Fight for the right

A symposium on the future of American conservatism

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Sohrab Ahmari
Modern American conservatism is composed of three distinct traditions: libertarian economics, foreign-policy hawkism and social traditionalism. This “fusion” was born of a contingent historical moment, the Cold War, when the Soviet threat forced different social classes and their ideological spokesmen to band together in common cause. There was no eternal principle demanding that these groups tie their destinies together — a fact that became apparent with Donald Trump’s rise, which divided the three camps along various axes of alliance and enmity.

Fusionism is dead. Well and truly dead. While folk-libertarianism remains strong among the GOP…

Sohrab Ahmari

Modern American conservatism is composed of three distinct traditions: libertarian economics, foreign-policy hawkism and social traditionalism. This “fusion” was born of a contingent historical moment, the Cold War, when the Soviet threat forced different social classes and their ideological spokesmen to band together in common cause. There was no eternal principle demanding that these groups tie their destinies together — a fact that became apparent with Donald Trump’s rise, which divided the three camps along various axes of alliance and enmity.

Fusionism is dead. Well and truly dead. While folk-libertarianism remains strong among the GOP base, the pro-corporate variety on offer from the Washington think tanks has little purchase with people who oppose open borders and often find themselves on the sharp end of Big Tech censorship. The libertarians are often at odds with the big-government-loving hawks, who in turn are usually indifferent, at best, to the concerns of the social conservatives. An emerging fourth camp of unchurched populists doesn’t neatly agree with any of the traditional three.

But I would go even further. Having spent more than a decade toiling in conservative journalism, a period during which my own affections shifted from Wall Street Journal-style secular neoconservatism to religious conservatism, I’ve come to conclude that each of the strands, in itself, is deeply flawed. What they share is a kind of idealism — expressed, above all, in a commitment to “liberty” — that in practice legitimates various forms of private tyranny and undermines the very goods they claim to cherish.

This is most apparent in the case of pro-corporate libertarianism, which overlooks vast power differentials in our actually existing political economy to pretend that it is right and just when firms utterly subjugate their workers and consumers, because, hey, you can always get another job in a free labor market or build your own bank/credit-card company/social-media giant. The liberty of the libertarian is the bondage of the worker-consumer.

Of the hawks, not much need be said: In the name of “democracy,” they plunged vast swaths of already-sensitive regions like the Mideast and North Africa into civil war and stateless terror. All along, America’s domestic infrastructure and human capacity crumbled; social divisions widened. Finally, the social conservatives preached church, family and community, but without recognizing that these things require a substrate of material support to thrive.

All three groups feign that our profoundly unequal social and political arrangements are the “natural” state of society, not the result of a thousand laws and state-backed arrangements. All three prioritize airy abstractions over material reality to a frightening degree. All three have wrought generational failure. Insofar as conservatism implies conserving the current trajectory of things, it must be discarded in favor of some other mode of politics, some new formation as yet without name.

Sohrab Ahmari is a contributing editor of the American Conservative and a visiting fellow at Franciscan University’s Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life. He is writing a book about privatized tyranny in the United States.

Jonah Goldberg

Addressing the question of whether now is the time for counterrevolution rather than conservation, I will take “counterrevolution” to mean the idea that all-out political and cultural war is what the moment requires, not the alleged conservative gradualism or restraint that those crying out for such war detest.

(There are a variety of factions that march under different banners — nationalists, populists, integralists, MAGA. And while there are meaningful differences between these troupes, the shadows of their banners overlap like the shaded part of a Venn diagram this idea of counterrevolutionary war. For brevity’s sake I’ll call them the “war party.”)

I think this framing is part of the problem. I am all in favor of counterrevolutionary war where necessary. I am also in favor of conservation — or, simply, conservatism — where necessary. I see no inconsistency here. Indeed, I share many, though certainly not all, of the war party’s concerns and aims. The difference fundamentally is a question of prudence, which Edmund Burke tells us “is not only first in rank of the virtues, political and moral, but she is the director, the regulator, the standard of them all.”

