            Catholic theology would disagree, contraception (for them) remains contrary to God’s will. Your statistic is incorrect. Only 17.% of abortions involve married women. See:

            Ephesians 5:22-33 (New International Version) clearly calls for wives to obey/submit to their husbands. You can chose to ignore it, but it truely Biblical:

            “22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” Ephesians goes on to call Husbands to love their wives.

            My key point was theological, but only that self-fufillment drives most Americans and is replacing Christian ethics with its many duties to God and other people. For males this means as much sex as possible without the duties of marriage. Fornication is no longer a problem (hence >50% of births are outside of marriage and half the pregnancies end in abortion. Once Married, it is women who tend to drive divorce (70% of the time the wife initiates it). Increasingly neither sex can trust the other and children can no longer depend upon their parents. I do not see this situation changing until another Great Awakening and a rebirth of virtue.

            My expectation is that adultery will continue to be de-criminalized and soon prostitution by adults will become legal. Just as females can terminate any pregnancy I expect that the courts will soon rule that a man has no duty to support his child from a woman he did not marry. A women can terminate her responsibilities to her child and soon a man will also have this right (Equal Protection and the 1964 Civil Rights Act).

            We may get an emerging market for people to negotiate marriage contracts (duration, duty to support, amount of support, frequency of sex, type of sex, number of children, other sexual partners, etc.).

    • IssacNewton

      We are running out of Other people’s money. Currently leave people to their own devices (conservative) but then protect them from the negative feedback of their choices. Limiting the Welfare state to what we can afford or want to pay in taxes and turning Welfare into Workfare would help with this restoration. But without another Great Awakening I do not hold out much hope.

  • MaxMBJ

    The best thing that happened to the word “conservative” in this election cycle is the cucking of it. If Feckless Bill Kristol and the just-one-footie-away-from-being-full-bore-Pajama Boys National Review staff aren’t deserving of the term “cuckservative,” I don’t know who is.

  • MaxMBJ

    What’s the difference between Pajama Boy and Jonah Goldberg?

    Seven sizes on the singlet tag.

  • Easyst17

    There are conservatives who consider what was happening before Trump virtuous? Watching them try to defend themselves against progressives constantly calling them sexist racists was like watching vultures pick a dying gazelle to the bone, and there is nothing virtuous about that.

  • AriTai

    Andrew Jackson ran the representative of the people. Because no one else was. Neither party. Then he burned all of them and their establishments to the ground. Drained the swamp they all lived in. That’s what’s happening now. When it’s done there will be one party, the American Party run like a business by T. like people until a decades have passed and the madness gone the way of the war of the Roses. Jackson’s is a broad and deep story, that everyone glosses over without going through his papers. e.g. the trail of tears was a result of chiefs who slept in his home who he signed treaties with. Later they found out they couldn’t control their hothead kids who were killing white settlers intruding on their treaty guaranteed lands in the most horrible way. Congress ordered Jackson to kill them all, Jackson was very good at killing. Instead his friends, the chiefs, who he thought of as real brothers asked Jackson to exile them with escorts to unoccupied land and they both knew this was the only way some of them would survive. it turned out better than they expected, one of two, rather than one of three. The things we have to do when there’s no good answer once we find there’s no way of escaping original sin and humankind’s feet of clay.

    • Hominid

      Dream on! What A Jackson has in common with Trump is that he was sociopathic, a self-serving scumbag – all so-called populists are. BTW, Jackson took glee in the asymmetrical slaughter of indians decades before he became president – it’s how he made his chops.

  • JoeS54

    None of Trump’s policies are things that haven’t been done before, by conservatives and Republicans in the US. Between the Civil War and the Great Depression, when the Republicans dominated politics, they were often Republican orthodoxy.

    The ideologies that have been damaged by too much success, being taken too far, are liberalism (properly understood- also known as “classical liberalism” or libertarianism) and progressivism. On the economy, liberalism has been taken to extremes on trade and immigration that past Republicans and conservatives never would have stood for. On foreign policy, progressivism (“making the world safe for democracy”) has failed.

    The simplest thing to understand is that with the end of the Cold War, elite “conservatives” have carried on as if nothing changed. They just took “victory” in that cause as an excuse to spread “Americanism” across the globe, through bad trade deals and military over-extension. And Democrats largely joined them in it. Because the same people have bought off both parties. The only disagreements have been on social issues, and the left utterly dominated until Trump hit them asymmetrically. The left are now the social authoritarians and “prudes”, within their own twisted set of “values”. The elite consensus on trade, immigration and foreign policy has been a disaster for the people.

