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AfterConservatism
PostedBySamuelGoldmanOnAugust30,2016@12:05amIn|33Comments

Forallhismanyfaults,DonaldTrumpdisplaysonegreatvirtueasapresidentialcandidate:heis
aremarkablyeffectivedispellerofillusions.Earlyinthecampaign,Trumpdispelledtheillusion
thathisrivalswerethestrongestfieldofcandidatesinthepartyshistory.Asthefrontrunner,he
dispelledtheillusionthatthepartydecidesonthenomination.Asthepresumptivenominee,
hedispelledtheillusionthatcandidatesinevitablytrytobroadentheirappealbeyondtheircore
supporters.WhoknowswhatillusionsTheDonaldwilldispelbyNovember.
OfalltheillusionsTrumphasdispelled,however,noneismoresignificantthantheillusionofthe
conservativemovement.RatherthanbeingthedominantforceintheRepublicanParty,
conservatives,Trumprevealed,arejustanotherpressuregroup.Andnotanespeciallylargeone.
Instateafterstate,votersindicatedthattheydidnotcaremuchaboutconservativeorthodoxy
ontheeconomy,foreignpolicy,orwhatusedtobecalledfamilyvalues.
Thepoorrecordofthisorthodoxyasagoverningphilosophyisonereasonforthisindifferenceto
conservativedogma.SomeapologistsblameObamaforprovokingtheTrumprebellionthrougha
featofreversepsychology.Thetruthisprobablysimpler.ManyAmericansremembertheGeorge
W.Bushpresidencyasadisaster.Reasonablyenough,theyexpectthatanotherselfidentified
conservativeadministrationwouldbringmoreofthesame.
Demographicchangesarealsopartoftheexplanation.Theconservativemovementis
disproportionatelycomprisedofmiddleclasswhiteChristians.Therearefewerofthosethan
thereusedtobe.
Astheconservativemovementapproachesretirementage,finally,itsrhetorichasbecomealmost
unintelligibletooutsiders.Ratherthanmakingargumentsaddressedtonormalpeople,
conservativeleadersinvokelimitedgovernmentalmostfetishistically,asifthewordsthemselves
possessedthepowertoconvince.TedCruzsreputationasanoratorrestsonhismasteryofthis
jargon.
ThepoliticalscientistGeorgeHawleysRightWingCriticsofAmericanConservatismisamongthe
mostseriousreflectionsonthissituationyettoappearinprint.Primarilyaworkofintellectual
history,itattemptstoexplainhowtheconservativemovementreachedthislowpointinits
fortunesandwhatalternativeswereexcludedintheprocess.Thebookstoneisexquisitelynon
judgmental,butitisclearthatHawleysinterestisnotjustacademic.Althoughitwaswritten
beforeTrumpburstontothestage,RightWingCriticsisasteptowardansweringthequestion:
whatcomesaftertheconservativemovement?
HawleybeginswiththeobservationthatthehistoricpillarsoftheAmericanconservative
movementlimitedgovernment,anassertivelyanticommunistforeignpolicy,andquasi
Christianmoralismhavenonecessaryconnection.Beginningintheearly50s,theseelements
werepackagedtogetherbyagroupofintellectualsandactivistsledbyWilliamF.Buckley.The