The war party disagrees passionately, and their passion has caused many to discard all pretense at prudence. They argue that the liberalism at the heart of Anglo-American conservatism — and Anglo-American culture generally — should be interred in the dustbin of history alongside prudence itself. By my lights, this is madness and folly. Our conservatism is hardly just a synonym for classical liberalism; it has always sought to conserve the Anglo-American love of liberty — both political and economic — and respect for the rule of law. These commitments are prior to the legal constructs created to defend them, philosophically and politically, but also historically. For instance, centuries before the Fourth Amendment was written, the English believed a man’s home was his castle.

This doesn’t make conservatives “right-liberals,” as the war party claims. But hostility to this belief does make the war party right-wing populists or nationalists. They argue that the state should pick winners and losers — in the economy, the culture, and in political discourse. Again, as a prudential matter, the state can do a little of this while still staying true to conservative principles. Big Tech, for instance, can be regulated in accordance with the First Amendment.

But like all populists, the war party rejects all impediments to their will to power as inherently illegitimate or corrupt, because they start from the premise that they are right in all questions of morality and policy. Thus, they embrace the “logic” of burning the village to save it. This approach fails on every level.

I’ll forgo arguing why liberalism, constitutionalism, economic liberty, etc. are worth conserving in the hope readers will see this as self-evident. I still believe that conservatives are charged with the duty to conserve our revolutionary accomplishments. Instead, I’ll simply note that the war party’s approach fails prudentially — i.e., tactically and strategically — as a political project. It’s nice that they align themselves with the libertarian spirit opposed to vaccine mandates and the like. But such natural libertarianism is an unnatural ally for their political goals. This is not the reserve army ready to impose some theocratic “Highest Good” regime they believe it is.

The war party has deluded itself into thinking it has the numbers on its side. This gives its members and advocates the unwarranted confidence to join similar radicals on the left in their war on the safeguards of the liberal order, in the fantastical hope that once the safeguards are shattered, they will be able to rule the ash heap. That’s not conservatism, it’s radicalism.

Jonah Goldberg is editor in chief of the Dispatch, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times and the author, most recently, of Suicide of the West.

Douglas Murray

A fracture of the international right may seem minor given everything that is going on right now. But it is worth loitering over.

Because in recent years an interesting divide has grown among conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic. On one side are the Cold War warriors and their successors, who have continued to view Vladimir Putin’s Russia as a strategic threat. Meanwhile, a new generation has arrived at a different view.

While the West has deranged itself with assaults on its own history, on biology and much more, an assortment of conservatives has come to see Putin as some kind of counterweight. A bulwark — even an admirable corrective — to the madness of our own societies.

As a guest on Steve Bannon’s talk show recently said: “The Russian people still know which bathroom to use.” Of course, knowing which bathroom to use isn’t everything. Certainly it is no basis for a foreign policy. But such shorthand has become commonplace.

There are those, for instance, who admire Putin for his embrace of the Orthodox Church. Why do our own political leaders not stand up for the Christian faith in such a sincere and uncynical way? they wonder.

On it goes. As the West goes woke-mad, Putin doesn’t even recognize the most basic rights of gay people. And as our political and cultural elites turn our own history into one of shame, Putin presents a version of Russian history filled only with pride.

At the furthest extreme is America’s tiny white-nationalist fringe, such as those at the America First Political Action Conference at which Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene spoke at the end of February, days after Russia invaded Ukraine. That conference was made up of wannabe fascists who follow an especially repugnant little antisemite called Nick Fuentes. The crowd actually chanted “Putin, Putin, Putin” before the ignoramus congresswoman took to the stage. She pretends to have heard none of this.

More significant figures also tread close to this. In the immediate aftermath of the invasion, Donald Trump made comments which sounded ludicrously admiring of the “genius” Putin. Of the “peacekeeping” force Putin was threatening to send, Trump said that it was “the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen.”

This has become a theme on part of the American and European right. We are weak, Putin is strong. We are dumb, he is smart. We obsess over stupid minutiae, Putin gets the big picture.