    Republicans should be grateful that Trump saw the holes and plugged them on their side. If they side with him on those issues – trade, immigration and foreign policy – they are on the right side of a political realignment of the kind that happens once every 80 years or so. If they cement those midwestern states and add to them, they will be the majority party for that long.

    • dmac8889

      well said

    • Dave781

      Between the Civil War and the Great Depression? Some of these policies CAUSED the Great Depression. We don’t need to repeat the mistakes of the past.

      • JoeS54

        In case you missed it, we’ve been living through a new depression caused by the policies of globalists.

        • Dave781

          No we haven’t.

  • dmac8889

    Tom Hagen, or whoever you are, beautifully stated and beautifully written, and that is coming from a CONSERVATIVE. You quoted Podhoretz as a leading voice among Conservatives. This is the same writer who mocked Sarah Palin’s lack of intellect, when NO ONE carried the Conservative voice more perfect over the last eight years than she. Palin checked off every box any Conservative can preach about, and Palin is one of the very few if any that lived her life and Governed demonstrating Conservative Principles. No one walked the plank and took the arrows, speaking, governing, and walking the walk than Palin. Yet as she stated in July of 2009 she would only be a ‘point guard’ handing off the ball when it came time to score, she choose Trump over Cruz, a friend, and the Conservative every principal Conservative (myself included) rallied behind, at the very moment when all eyes and ears were listening. Palin has always understood what Conservatism brings to the nation’s political conversation, but she has stated many times it takes “leadership” and “a spine” to ‘blow holes through the walls of the administrative state’ (that has grown higher and thicker, with plans to never to be breached). She looked across the stage of sixteen candidates and knew exactly what the American people were thinking (as she always has done), and told us Trump is THE GUY, even if it means tweeting something that Conservatives will never find in their manifesto. If you take a close look at who is insisting on checking all the Conservative boxes, when it is obvious Conservatism alone didn’t win the day, it is usually someone whose bread is being buttered by the orthodoxy.

    • Hominid

      Conservatism never “wins the day” – too many stupid, self-serving voters for that to happen.

    • Dave781

      Trump has a spine? What exactly does that mean?

  • Dazzeetrader1980

    I know who should care. The liberals should. When the WH is owned by the Rs Senate and House too and this author asks this question? lololol earn how to play tough to get his agenda through. Dems should care that they’re pushing him to a nuclear option. They should care.

    • Dave781

      The liberals may have lost the battle but with the collapse of conservatism (which “Tom Hagen” approves of) they have won the war. It is not a good thing.

  • RJones

    I see nothing virtuous in deceiving people with support for ideas and policies that one does not actually support or believe. I feel betrayed by conservatives and my loss of trust is permanent. As far as I’m concerned they can all go re-register as democrats since that’s what they truly are anyway. Good riddance.

    • Hominid

      You are confusing genuine conservatives with phony conservatives – like the one’s who support the Lib huckster PT Trumpum.

    • Dave781

      It isn’t clear if you are referring to “conservatives” who support Trump or to those who oppose him.

  • Hominid

    This essay is nothing more than the typical Lib-Leftist LIES and BLATHER.

  • Robert Catt

    Ya right a pseudonym of a writer residing inside the beltway. In other words, a gutless puke with a bias. Hey Fake Tom, keep the fake news coming!

    • Marshall Gill

      Ohhh, good job attacking the messenger!

      I will assume that you are intellectually incapable of refuting anything that the author wrote, since you did not even attempt to do so.

  • Dave

    I am a Conservative (Libertarian), but the problem is that message just won’t sell to the general public. I want the federal government to be as small as it can be, I want taxes to be as low as they can be, and I don’t want everyone to rely on entitlements when they retire. That message would be too extreme for the average voter, so the Republican party has to water it down to win. I still believe what I believe but when you get down to it, most people like their medicare and social security. Most people like that government safety net (unemployment benefits, etc). Most people don’t mind if the Rich pay more taxes. Now if you ask those same people do they hate when someone is on the government dole, then they are annoyed and think things should be cut, but just not for them.

