A Coalition of the Reasoning
Lee Edwards’s review of Reappraising the Right: The Past & Future of American Conservatism, by George Nash, in the current National Review is certainly timely:
Nash ends his thoughtful reappraisal asking “Whither conservatism?” and responding that the following points should be kept in mind. Modern American conservatism is a “coalition with many points of origin and diverse tendencies.” By the end of the Reagan presidency, there were five distinct impulses: libertarianism, traditionalism, anti-Communism, neoconservatism, and the interfaith Religious Right. Reagan gave “each faction a seat at the table and a sense of having arrived.”
Conservative scholars have now noted the rise of “populist” or majoritarian conservatives, accompanied by a weakening of the anti-statist ideology that had long united conservatives. As the conservative universe has expanded it has also divided into subgroups like the paleocons, theocons, crunchy cons, immicons, and Leocons (disciples of Leo Strauss). I cannot resist suggesting another category–con cons (constitutional conservatives). The possibility of a coalition’s dissolving is always there, Nash admits, but the dissolution of the conservative coalition can be avoided if conservatives remember “the ecumenism of Reagan,” and avoid the temptation to “retreat into a fatal passivity” induced by disillusionment or despair.
It’s a bit odd to see those factions broken out as “distinct impulses.” From my perspective, they’re all necessary components of a coherent conservative political philosophy: A libertarian inclination rooted in a due appreciation of tradition will inherently incorporate opposition to big government (anti-Communism) with an understanding of social responsibility (neoconservatism) that is, itself, rooted in religious faith. Not only should those who identify more strongly with one of those “tendencies” be willing to work together, they should acknowledge that they rely upon each other as counterpointing ballasts on both the movement and the nation. Put differently, in a different context earlier in the essay:
The one thing, Nash argues, that has enabled the nation to overcome all its economic, social, political, and military crises is the people’s “Christian religious belief.” While conceding that America is a modern nation, Nash concludes that its modern elements must be conjoined with what Russell Kirk called the “permanent things”–things of the spirit and the institutions that sustain them. Without this fusion, “the American experiment may fail.”
Without the elevation of notions of freedom and individual liberty to overarching principle, the ponderous weight of “permanent things” can lure humanity into self-contradictory oppression and justify self-defeating expediency (think mandated conversion). But without the substance of transcendent foundations, insistence on the inviolability of the individual conscience spins off into solipsism and nothing has firm justification.