At a conservative conference in Florida last November a fellow panelist compared the US military’s ridiculous “intersectional” recruitment ads with the crazy-tough-robots recruitment ads for the Russian army. As I pointed out then, such conservatives unwittingly fall for part of the Kremlin’s propaganda. Yes, our societies have problems. Yes, at times we can seem almost unsurvivably stupid. But it does not follow that we have to drool over the Kremlin’s version of itself.

Douglas Murray is associate editor of The Spectator and author of The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity.

Jacob Heilbrunn

In his novel The Prime Minister, the fifth in the Palliser series, Anthony Trollope has Plantagenet Palliser, the Duke of Omnium, enunciate his political credo. The Duke explains to Phineas Finn, who recently defended him in the House of Commons from the charge that he tried to purchase a seat for one of his supporters, that the belief that “political virtue is all on one side is both mischievous and absurd. We allow ourselves to talk in that way because indignation, scorn, and sometimes, I fear, vituperation, are the fuel with which the necessary heat of debate is maintained.” Finn responds, “There are some men who are very fond of poking the fire.”

Just so. Over the past several decades, there are too many men, and a few women, in the Republican Party who have become enamored of poking the fire, whenever and wherever possible. The embers of dispute and rancor and vitriol that they have stirred up threaten to become an inferno that leaves nothing but a denuded political landscape behind. But at a moment when the West faces its greatest peril in the form of a revanchist Russia, it is high time to lay down the pokers, reinstall the fire grate and cock an attentive ear to Planty Pal’s musings, at once sagacious and melancholy, about the divide between liberalism and conservatism.

Indeed, the West has received a tremendous jolt back into reality as Vladimir Vladimirovich ravages Ukraine, seeking to create his very own personal evil empire across swathes of Europe. He may not have intended it, but in giving any sentient person a good case of the collywobbles, comrade Putin has revived the alliance between Europe and America, and thank goodness for that.

Far too many conservatives have become besotted with Putinism or Orbanism or whatever other “ism” is supposed to result in a hazy national conservatism, as though some chimerical nostalgia for the Romanov or Habsburg dynasties is just the ticket for America. The resemblance with the political pilgrims of yesteryear who saw the future in the Soviet Union or some other squalid dictatorship masquerading as a socialist paradise is hard to gainsay. Today’s chuckleheads — can there be any other word for them? — heard what they wanted to hear and saw what they wanted to see in the East.

If conservatives want to regain their mojo, they should start by forgetting the Hungarian rhapsody. It’s time to go West. Posthaste. The right stuff has been there all along.

Jacob Heilbrunn is the editor of the National Interest and a Spectator columnist.

Roger Kimball

By disposition, conservatives distrust government. They are for “limited government” and worry about the coercive power of the state intruding upon individual liberty. But these days, some conservatives tell us that, when they finally get their hands on the levers of power, they will be energetic in exercising them to achieve their (presumably conservative) ends. Is that a contradiction or indication of hypocrisy? Maybe. Or maybe it is just a sign of how deeply anti-conservative sentiment has burrowed into the tissues of our society.

No doubt I would prefer the policies promulgated by a conservative administration to the policies we are saddled with now. But my low opinion of human nature inclines me to distrust government power no matter who is in charge.

Ronald Reagan is out of fashion these days, but I think he was right when he observed that “democracy is less a system of government than it is a system to keep government limited, unintrusive: A system of constraints on power to keep politics and government secondary to the important things in life, the true sources of value found only in family and faith.”

Whether what Reagan says is true of democracy itself is something that we might, with Tocqueville, and with sadness, want to question. Too often democracy has been prey to deformations that encourage rather than retard the growth of government. That indeed was part of what the founders had to wrangle/contend with as they combed through the graveyard of history’s failed republics in their efforts to frame a more robust system of government.