  • Perry Widhalm

    Mainstream conservatism slowly gave way to Neo-Liberal Corporatism following World War II. It took decades for many conservatives to become corporatists but the transformation was complete by the late 1980’s. HW Bush was the first Neo-Liberal Corporatist elected President of the United States. Bush I represented the American Corporatocracy first-and-foremost as did Clinton and GW Bush. My favorite picture of Corporatist CEO Dubya was him walking hand-in-hand with the Saudi King at his “ranch” (a couple hundred acres) in Crawford, Texas. Unfortunately, Old School conservatism (family, the US Constitution / Bill of Rights, small business, conservation of natural resources, Main Street before Wall Street) is all but gone. Corporatists are not conservatives.

  • LokVahKoor

    I can certainly get behind the point that the 2016 election represented a repudiation of elite establishment conservatism as much as elite establishment liberalism. But understanding what lost is the easy part. The real question of the 2016 election, which this column does not really answer, is what won. Bannon and Trump are clearly guided by some form of economic nationalism, but that could mean many things, some of which would be barely distinguishable from the traditional Burkean conservatism this column alleges is dead, and some of which (European-style right-wing nationalism) would be truly revolutionary, and not necessarily in a good way, in this country.

    Thus far the administration’s signature departures from traditional conservative orthodoxy have been on immigration and trade. Deregulation and strict constitutionalism are quite consistent with traditional conservatism and I could easily see a traditional conservative president like Cruz nominating Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and appointing rollback-friendly heads of major overreaching federal agencies.

    So the question becomes: If the old guard of conservatism is really dead, which of its sacred cows are now actually going to be slaughtered? Other than immigration and trade, and perhaps foreign military interventionism (Trump’s stance on that is still unclear), what pieces of the old order are actually on the chopping block?

    • Severn

      I’m not sure what you mean by “European-style right-wing nationalism” but just about every variant of it has some history in America.

      The “traditional conservative orthodoxy on immigration and trade” was anti-immigration and pro-protectionism, from the Founding up until a few short years ago. Lincoln was a staunch protectionist and nationalist, as were all the Republican and most of the Democratic Presidents who followed him, up to and including Reagan.

    • IssacNewton

      We (the US) are a propositional nation. European Right-Wing nationalism tends to be about blood & soil (the Volk). I could see a Nationalism of US Liberty/Exceptionalism and one that is geared to the benefit of the existing American Polity. An European Right-Wing nationalism of Blood & Soil would be a disaster. We are way too racially and ethnically diverse for that, but can all pledge loyalty to the propositions our Founders layed out for us. The Democrats with their Race and Gender identity politics are much more Volk-like (e.g., La Rasa, BLM, etc.).

  • Brian B

    The problem is as conservatism has become more narrowly and rigidly defined it has come increasingly close to qualifying as an ideology, as leftism is.
    A political philosophy or set of values is open to debate and criticism and reforms and recoalesces around changed conditions while never losing sight of its core principles.
    An ideology demands fealty to its rigid ideas and if reality changes to make those ideas obsolete then, by God, we’ll just have to roll up our sleeves and deny reality.
    I have no desire to be an ideologue or associate with them.
    As James Burnham noted long ago they are the opposite of a conservative….at least they used to be.

  • Warren Dew

    The small government conservative movement gained the House, the Senate, and now the White House for the Republicans. That’s what we’ve achieved.

    I doubt most conservatives could care less whether Bannon uses the word. What we care about is what policies he helps put in place. So far, he and Trump are doing well.

    • TooTall7

      I hate to tell you this but You’re no longer a movement conservative and member of Conservative Inc. In good standing.

  • And How to Get It

    National Review Delenda Est…

  • And How to Get It

    I can hear Jonah Goldberg saying…”Can you get me off the hook Tom, for old times sake?”

  • And How to Get It

    “I never thought you were a bad consigliere, Tom. I thought Bill Kristol was a bad Don.”

  • And How to Get It

    Tom: “Do you know how they’re going to come at you?”
    Trump: “It’s going to be someone I trust.”

    • stephen duval

      And his name will rhyme with fence.

  • JoeS54

    I’m going to spell this out clearly for anyone who doesn’t understand where conservatism is going, and must go to become the dominant political philosophy:

    Within the borders of the US, very little changes for “conservatism”. Low taxes, reduced regulation, federalism, social issues, gun rights, etc. The only change there is fewer pipe dreams about repealing all entitlement programs, which is not going to happen.

