At no time in American history have there been more voices overtly identifying as “conservative” in politics and the media. From newspapers and journals to websites, blogs, a cable news network, and talk radio, voices claiming the mantle of conservatism are everywhere.
Virtually no Republican politician would claim to be anything else,
and right-leaning think tanks abound. We are, by almost all outward
measures, at the high point of conservative political success.
And yet, what it means to be a “conservative” may be less clear than
at any time since the Great Depression. Is it “conservative” to cut
taxes, or is the “conservative” policy to reduce the debt we are
saddling future generations with? Is the “conservative” policy to
promote free and open trade, or is it to raise tariffs to protect
domestic industries? Is it conservative to “conserve” the environment,
or is it always “conservative” to limit the scope of government
regulations? Is it the “conservative’s” primary responsibility to
achieve policy victories through any means necessary, or to preserve the
institutional arrangements of the constitutional order, even if it
means losing some policy battles along the way?
Add to that the fact that despite having so many political outlets,
most conservatives feel their country is pulling apart and their culture
is disintegrating. How can all these facts be true—that conservatism is
at its height, but there is less agreement on what conservatism is, and
conservatives have the feeling they are losing the great battles for
this confusing time, conservatives would do well to revisit the
foundations of their modern movement in the great intellectual battles
of the mid-20th century. Long before Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh, and
before Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater bestrode our politics, several
great public thinkers were preparing the culture with the books and
journals from which would spring a revolution.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of the most
important of those writers and offers a chance to consider his lessons
for America today.
See my full column on why we need to read Russell Kirk today here.