There is, I acknowledge, an inescapable irony. The founders, to be sure, were deeply concerned to protect individual and states’ rights against the prerogatives of the federal government. For example, James Madison, in Federalist 45, explicitly declared that the powers delegated by the Constitution to the federal government were “few and defined,” having to do mostly with “external objects” like war, peace and foreign commerce. The powers delegated to the individual states, on the other hand, were “numerous and indefinite,” extending, said Madison, to “all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.” That is a prescription for the division of power we would do well to resuscitate.

Still, it is worth acknowledging that the Founders, although deeply concerned with limiting the sphere of government power, were also concerned with forging a strong and efficient federal government. The Federalist Papers, after all, took aim at the abundant anti-Federalist commentary that opposed the proposed Constitution precisely because, so thought the anti-Federalists, it arrogated too much power to a central authority. But just this, the Founders argued, was the price of creating and maintaining that “more perfect union” of which the Constitution speaks. “The vigour of government,” Alexander Hamilton wrote in the very first of the Federalist papers, “is essential to the security of liberty.” The goal, he put it later, is “a happy mean” which combines “the energy of government with the security of private rights.”

So much for acknowledging the requirements of “the vigour of government.” I promise not to say another word in its favor. For our problem today is not to assure the “energy of government,” but quite the opposite: to redress the balance and to reestablish that “happy mean” Hamilton spoke of by asserting the legitimate jurisdiction of private rights against a rampant and engorging bureaucratic Leviathan.

Roger Kimball is the editor and publisher of the New Criterion, publisher of Encounter Books and a Spectator columnist and contributing editor.

Nate Hochman

Libertarians and conservatives “share a detestation of collectivism,” wrote Russell Kirk in 1981. “They set their faces against the totalist state and the heavy hand of bureaucracy. That much is obvious enough.” But he asked “what else… conservatives and libertarians profess in common.” “The answer to that question is simple: nothing. Nor will they ever have. To talk of forming a league or coalition between these two is like advocating a union of ice and fire.”

On a practical level, Kirk may have been overstating his case. At the time that he was writing, a strategic alliance between libertarians and conservatives made a good deal of sense. Communism abroad and progressive collectivism at home were the great challenges of the day. But this was — or at least, it should have been — a marriage of convenience. The “fusionist” idea, which holds that conservatives and libertarians could be compatible on an ideological level, was always a step and a half too far.

Fusionism’s philosophical progenitor, Frank Meyer, presented conservatives with an admittedly attractive proposition: Libertarian means (individual freedom) are essential for conservative or traditionalist ends (virtue). The essence of this ideological compact — indeed, the organizing principle of fusionism itself — is that virtue must be freely chosen. Man “must be free to choose his worst as well as his best end,” Meyer wrote in In Defense of Freedom. “Unless he can choose his worst, he cannot choose his best.” In practice, as he explained in a 1962 column for National Review, “the simulacrum of virtuous acts brought about by the coercion of superior power, is not virtue, the meaning of which resides in the free choice of good over evil.”

Can virtue exist in the absence of free choice? From the conservative perspective, the answer is: It’s complicated. Liberty and virtue are inextricably intertwined. Free will is written into the Judeo-Christian anthropology, beginning with Adam and Eve’s rendezvous with the tree of knowledge. But as Kirk wrote, “the ruinous failing” of libertarians “is their fanatic attachment to a simple solitary principle — that is, to the notion of personal freedom as the whole end of the civil social order, and indeed of human existence.” In practice, fusionism is no different. Whatever name it goes by, a politics that takes the autonomy of the choosing individual as its first principle inevitably degrades the natural limits and constraints on human action that conservatives rightly see as necessary for freedom to prosper. In this sense, fusionism inevitably reverts to libertarian ends as well as means. For conservatives, this is not a brokered agreement but terms of surrender.

Freedom matters. We should resist the effort, now popular in some corners of the right, to remake American conservatism in its European counterpart’s image. But an authentically American conservatism is rooted in the traditions, customs and ways of life that are unique to this shared home of ours. We are not an “idea,” nor an abstract compact of individual rights-bearers, but a living, breathing political community. And communities require stewardship.