    It is in the international arena where things must change to meet modern reality. That means trade, immigration, and foreign policy. There is no more Soviet Union. That means things like NATO and the UN are less vital to American interests, like it or not. “Free trade” as practiced since the end of the Cold War (often unilateral, as bribes to produce geopolitical goals) has been a complete disaster for the American people and economy, and the federal government has outright betrayed the people and the country on immigration by refusing to enforce the laws already on the books.

    It’s not complicated, and Trump has said the right things on most of those issues.

    • IssacNewton

      I think President Trump will need to craft a solution to China. We contained the Soviet’s and beat them in a logistical war where our growing productivity proved to be too much for their system.

      The Chinese have experienced amazing economic growth. Although, I tend to think it is intensive growth like the old Soviet Union. Put in massive amounts of capital (45% of the economy) and labor and you can have rapid growth for a few Decades. On a per capita basis the Chinese have the same income as the Russians. The key question is can they continue their 5% – 8% growth.

      If the answer is no, if they go the way of the Soviets and the Japanese, than the strategy run against the Soviets will work with the Chinese. Otherwise, we are in for very interesting times.

  • EA

    This author lost my respect when I actually looked up the Lincoln quote, which isn’t about conservatives (as is the implication), but is instead about public opinion.

    That, and there’s an obvious desire to dismiss without any rebuttal the substantive complaints raised by the NR/Commentary crowd about how Trump gets in his own way and would have a much stronger supportive base if there were something resembling a set of values that drove his priorities and actions.

  • doctorfixit

    Conservatism did not get the job done. Reagan expanded government more than any Democrat President since LBJ. Reagan signed off on the Kennedy Amnesty. Result – open borders. Don’t get me started on “Compassionate Conservatism” George W. Bush. No one can tell me what “conservatism” even means any more. All I know is, the Bushes, Karl Rove, John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan are not people I want running the country.

    • TooTall7

      Sorry doctorfixit but Reagan had a war to fight and a sick economy to heal. Furthermore he found himself having to reenergize his movement everytime he turned around as HW and Company hamstrung him at every turn they could get away with. I’m one of those who grant Reagan a great deal of latitude. As for when the security provisions finally arrived for Reagan’s amnesty it was enough to hire four additional agents! Not 4000 or even 400. Not even 40 but just four (Time magazine). Only then did Reagan realize he’d been had.

      As for the rest of your post I’m in absolute agreement.

    • IssacNewton

      I’m with Too Tall, Reagan defeated the Soviet Union and restarted the US Economy. He failed to stop the Administrative State or win the culture wars, but that was a bridge too far.

      Trump is an arrow at the heart of the Liberal Elite (Government Unions, Democrat Rich, Republican Rich, Most Media Outlets, and Colleges). He will detach them from the Administrative State while substantially reducing it. My guess is they will die without access to state power. Trump is winning the culture wars simply by pointing out the Liberal Elite have achieve no useful results. He successfully deconstructs the narrative they attempt to build around him.

      I do not think he can go further then that. A man with children from three wives, multiple affairs, and a “pussy-grabbing” background has a hard-time enforcing traditional morality. At least compared to the Democrat rappers he marries the mothers of children and is deeply concerned with the well-being of his children. Still, I am not sure what we can do here. The majority of Americans are not interested in keeping traditional Christian ethics. Individual desires are paramount. The main hope resides in their love of creating a safe world for their children to live and grow in.

  • Kenny A

    “blow holes through the walls of the administrative state and allow the people to govern again”

    A slogan so void of meaning it might have been invented by those enemies of the people, the elite conservatives.

    • Benshekel David Ben-Tzion

      Kind of like what us NeoCons have become, just a bunch of pointless idiots that no one respects anymore.

      In fact, the other day Bill Kristol and I were walking down the street and people just pointed and laughed at us.

      I can’t understand why no one takes us seriously anymore..

  • Benshekel David Ben-Tzion

    Excellent piece.

    Us NeoCons have been talking and are thinking of heading home to Israel because no one likes us anymore.

    Goyim are so ungrateful.

  • chrisinva

    Conservatism is not a “philosophy.” But conservatives must be philosophers.