storyisoftentoldasaprocessofaddition,inwhichdisparateconstituencieswerebroughtintoa
grandcoalition.Hawleyemphasizesthatitwasalsoaprocessofexclusion,asunsuitableideas
andcharactersweredrivenout.
AllstudentsoftheconservativemovementknowaboutthemarginalizationofRobertWelchand
otherleadersoftheJohnBirchSociety.Hawleyremindsreadersthatthepurgesdidnotbegin
there.NationalReviewwasestablishedpartlytodistanceconservatismfromtheantiSemitism
thatbedeviledtheOldRight.Itsfoundingmanifestowasalsoastatementofprotestagainstso
calledNewConservativesofthe1950swhoacceptedtheNewDeal.Secularminded
anticommunistslikeMaxEastmanweretheoreticallywelcomeinconservativecirclesbutfound
theirostentatiouslypioustoneintolerable.Initsfirstdecade,theconservativemovementwas
definedasmuchbywhowasoutaswhowasin.
ThisprocessofselfdefinitiondidnotendwiththenominationofBarryGoldwater,thefirst
movementconservativetoseekthepresidency.Sincethen,Southernnostalgists,criticsofthe
U.S.Israelalliance,opponentsoftheIraqWar,andoffendersagainstthemovementscodeof
racialetiquettehaveallbeentreatedtoquasiofficialdenunciations.Skepticsofsupplyside
economicshavealsobeenencouragedtomaketheirhomeselsewhere.Thismagazinehasits
origininsomeofthosedisputes.
Oneresultofthisboundarypolicingisatrueconservatismofstrikingnarrownessandrigidity.
Itslessrecognizedcorollaryisthedevelopmentofadiverseecologyofideasoutsidethe
movementsevershrinkingtent.Someoftheseuncultivatedgrowthsarebitterandeven
poisonous.Othersmightcontainthetonicthattherightneedstorecoveritsrelevance.
Hawleyisahighlycompetentguidetothiswilderness.Inchaptersonlocalists,libertarians,
paleoconservatives,andwhitenationalists,heprovidesthoroughsummariesofmajorfiguresand
arguments.Hawleyjustifieshisselectionsandomissionsonthegroundsthatallbelongtothe
rightwhilestandingatoddswiththeconservativemovement.BorrowinganargumentfromPaul
Gottfried,hedefinestherightnegativelybytherejectionofequalityasthehighestpolitical
value.
Hawleyannouncesearlyinthebookthatheseekstoexamineeachoftheseideologies
dispassionately.Thatisaconsiderablevirtuewhentreatingsuchpoliticallyfraughtmaterial.In
particular,Hawleyprovidesthebestintroductiontothestrangelyoverlappingworldsofradical
libertariansandwhitenationalists.Becausethesedefiantlyunconventionalmovementsareso
easilycaricatured,itisimportanttolettheiradvocatesspeakforthemselves.
ButHawleysstrenuousneutralityisdistortingaswellasclarifying.Inhisefforttosurveyso
manyneglectedspeciesoftheright,hegivessomemoreattentionthantheirinfluenceor
achievementsjustify.ItisoftenforgottenthatpioneersoftheAmericanrightlikeH.L.Mencken
andAlbertJayNockwerecriticsofrevealedreligion.Buttheirepigonesarefewinnumberand
havemadenosignificanttheoreticalcontribution.Godlessconservatismdeservesafootnote,
notachapter.
ThelongdiscussionoftheEuropeanNewRightalsoseemsoutofplace.Althoughitisan
importanttopicinitself,HawleyacknowledgesthatEuropeanwritershaveanextremelylimited

Americanaudience.
LanguagebarriersarepartofthereasonfigureslikeAlaindeBenoistandAlexanderDuginhave
notbeenreceivedmorewidely,butthereisamorefundamentalobstacleofprinciple.Evenwhen
theyarecriticsofegalitarianism,fewAmericansarewillingtorejectthebasictenetsofliberal
democracy.ThatleavesmuchofthegroundonwhichtheEuropeanRighthasflourishedoff
limits.
Hawleycouldalsobemoreforthcomingaboutwherehestandsinallthis.Onecannotblamehim
forwishingtoavoidunnecessarycontroversyorpreventanacademicstudyfrombecominga
polemic.Butifhefindssomeoftheargumentsdiscussedinthisbookpersuasiveandothers
abhorrent,heshouldnotforcereaderstoguesswhicharewhich.
Hawleysanalysisismostlyretrospectiveandfocusedonideasratherthanelectoralstrategies.He
gestures,however,towardtwoscenariosforapostconservativefuture.Neitherisveryappealing.
Thefirstofthesescenariosmightbedescribedastheriseofthelibertarians.Libertarianshave
anindependentnetworkoftheinstitutionsthatcouldsurvivethecollapseoftheconservative
movement.Especiallyineconomics,theyalsoenjoyacertainacademiclegitimacythatmakes
theirperspectivesdifficulttoignoreinpolicydebates.Mostimportantly,libertarianismisnottied
todecliningdemographicgroups.Libertarians,therefore,shouldhaveachanceofsuccessina
lesswhite,lessreligiousAmerica.
Thedifficultyisthattheprinciplethatmorefreedomisalwaysbetterisnotveryappealingto
mostpeople.Americanslovetocomplainaboutexcessiveregulationandunlimitedspending.Yet
theyalsorelyonanelaboratewebofpayments,subsidies,andservicestosecurethemagainst
dislocation,poverty,anddisease.
Althoughlibertariansmakegoodcasesthattheseprogramsshouldbesimplerandmore
transparent,thereisverylittlesupportformakinggovernmentsmalleronthewhole.
Mainstreamconservativesareoftencriticizedfortheircombinationoflibertarianrhetoricwith
operationalprogressivism.Buttheirmostlibertarianpositionsrelativelyunrestricted
immigrationandtheprivatizationofentitlementsarealsotheirleastpopular.
Thatleavesthesecondpossibility,whichTrumpmayalreadyberealizing.Inthisscenario,the
rightbecomesdefinedbyethnoclasssolidarityratherthanacommitmenttolimited
government.Thisisnotexactlywhitenationalism,whichHawleydefinesasthebeliefthatthe
racesshouldnotlivetogetherinthesamecountryatall,eveniftheprevailingsocialstructure
benefitswhites.Butitisaformofidentitypoliticsthatemphasizesthecultureandinterestsof
downscalewhitesmiddleAmericanradicals,asthesociologistDonaldWarrendubbedthem.
Moralizingaside,therearesomeseriouspoliticalproblemswiththisstrategy.Oneisthatthe
numbersdontaddup.Inapreviouswork,WhiteVotersinthe21stCentury,Hawleyarguesthat
theGOPcouldbalanceitsweaknessamongminoritiesbyincreasingitssupportamongwhites.
Thepopulistrhetoriclikelytoattractalienatedwhites,however,willdriveawaythedwindling
portionofthesuburbangentrythatcontinuestovoteRepublican.Sincewhitesoverallshareof
theelectorateisdeclining,thisisliketryingtorunupadownescalator.