Virtue is not arrived at through mere individual contemplation and choice; it is formed. And it is formed by civic institutions that take a proactive interest in the character of the people. In the traditional understanding of self-government, society had “an obligation to educate [citizens] into what used to be called ‘republican virtue,’” Irving Kristol wrote in his essential “Pornography, Obscenity and the Case for Censorship.” This requires caring “not merely about the machinery of democracy but about the quality of life that this machinery might generate.”

Particularly in our contemporary civic deterioration, self-government also requires a politics that takes limits at least as seriously as liberties. Fusionism has it backwards. Virtue and order are a crucial prerequisite to freedom — not the other way around.

Nate Hochman is an ISI Fellow at National Review and a Robert Novak Journalism Fellow for 2021-22.

Stephanie Slade

To suggest that fusionism was a mistake is often to betray one’s confusion about the term. Misconceptions notwithstanding, “fusionism” was never meant to refer to an alliance of convenience between disparate groups (religious traditionalists and economic libertarians, say). Instead it was a nickname, bestowed by L. Brent Bozell, Jr., for the philosophical synthesis advanced by his friend and intellectual adversary Frank Meyer in the 1950s and 1960s.

Meyer’s synthesis had a few parts. Normatively, he said that both Judeo-Christian virtue and freedom from coercion (whether carried out by a bandit or by an agent of the state) are goods to be cherished and protected. Positively, he observed that they need each other: Freedom “is a necessary political condition of a virtuous society,” he wrote, while at the same time, “free individualism uninformed by moral value rots at its core and soon brings about conditions that pave the way for surrender to tyranny.”

Historically, Meyer noted that the American founding was rooted in these dual commitments to individual liberty and traditional moral authority; thus, to be a faithful conservative in the American context necessarily means working to preserve them. Practically he argued that the best way to organize a society so as to preserve freedom and virtue is by tasking government with the defense of people’s basic rights — nothing more — and by tasking the people, thus freed, with responsibility for pursuing the higher things in life.

By returning to its roots, we can see that fusionism is a synthesis of freedom and virtue — and that rejecting fusionism is likely to involve an implicit rejection of one or the other. Indeed, individual liberty itself seems to have lost its luster for some new proponents of muscular government on the political right, the more honest of whom have ceased to identify as conservatives at all. Since the left has abandoned any pretense of caring about our rights, these “post-liberals” insist, we have no choice but to do the same to them. (At least they’re forthright about what the anti-fusionist project truly entails!)

But Meyer knew what the post-liberals have forgotten: that “the power of the state rests in the hands of men as subject to the effects of original sin as those they govern.” Entrusting government to do anything more than protect basic rights — and empowering it, in the extreme case, to impose its vision of the good on all of society — throws open the door to potentially catastrophic abuse. Power corrupts, and humans are corruptible. Fighting fire with fire is still playing with fire.

Stephanie Slade is a senior editor at Reason magazine.

Rachel Bovard

On the American right today, economics trumps all else. While conservatism has always been bedeviled by the tension between economic science and traditional, family-focused values, the last four decades have witnessed a decided shift toward embracing economics as the sole indicator of a successful society. Those who create wealth, in theory and in practice, are accorded the closest thing to nobility an egalitarian society will tolerate. And indeed the American free market remains the most powerful lever the world has to erase class, poverty, and privilege in the equal pursuit of opportunity.

But a country which too eagerly measures its success in gross domestic product or the preferences of consumers can easily neglect other important indicators: the state of the American family, the costs of globalization, communities ripped apart by poverty and opioid abuse, the imposition of an informal social hierarchy and the erasure of individual agency, and a concentrated marketplace where corporations wield unprecedented power over speech and communications. Interpreting our lives and communities too narrowly through a strictly economic lens cannot account for either a subjective or very real discontent that arises even among economic abundance.

Yet this is where the right finds itself, squarely in the center of a cognitive dissonance between the market ideology of consumer preferences and their reality. Pew Research reports that Americans asked to choose between “financial stability” and “moving up the income ladder” prefer the former by more than ten to one. But most of our right-leaning politicians obsess only about the latter.