    60 years ago Erik von Kuehneldt-Leddihn was arguing in National Review that conservatism was an “ideology.” That’s the opposite of philosophy but he held it to the end (he was a self-proclaimed Monarchist by the way).

    Mr. Porttteus is merely echoing Angelo Codevilla, who is actually well-versed in philosophy; Eric Voegelin, probably the greatest political philosopher of the last century, insisted that his writings not be used to “advocate” any particular political program. And Aquinas insists that “prudence” – which governs the other Cardinal Virtues – allows a great leeway for different particular approaches to social and political problems.

    But all conservatives have to agree with Augustine – that government is limited because it cannot achieve man’s highest good – salvation; and they must reject Marx, who insists that philosophy only observes the world (reality), while the point is, to change it (destroy reality).

    Conservatives of all stripes, from Monarchists to libertarians to free-marketers to Federalists to anti-Federalists — we all believe in limits. Leftists don’t. Power has no limits, we do. And so should government.

    From there, let a thousand flowers bloom.

  • Deplorable Me

    Damn the ideologues! Full speed ahead!!

  • JDL

    Excellent article! Conservatism has become whatever its beholders imagine that it should be. And repeated calls for ‘true conservatives’ is even less generally meaningful. Trump attracted 60M votes by stating what is for: lower taxes, increase defense, border control and immigrant law enforcement, etc. He was attacked for not being ‘conservative.’ The article explains why (and why those rejecting him from the right should now be ignored).

  • Osa

    Good elaboration of Decius’ original point on how Establishment-Conservatives have, for at least couple of decades now, accepted well-paid gig as professional-losers-clowns in the court of American (pseudo) intellectual “public debate.”
    I disagree that there are any fundamental problems with their “conservative principles” — including the Neo-Conservative idea of “America as Indispensable Nation” (combining American patriotism with smart globalism). The real issues are: their lack of interest in real people’s lives & in most practical matters – including politics – and, all too often, their lacking: courage to fight or even elementary integrity.
    I see Trump as a “common sense reactionary” who noticed that the unchallenged dominance of “progressive ideology” has produced grotesquely stupid policies – damaging American lives & threatening viability of American Republic. Because of his over-sized ego, Trump decided that he is the only man who has a chance to do something about these dangerous idiocies. And, so far, it does look like he might have been right about it.
    The specific Trump-policies like:
    – Cutting back SOME of the regulations & taxes that are chocking our economy
    – Stopping or at least significantly limiting large-scale “refugee”-immigration of un-vetted individuals and families imbued with hatred of and contempt for our values
    – Enforcing immigration laws
    – At least TRYING to improve safety as well as educational- & job-opportunists of American citizens living in the hellholes of inner-city ghettos, etc.
    are not particularly “radical.”
    But, the post-election amok & rabid reactions of Progressive Establishment (Media; DEMs; Deep State bureaucrats; RINOs; so called intellectuals – including Conservative, Inc.; Hollywood & educational-industrial-complex) indicate that Trump & his team are in for the fight of their (& our) lives.
    Let’s hope that all reasonable common sense Americans (Conservative, traditionally Liberal & even few exceptionally lucid Progressives) will join this fight on the side of sanity.

    • IssacNewton

      I would add reducing imports so the match US exports via a Border Tax. The border tax in turn will help fund a larger DOD and infrastructure spending.

      Second shrink the Administrative State and shift to School Choice. Hopefully, he can do to the Government Unions what Walker did in Wisconsin.

      But if our economic and productivity growth does not pick-up, at best we are like a declining Europe.

  • Kenny A

    “Conservatism, by contrast, is best understood…items on the conservative wish list.”

    If the definition offered in this paragraph is to be taken as the working definition, then for its purposes “conservatism” is essentially the (classical) liberal position which found its apotheosis in Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Reagan. Obviously, Mr. Bannon would like to replace Buckleyite conservatism with his Nationalist doctrine, which is the catechism and orthodoxy of this journal. But while the pre-Buckleyite strands of conservatism are excluded from this definition, they continue to offer alternatives to both the classical liberal and Nationalist positions. The Buckleyite classical liberal amalgam may well be played out, but it would be unsafe to conclude that ideas grounded in the “classical” conservatism of figures such as Burke, Kirk, and their modern heirs such as Oakeshott and Scruton, do not offer a better alternative than what Mr. Bannon proposes.

