In recent years, several awful books proclaiming the demise of conservatism in America have been written by self-appointed experts.
The first was Sam Tanenhaus’s "The Death of Conservatism" (2009). I can only suppose that Mr. Tanenhaus, a renown liberal, thought he was highly qualified to opine on the subject because he wrote a notable biography of Whitaker Chambers.
In his 120-page “obituary,” Tanenhaus argues that conservatives lost their philosophical bearings because they were corrupted by their drive for power.
Tanenhaus must had forgotten the observation made by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, that the real ideas on government reform in the 1970s and 1980s were coming from the right, not the left.
No, for Tanenhaus conservatism is a defunct ideology “profoundly and defiantly unconservative in its arguments and ideas, in its tactics and strategies, above all in its vision.”
Oddly enough, for Tanenhaus true conservatives are Bill Clinton, Barrack Obama, and Supreme Court Justice David Souter. These leftists qualify because they have allegedly attempted, like their political forbearer, Franklin D. Roosevelt, to “salvage the free market.”
In other words, genuine conservatives are leftists striving to preserve the liberal programs of yesteryear.
"The Death of Conservatism" had a short shelf-life. Weeks after it was published, the grass-roots Tea Party movement, based on conservative ideals, was in full swing convincing millions of Americans to turn the Democratic House and Senate over to Republicans.
The next misguided book was penned by 2018’s biggest political loser, U.S. Senator Jeff Flake.
This whiny, and not very bright, Arizona Senator mistakenly thought he could claim the mantel of his predecessor Barry Goldwater by writing a new "Conscience of a Conservative" subtitled this time, “A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle.”
Flake’s book confuses conservatism with Republican political antics. He makes the ridiculous claim that “conservatism has become compromised by other powerful forces — nationalism, partisanship, even celebrity…” [and] “conservatives have suffered a crisis of confidence which in turn has led to a crisis of principle.”
What a load of baloney. I, like most conservatives, am not suffering from a crisis of principle and have not lost my way.
To get a sense of the vibrancy of contemporary conservative thought, one need only read Yuval Levin’s, "The Fractured Republic: Reviewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism” or Arthur Brooks, "The Conservative Heart."
Unlike Barry Goldwater’s "Conscience of a Conservative," which sold millions of copies and became a classic of conservatism, Flake’s book was a flop just like his political career.
The latest denunciation comes from Max Boot in "The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right."
After 9/11, Boot, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, called for invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Later he lobbied for the overthrowing of Libya’s Qaddafi, and argued for an incursion into Syria, the bombing of Iran, and confrontation with Russia.
Boot hung out with conservatives so long as they subscribed to his “Case for American Empire.” But when they became disenchanted with his hawkish views and candidate Trump rejected them, Boot walked away in a snit.
He voted for Hillary Clinton, has denounced just about every past leader of the conservative movement (i.e., William F. Buckley Jr. and Barry Goldwater), and has happily taken on the role of the “Anti-conservative Conservative” talking head on leftist shows.
Boot’s book, however, reveals that he has never been much of a conservative. He’s pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, anti-gun, and has little use for religion.
And he suggests that President Eisenhower should be the poster child of conservatism. Dwight Eisenhower was a fine general and president. But the man who called himself a “progressive-conservative” had little knowledge of the tenets of conservatism.
The problem with these critics: they don’t realize that conservatism encompasses more than tax cuts or foreign policy.
To understand the conservative philosophical and political movement, I recommend reading Russell Kirk’s monumental 1953 classic "The Conservative Mind." Predicated on the proposition that every person has inherent dignity because he is made in the image and likeness of God, Kirk laid out these fundamental principles of conservatism:
- Belief that divine intent rules society as well as conscience; that political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems.
- Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of traditional life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and egalitarianism and utilitarian aims of most radical systems.
- Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes; that society longs for leadership.
- Persuasion that property and freedom are inseparably connected, and that economic leveling is not economic progress.
- Faith in prescription and distrust of, in the phrase of Edmund Burke, “sophisters and calculators.” Man must put a control upon his will and his appetite. Tradition and sound prejudice provide checks upon man’s anarchic impulse.
- Recognition that change and reform are not identical.
Unlike Tanenhaus, Flake, and Boot, Kirk got it right.
George J. Marlin, a former executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is the author of "The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact," and "Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy." He is chairman of Aid to the Church in Need-USA. Mr. Marlin also writes for TheCatholicThing.org and the Long Island Business News. To read more George J. Marlin — Click Here Now.
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