What we on the right appear to have missed in our modern emphasis is what the philosopher Wilhelm Röpke called a “humane economy,” one which takes into account the full flourishing of the human being and in which economic freedom and society’s values aren’t in conflict but are mutually reinforcing. A free economy depends on sturdy institutions and strong families, and the social and economic liberty a market provides is required for true freedom of choice and action.

But such a balance takes work. Perhaps more importantly, it requires vigilance. The market does not exist a priori, sprung up from some Hayekian fever dream. It reflects the policies and parameters our policymakers set for it. And while the left would exert too heavy a hand, the right’s refusal to exert any hand at all has led to unsustainable market concentration which distorts incentives and traps consumers; to offshoring policies that gutted once-stable sectors of the US economy and left the country vulnerable to the tiniest of global supply-chain disruptions; to an immigration policy which replaces American workers in middle-class jobs while lowering median wages.

Conservatives have always believed in a government with limits. A function of that limited state is to clear and protect the space in which our markets, associations and value systems interact. But it also has a duty to shepherd forth a market which takes into account both individuals and the modern economy, with all its benefits and possibilities. The right must restore this balance.

Rachel Bovard is senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute.

Richard Reinsch

Since its postwar rise, the American conservative movement has staked its reputation on defending the free market as an abiding principle. Conservatives pointed to the liftoff in the American economy caused by the Reagan tax revolution and the deregulation of heavily controlled parts of the economy. Less government and less regulation were better for the American economy. The left disagreed with this fundamental axiom of conservative wisdom. Now, surprisingly, many on the right have joined them.

Something obviously changed in the post-Cold War period. China’s entry to the World Trade Organization in 2001 resulted in the so-called China Shock, or the loss of 15 to 20 percent of manufacturing jobs in America. Global commerce rewarded certain skill sets generously, bringing dramatic wealth gains to tech, finance and upper-level management in highly productive companies. But these same elites have showed indifference to American culture, mismanaged foreign policy and miscalculated China’s political condition. Americans also struggled under the weight of the financial crisis, which was followed by almost a decade of paltry wage gains.

In 2018 Senator Marco Rubio argued in the Atlantic, “There was once a path to a stable and prosperous life in America that has since closed off.” Economic commentator Oren Cass observed that “a significant share of the population, perhaps even a majority, has seen no gains at all and may now be going backward.” Both statements are belied by the facts. But they seem true based on certain pieces of evidence. The belief, however, that federal bureaucrats, managing our economy even more actively than they do presently, will improve economic outcomes seems unlikely.

Take Cass’s extreme claim about wage decline. In a debate with Cass in National Review, labor expert Scott Winship noted that from 1973 to 2018, hourly wages grew by between 7 and 13 percent for any given decile of the bottom 50 percent of male earners. More robust wage growth is wanted here, but that is hardly a decline. Complicating things further, this was also a period where women entered the workforce in large numbers, thus increasing labor supply and lowering its price.

Likewise, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wages for average workers over the last three decades have increased 34 percent. Again, more growth is needed. But the correct treatment is to increase the opportunities for broad-based economic growth, not to revive industrial policy, wage subsidies, and labor unions, as many of the populists advocate. That economy would be built on a retread of progressive ideas employed for conservative cultural and family policy ends.

The prescription offered by many economic populists also misses the moment we are in. Before the pandemic, there were more unfilled jobs than jobseekers. This condition has only increased as our economy regains post-Covid footing, with two jobs available for every unemployed person. Many job openings are in construction, trucking and manufacturing, where we are told real opportunity rests. However, large numbers of men choose idleness: one in eight prime-age men is unemployed.

The real problem here is not a rigged “neoliberal” economy, but a welfare transfer payments system that finances laziness, with negative consequences in the lives of the unemployed, creating an overall drag on the economy.

Free markets are what delivers real American greatness, not the Department of Labor.

