Academics and pundits debated the meaning of “national conservatism” at the National Conservativism Conference on Tuesday, all essentially agreeing it stems from a simple premise but diverging on its approaches and goals.
A panel discussion of “What is National Conservatism” highlighted the final day of the three-day gathering in Orlando, Florida, which was to be capped by an evening keynote address by J.D. Vance, author of “Hillbilly Elegy” and Republican candidate to replace retiring Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.
“The self-conscious and distinct American people felt its identity grow in revolution and war, and its appeal was based on a set of principles asserted as true simply or by nature and with divine sanction, rather than as a particular political inheritance,” offered Claremont Institute President Ryan Williams.
Williams’ remarks countered the idea put forth by Yoram Hazony and Ofir Haivry (in their July 2020 American Conservative article, “American Nationalists”) that the Founders like Hamilton and Washington were primarily members of a wider tradition with roots in England, not attempting to establish anything substantively new.
Rachel Bovard, the senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute, suggested a more direct political approach to “defy, defund, and defeat the cult of 'wokeness' from Capitol Hill to Harvard Yard to Silicon Valley.”
“In this toxic environment, nationalist conservative priorities can be very simple,” she said. “Every child in America, born or unborn, deserves to grow up with both parents married — rooted in a safe, bonded neighborhood — where Mom can choose her own work-life balance, and Dad can support his family with a job that Wall Street, K Street, and Pennsylvania Avenue can’t give away to China.”
Breaking from both was Julius Krein, editor of American Affairs, who delivered a more pessimistic approach regarding national conservatism. Among the concerns, Krein mentioned a lack of donor support for nationalist ends, making nationalists “similar to the progressive left” in being taken advantage of. Regarding contemporary political issues, Krein saw little need for invoking nationalism.
“Even today if your main goal is things like cutting taxes, dismantling the administrative state, or banning abortion, opposing wokeness, or opposing vaccine mandates, you don’t really need nationalism for any of that,” he said.
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