Even prior to last week’s election it was clear to me that the Republican Party needed renewal. In this post I suggested that it reconsider it’s anti-gay stances, and in this one I turned a critical eye to the party platform. As part of my own research into what a new party should like, I discovered Jeffrey Nelson’s “Ten Books That Shaped America’s Conservative Renaissance.” (PDF, HTML) This book lays out the most influential books in modern conservativism and discusses the four different groups that are allied at the movement’s core.
Libertarians: “The principles libertarians believed should guide government were free markets, private property, individualism, and limited government, in short laissez-faire.” Anti-Communists: “Anti-communism, especially opposition to Soviet imperialism, was another powerful force affecting the development of American conservatism after 1945.” And Traditionalists:
... Russel Kirk traced an impressive intellectual genealogy of Americans and Britons that included Edmund Burke, John Adams, John Randolph, James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and T. S. Eliot. In contrast to mainstream academic thought, Kirk persuasively demonstrated that conservatism has in fact been central to the American experience, and in doing so gave American conservatism, according to HenryRegnery, its “needed unifying concept.” “In essence,” Kirk wrote, “the body of belief that we call ‘conservatism’ is an affirmation of normality in the concerns of society. There exist standards to which we may repair; man is not perfectible, but he may achieve a tolerable degree of order, justice, and freedom….” To uphold these norms and standards is a concern of every conservative.
Neo-conservatives joined this coalition in the 1960’s. “... this group of disillusioned liberals, claiming, as one of them put it, to have been “mugged by reality,” migrated to the conservative cause. Reacting in part to the social uprisings of the 60s, in part to the isolationism and perceived “anti-Americanism” of the New Left, and in part to the consequences of liberal activism in government, these gifted newcomers came to realize that good intentions do not guarantee good or effective government.”
It’s been close to forty years since the neocons joined the coalition. Since that time Communism has breathed its last, having been replaced by the multiple threats of Russian exceptionalism, Chinese mercantilism and Islamofascism. None of these by itself constitute the scope of the threat posed by Communism during the Cold War, although each presents a formidable and unique challenge to freedom.
Does the anti-communist bloc still exist or have events made anti-communism unnecessary? Russian exceptionalism might appear at first glance to be the logical successor to communism. However Russia’s actions do not have the transnationalist goals that lay at the core of Communism. Chinese mercantilism is aided and abetted by the pro-business elements of the libertarian wing; any significant shift towards viewing China as an enemy is quickly resisted by business using China as a source of labor or a potential market. Islamofascism has roughly the same transnationalist elements of Communism, but lacks its broad scope.
Neoconservatives share with the left a belief in internationalism, and isolationism – the traditional default state of America – is only found among the paleocons of the Libertarian Party. After nation building in Bosnia, Kosovo, and especially Iraq, does the internationalist view of neocons really make sense?
As for the Traditionalists, the concept of the family has changed throughout the history of the Republic. We have evolved from multigenerational households to single parent, and mixed ones. Yet no matter how the family has changed, it has not disappeared or become irrelevant.
The nuclear family existed briefly between World War 2 and the rise of the feminist era of the 1960s. I do not think it’s a stretch to declare it dead – and as Conservatives who are revisiting our first principles it’s critical to see it for what it is. We will not resurrect it by legislating morality and risk appearing hypocritical (“Republicans hate government everywhere except in the bedroom.”)
Is it possible for the coalition to expand and allow gays into the fold? The Gay Community has discovered that it is not the heir to the Civil Rights Mantel that it thought it was, as Proposition 8 was supported 2-1 by the black community. At the same time gay rights touch upon many of the civil liberties supported by libertarians. If not for the Traditionalists, the gay community would be a natural fit for the Conservative movement.
Perhaps it’s a stretch, but it is critical to learn from our experience in the political wilderness, and the first step is to revisit our first principles and conduct a thorough inventory of what it means to be a conservative.