Richard Reinsch is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

Josh Hammer

In the four decades since the founding of the Federalist Society in 1982, the conservative legal movement has made great strides in recasting the federal and state judiciaries in its image.

The Society is enormously popular on leading law-school campuses and has sent many of its leading lights into the federal judiciary. Numerous sitting Republican senators, some of them former Supreme Court clerks, came up through the Society’s ranks. Perhaps most remarkable, given the Society’s humble origins, five justices, the majority of the sitting Supreme Court, would identify as some sort of constitutional “originalist.”

Yet despite these marches through the institutions, conservatives — social and traditionalist conservatives, in particular — have never been less at ease with the current state of the “conservative legal movement.” That tension was highlighted in the aftermath of Trump-appointed justice Neil Gorsuch’s turncoat performance in the 2020 Title VII case of Bostock v. Clayton County. The case, in which a majority ruled that Civil Rights Act protections applied in instances of gay and transgender discrimination, prompted Missouri senator Josh Hawley to pronounce “the end of the conservative legal movement, or the conservative legal project, as we know it.” Subsequently I published an essay in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy proposing that the right adopt a jurisprudence of “common good originalism.” And Harvard law professor Adrian Vermeule has published a new book on “common good constitutionalism.”

What gives? Despite the aforementioned institutional and methodological successes, a sober, empirical assessment of the past four decades paints an ambiguous picture of substantive conservative success in US courthouses. It is simply not obvious how many true doctrinal victories conservatives might be able to claim have emerged from the conservative legal movement’s credentialing pipeline. Some areas, such as gun rights, stand out. In other “culture war” areas, such as religious liberty, we have played to a draw (though we cannot seem to go further). On foundational issues that helped galvanize the Federalist Society’s founders, such as abortion, legal conservatives have (to date) been famously unsuccessful. On even abstruse libertarian-centric issues, such as the administrative law bugaboo of “Chevron deference,” the movement has not delivered.

By now, it should be obvious: spouting platitudes about the various stripes of liberal proceduralism is simply not enough. Given the current morass — and against the powerful upstream currents of condescension and scorn from those dutiful foot soldiers who would plead “Give us one more justice!” — creative thinking is required from the younger generation of legal conservatives.

Structurally, curricular reform in the legal academy is desperately needed — legal education must be reoriented toward the Bible, natural and Roman law, and the other substantive precepts underpinning the English common-law tradition. And the libertarians must step aside. Now is not the time for libertinism and radical individualism, but for consolidation and communitarianism. The time is now for a political economy of “common good capitalism” and its natural jurisprudential corollary, common-good originalism. Only by recovering the substantively informed, “morally thick,” more nationalist jurisprudence of Alexander Hamilton, John Marshall and Joseph Story will we decisively right the “conservative legal movement” ship, forestalling insidious future libertarian encroachment and delivering results for our fellow conservative “deplorables.”

Josh Hammer is opinion editor at Newsweek.

Heather Mac Donald

Since the 1980s, conservatives have warned about the academic left’s “deconstruction” of Western culture. The fetishization of race and sex was shrinking our inheritance to a cartoonish morality play, they alleged. Academic identity politics would not stay put; its foundational conceits would migrate into the world at large.

Such warnings had no effect. Corporations, law firms, banks, tech companies, publishers, museums, orchestras and theater troupes now routinely denounce the alleged racial oppression that is said to be endemic to the United States in particular, and to the West more broadly.

Conservatives have responded in generalized terms: “The left is dividing us! It is betraying the ideal of judging people by the content of their character!” But what is going on is more specific than a generalized strategy of divide and conquer. What is going on is a war on whites. A news story need merely point out that a CEO, say, is white to taint him as a presumptive racist. A police officer identified in the press as white is a marked man.