[1]Second,noonehasyetproposedaplausibleagendatohelpthesevoters.Astheeconomist

TylerCowenhasarguedinAverageIsOver,norestrictionsontrade
aregoingtobringbackthepreglobalizationeconomyandnolimits
onfutureimmigrationwillundothedemographictransformationof
thelasthalfcentury.Withoutconsiderablymorepolicyingenuitythan
itsadvocateshaveshownsofar,arightbasedonthesupportofblue
collarwhitesislikelytobelittlemorethananexerciseintrolling.
Third,themainstreamingofwhiteidentitypoliticswouldalmost
certainlycomeattheexpenseofcivilpeace.Yetorderisperhapsthe
mostneglectedofpoliticalvaluesandonetowhichtherighthas
historicallybeenquiteattentive.Actualracialnationalistsmight
welcomefurtherethnicbalkanizationandembitterment.Butnoone
elseshould.
Comparedtothesealternatives,thesearchforamiddlecoursebetweenlibertarianismandwhat
somescholarscallwelfarechauvinismseemslessquixotic.Thereisnodoubtthatthe
conservativemovementhasbecomeisolated,myopic,andlazy.Butitsvocationtoreminda
democraticsocietythatequalityisnottheonlyimportantthinginordertopreservethatsociety
fromitstendencytowarddespotismhasnotdisappeared.RightwingcriticsofAmerican
conservatismoftenhaveapoint.Evenso,wewillmissitwhenitisgone.
SamuelGoldmanisanassistantprofessorofpoliticalscienceanddirectoroftheLoebInstitute
forReligiousFreedomatGeorgeWashingtonUniversity.

33CommentsTo"AfterConservatism"
#1CommentByLouisMOnAugust30,2016@9:19am
Bydispellingillusion,TrumpwillhavedonemoretopreparetheGOPforthe21stcenturythan
anyotherperson.
Itsnottosaythatconservatismsaredeadorjustanotherpressuregroup.Ithinktheyarefar
morethanthatBUTboththeneoconservativewarmongerers,thefiscalandculturalconservatives
andthesocalledRockefellerrepublicans(biggovt)wereallrestingonfoundations305070
yearsold.
Goonyoutubeandseethenewcropofrepublicansandconservatives.Theyarevibrant,
politicallyincorrect,braveandunafraidtoslaughtersacredliberalcows.
PriortoTrumptheyweremarginalized,dwarfedanddrownedoutbytheestablishmentbutwith
theestablishmentcollapsingthisnewgenerationhasfertilegroundtogrow.Itslikethewest
afterafirewipesoutaprairieorforest.Itlookshopelessanddesolatebutwithinweeksand
monthsnewgrasses,flowers,treessproutandthedesolationisrebornrisinglikeaphoenix
acrossthewastelandwithnothingtostopit.
WhetherTrumpwinsorloses,theBushesaregone,McCainandthewarmongeringneoconsare
gone,theestablishmentGOPandconservativepartyisweakened.WhetherTrumpwinsorloses
wewillhaveanewpartytowagewaragainstthedem/libs
#2CommentByconnecticutfarmerOnAugust30,2016@10:21am