America is currently engaged in a regime-level struggle that will preserve or destroy the purpose that has defined it. On one side stands the American way of life, characterized by republican self-government and the habits of mind and character necessary to sustain it. On the other side stands identity politics, which demands the perpetual punishment and humiliation of so-called oppressor groups combined with the unquestioned rule of the so-called marginalized. These two regimes are in conflict and cannot coexist.
The regime of identity politics has already conquered nearly all of America’s major institutions and dominates the moral high ground. The universities and schools, Fortune 500 companies, much of the media and image-making industries, Big Tech, and the administrative state are put to use waging war on the American way of life. Many of these institutions attack, ban, and slander everything for which America stands, alleging that the rule of law is racist; that freedom of speech is white supremacist; that the family is misogynist and homophobic; and that anything short of open borders is xenophobic. The nation cannot survive this trajectory.
But the conquest of these institutions does not prove that the arc of history bends left. Rather, it has occurred largely because of the weakness of the opposition. Mainstream conservatism today cannot reverse these potentially fatal trends and cannot conserve the American way of life because it lacks clear understanding of its own purpose. In its purposelessness over the last generation, it too often outsourced its thinking to economists, while allowing the Left to define its conscience—and its culture. This mistake will prove disastrous if not corrected.
With some notable exceptions, much of the conservative establishment came to view the pinnacle of human life as private consumption and personal license, defining national health by GDP growth. It did not understand that this perspective led not only to spiritual enervation, the weakening of patriotic sentiment, and the demotion of political liberty but also to the creation of a new oligarchic elite openly hostile to the nation.
The will to fight cannot exist without real purpose, which is why many establishment conservatives simply fear the Left while also secretly craving its prestige and praying to its gods. Many have been shamed into becoming radically feminist, making them incapable of adequately defending the differences between men and women, let alone conjuring the manliness necessary to defend borders. Still others may soon support identity politics, no longer willing to defend either genuine standards of merit or equality under the law, the central principle of our country.
Intellectual and moral confusion on the Right helped accelerate the Left’s fanaticism. Once the party of the working class, the Left now stands for identity politics, which demands the perpetual punishment of, and open hatred and discrimination against, so-called oppressor groups while anointing so-called marginalized groups as pure, blameless, and deserving of unquestioned rule. This ideology requires the destruction of America’s foundations, including freedom of speech and the equal rule of laws. The Left, using its institutional powers, forces Americans to make a choice: Comply and submit to this ideology, or become a hated, persecuted enemy, denied employment and civil rights, deemed worthy of harassment and even violent assault. These doctrines and tactics, unworthy of a great and just nation, cannot but produce hatred and conflict, and will bring economic and scientific decline. They will either lead to tyranny or they will provoke genuine resistance.
In the struggle between these two regimes, institutional power and political momentum currently favor the Left. The Right, at present, is not up to the fight. A new Right is needed, one that understands itself as rooted in the noble cause of the American Revolution—unabashed and zealous in its determination to restore political liberty and politics itself.
A restored Right must take two broad approaches. First, its immediate energies must focus on disrupting and weakening the Left’s institutional centers of power. Only parity of power can moderate the Left’s fanaticism. A new Right needs a tougher, more sober approach to the Left’s assets: the adversarial press and media, Big Tech oligopolies, and corrupt universities. This approach requires new legal strategies on issues that the professionalized Right is too scared to touch; bold new actions in the states to liberate them from the Left’s consolidation of powers; and large-scale activism. New strategies are needed for a new world.
Second, and most important, the Right needs to reclaim its mental and moral toughness, and that can come only from reviving its purpose—the preservation of the American way of life. The Right must be morally unflinching in refuting the Left’s ideologies. It must speak clearly and confidently about the effects of radical feminism, “antiracism,” and globalism. It must be prepared to protect its children, its property, and its standards from encroachments. And it must ground its efforts firmly in America’s central principle: equal protection under the law, without exception. This is the basis for forming a common good that the majority of Americans still desire. But achieving it will require that the Right reinvent its political party. Unless it does so, there will be no future political victories—and no country left to defend. Ultimately, this is much more than the cause of conservatism. It is the cause of America itself.
The Claremont Institute’s Center for the American Way of Life in Washington, D.C. will be the home of this reinvigorated and restored conservatism.
Editor’s note: This article first appeared at RealClearPolicy.