The same method works for institutions and even ideas. Observe that a European tradition, whether political philosophy, classical music or portraiture, has been predominantly white, and you will have damned it as illegitimate. The inevitability of such a racial balance given Europe’s demographic history does not matter. Nor does the fact that African and Asian cultural traditions are just as racially monolithic. Orchestral musicians, arts boards, and museum volunteers have been sacked for their whiteness. The racial hierarchy behind Evergreen State College’s infamous 2017 edict that white professors cancel their classes and stay off campus for a day now drives all academic hiring. White males face miserable odds in the academic job market; white male scientists, no matter how talented, will be considered for a teaching position or a government STEM job only if there are no underrepresented minorities to hire. The situation is little better in the for-profit sector.

A rule of our public discourse, manifest during the 2020 presidential campaign, is: use white as an epithet, and no one will notice. It is now assumed that whites will be flagellated for their race and will accept such flagellation as normal and just. But use the term white to point out this anti-white bias and you will be accused of playing dangerous identity politics. Conservative commentators may themselves lodge that complaint.

This turn-the-other-cheek policy has not worked. The broad appeal to color-blind principles has failed to wake the public up. Conservatives must name what is going on. The only remaining hope for reclaiming the legacy of the West is to be explicit about how that legacy is being unwound and to forthrightly rebut the equation between whiteness and evil.

Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the author of The Diversity Delusion.

Daniel McCarthy

The future of conservatism will look like Friedrich Nietzsche meets Beavis and Butt-Head if things continue the way they have been going. As bad as this might sound for the right, it portends much worse for the left. Liberal pieties will not stand a chance against that threat. And liberals have only themselves to blame for what the right is becoming.

Conservatism draws its strength from four forces — Christianity; heartland patriotism; the philosophy of Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, and the Founding Fathers; and revulsion against the left. Each of these provides a popular or intellectual base, or both, for the right.

Christian voters are the backbone of the Republican Party, and Christian thinkers provide the right with much of its language, if not as much of its policy as they would like. Heartland patriotism is not just love of country, but love of “country” as opposed to city: a patriotism of regions and states, of American heritage and America first. Its implications for immigration, foreign policy and trade are obvious, as is the orientation toward history and historical monuments that it inspires.

There is no convenient term for the philosophical common ground occupied by Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, John Adams and James Madison, among other great eighteenth-century British and American figures, but it is the intellectual bedrock upon which our constitutional and economic arrangements were originally built. It is a conservative yet modern philosophy, protective of religion but not at its core necessarily Christian. It’s a philosophy of self-interest that also recognizes how destructive those interests can be when they arise from wicked or unwise passions.

And the fourth great force on the right, arising from the failures of the left, is what might be called the anti-left: a backlash against high crime and high taxes, as well as wokeness and tyrannical claims masquerading as “science.”

For generations, liberals have worked to defeat conservatives for all time by neutralizing forces — destroying the very base of the right, electorally and intellectually. Education and immigration have been the most useful weapons in this fight. Christians and red-state parents send their children to schools and universities run by the left, where they are taught the new gospels of race and sexuality. The philosophy that made America can be dismissed because it was, after all, only dreamed up by old white heterosexual cisgender men.

As religious identification falls and heartland patriotism is redefined as hate, philosophical conservatives can only complain—philosophy is not what made men and women religious and patriotic in the first place, after all. With these sources of conservatism drying up and dying off, progressives have obtained a near monopoly on cultural power and hegemony in corporate America. The math says that conservatives should die off in politics, too. Yet they haven’t — instead, Trump won in 2016 and received even more votes in 2020. This year the GOP looks sure to retake one or both houses of Congress.

The more power the left gains, the more obvious its failures become, and the more it gives rein to its despotic desires, the more Americans rebel. The failure of the left does nothing to restore religion, localism, or constitutional philosophy, and as Americans become more socially atomized most of them find organized religion, local loyalty, and eighteenth-century philosophy baffling and unrelated. But they reject the left and its values nonetheless. They turned to Trump, and sooner or later their plight will be articulated by new philosophers, who will offer prescriptions for a social order no longer in fact grounded in Christianity or local affection. Don’t blame Donald Trump — this hard new right is the result of liberalism.

This article was originally published in The Spectator’s April 2022 World edition.