    • Matthew Kilburn

      If Reagan and Thatcher were the apotheosis, then Conservatism is in even worse shape than we thought. While it is true that both made improvements in their respective nations, the reality is that both the US and UK today look much more like the dream of post-national, a-theistic, liberal socialists than any kind of traditional Western society.

      • Kenny A

        Certainly the UK and the US do not resemble traditional Western society – assuming, of course, that by “traditional Western sociey”, you mean Christendom in the last generation before the Protestant Reformation.

        But on the other hand, both look much less like what you describe than do Sweden, Germany, or Portugal, so let’s not be too hasty to dismiss the impact on the course of modern history of Baroness Thatcher and her American understudy.

  • eorann

    ah…anonymous wonks…..heheh……conservatives just won the biggest upset election in history and this idiot thinks we need a make over. the left is dead. Over. Finished. preterite. all they can do is look for the polish and sht on it.

  • TempoNick

    The more bureaucrats there are, the more they need to do. The more they do, the more messes they create.

    Drain the Swamp!

  • taxonomy101

    The category “conservative” is peculiar and unfortunate as it is rhetorically set against so-called “liberal,” thus playing into a false Hegelian/Marxist right-left dialectical analysis, allowing liberals-progressives to cloak their revolutionary totalitarian aims in the language of “expanding” opportunity in the face of so-called conservative-reactionary opposition.

    In the context of the polity of the United States, allowing such an easy victory to the so-called progressives gives away not only the store, but also the stockroom, and supply chain by accepting the political premises of the French rather than American Revolution. Specifically, conservative-liberal dialectical politics concedes the entirely anti-American Revolutionary premise that the role of government is the management of relationship between estates (classes) through the crafting of freedoms (rights and privileges). As such, conservative ideology is quickly reduced to a statist doctrine that “conserves” freedoms “as if” they were liberties.

    Freedoms are writs securing scopes of actions; liberties are inherent dignities, inalienable because their source is independent of governmental or any other particularly human agency.

    The notion that individuals are at liberty to constitute a society for the morally enlightened pursuit of the social and economic goods that define the wealth of nations is the fundamental, revolutionary synthesis of the Virginians, and other founders, of the American Revolutionary movement. That synthesis was made possible, uniquely, by the transformation of the identity of English elites from colonial exploiters to into a “nation” (people, of folk) made possible through the rise of an indigenous self-sustaining economy.

    In the modern consumerist society, fostered to a large extent by Regan’s “consumer” lead economic recovery strategy for lessening government controls while using fiscal polices to engender the formation of private capital, it is far from clear that the American Revolutionary notion of social-economic opportunity morally resonates in a collective culture in which freedoms are just one of a number of social services delivered through the political agency of the institutional state.

    It is far from clear whether Trump will engage the project of social-cultural transformation needed to revitalize the American Revolutionary vision or not. Certainly, institutional conservatives (aka movement conservatives) are not only unwilling but radically unable to engage such issues.

  • OldGyrene

    John Podhoretz…what’s the subtitle of last year’s book? (Hillary Clinton Will Be the Next President of the United State…)
    What a great example of how wrong-headed the NeverTrumpers are.
    So far, John P has managed to pick the right daddy. Other than that, he’s been (arrogantly) wrong on just about everything.
    Did well on Jeopardy though.

  • JHX

    More excellent work!

    The “conservatism” of Jonah and Shapiro, as well as the “libertarianism” of CATO and the Koch brothers, is just a self serving whitewash. Conservatism Inc was compromised by money and power. Their publications and think tanks now exist simply to promote mindless globalism and to shout down anyone who disagrees.

    In an effort to grab a quick buck they have sold out the country and the movement. They “conserve” nothing of cultural or societal value and for this reason they have been rejected by Americans, outright.

    They are like the hollow left in the sense that they have so offended the sensibilities of ordinary people that their job has been reduced to rationalizing away terrible policies that are beneficial to wealthy special interests and dressing them up in the flag. These people on the right reached their zenith under president GW Bush, and their failure is now complete for the whole world to see.

    Trump’s pragmatic conservative style is refreshing and exactly what the moment calls for. If he hadn’t arrived to save the right from itself, it would go down to the pit screaming incoherently about Burke and pounding its chest for no particular reason whatsoever.

    Again, thansk for the article. You people do good work here. Thankless work, which is always what is required most in dark times.