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I never cease to marvel at the seemingly invincible ignorance of Establishment figures about what is actually going on in this nation, in the lives of regular families and with working folks. Perhaps it is an unwillingness on the part of these kleptocrats who govern the country to recognize reality, or perhaps they simply don’t care, as long as the Democrat and Republican duopoly that controls our destiny continues in power.
Watching Joe Scarborough on the MSNBC network on this topic is revelatory. Scarborough is a former Republican congressman from Florida, and against the standard GOP template, he has understood more than most the mood, the despair, the bubbling-over anger, and the frustration of millions of Americans who are and have been effectively disenfranchised in what is supposedly a “democracy.” And, by extension, he thus understands how this year’s Movement Conservative candidates—Rubio and Ted Cruz (both of whom continue to draw upon the same Inside-the-Beltway think tanks and policy wonks)—continue to disfigure the already seriously disfigured concept of “conservatism.”
Since the George H. W. Bush years, at least, Movement Conservatives have been mostly talking to themselves. It sounds good when you’re only talking to someone who agrees with you, even if what you’re saying is rubbish. Movement Conservatives think that they are presenting a fresh “Reaganite narrative” to the American citizenry, but in reality whatever valuable ideas that percolated during the years before Reagan’s election and during his first years in office have long since been cast aside or so critically undermined as to make all talk of a new Reagan “revolution” almost nugatory.
For the past few decades there have been, politically but more importantly, culturally, rising murmurs, then outright opposition, to the Inside-the-Beltway Movement Conservative establishment and their Republican acolytes. In recent years grass roots demonstrations of rebellion have broken out, with challenges to Eric Cantor, John Boehner, Thad Cochran (in Mississippi), and others, and to what such political figures actually represent. In 2016 this “revolution from the base” goes much deeper and spreads out much farther than ever before.
Since 1988 the presidential standard bearers of the Republican Party have been George H. W. Bush, Dole, George W. Bush, McCain, and Romney, all claiming to be “conservatives” and followers of Reagan. Almost every Republican now claims the conservative mantle to the point that the term “conservatism” now encompasses all manner of diverse and often contradictory definitions. Self-appointed guardians at National Review,The Weekly Standard, and Fox News continually attempt to circumscribe such discussion and impose a kind of orthodoxy. For the past three decades they have been more or less successful, but this year all bets are off.
The 2016 Republican primary cycle has included Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and Ted Cruz, each proclaiming that he is the “true conservative,” and announcing it with different formulations and modes of persuasion. Indeed, there are differences between them, but they all partake essentially of the same corrupted and stale “movement” dialectic, one a bit more to the “right,” another a bit more to the “left.” Not one of them understands the history of what is called “the conservative movement,” not one of them understands the essential principles and philosophy that originally made “conservatism” a very real alternative to the managerial welfare state that now seems to overwhelm the American nation.
Since the fall of Communism the intellectual foundations of Movement Conservatism have remained imprisoned stubbornly in Cold War ideology and in the implicit acceptance of the same Progressivist narrative of the Movement’s supposed enemies on the Left….only explaining how the Movement can achieve the same goals more economically and with less discomfort. And as the Movement appears increasingly incapable of addressing fundamental issues that actually affect American citizens, Movement Conservatism has literally ceased to exist as a viable option for those searching for answers and solutions.
But it was not always that way.
In 1953 the late Dr. Russell Kirk published his path breaking and seminal volume The Conservative Mind, and gave first voice to a critical understanding of Anglo-American conservatism, and of the existence of a veritable conservative intellectual tradition in America. And throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s that older conservatism was the most attractive and exciting beacon in American intellectual life, drawing to its banners the most accomplished writers and journalists, in journals like Modern Age and the (old) National Review.
Kirk’s evocation of conservatism included an understanding of the supreme importance of tradition and custom in the existence of a nation. America, Kirk insisted, was not founded on a democratic, hegemonic ideology, but as an expression and continuation of European traditions and strong localist, familial and religious belief. Undoing or destroying the legacies and heritage of our ancestors would be fatal to the nation. Conservatives should also celebrate local traditions, customs, and the inherited legacies of other peoples, and not attempt to destroy them. “Conservatism,” as Kirk explained it, encompassed an inherent distrust of liberal democracy, staunch opposition to egalitarianism, and an extreme reluctance to commit the United States to global “crusades” to impose American “values” on “unenlightened” countries around the globe.
The United States had no business in trying to impose its system of government or its culture on other nations. Egalitarianism and democracy were not, he added, conservative principles; and, indeed, the Founders of the American republic understood that egalitarianism and democracy could well lead to the actual loss of liberties. The variety of social institutions in society—the family, the church, the professional associations, schools and colleges—provided a necessary buffer between individuals and the natural tendency of the central state to enlarge its powers. And religion, in particular Christian religious belief, was an essential cement that bound all generations together, the living and the dead, in an organic whole.
Beginning in the 1970s and into the Reagan years, new voices—the self-denominated Neoconservatives—migrated into the movement, and many of these voices came from the Trotskyite Left, many traumatized by the revelations of unspeakable Soviet brutality or anti-semitism. Represented by such Jewish luminaries as Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol, at first they were welcomed by the custodians of the Old Right in the struggle against world communism and collectivism. With strong academic connections and financial sources, the Neocons soon took control of most of the older conservative foundations, think tanks, and publications, and they did so with an iron hand, reminiscent of former days, when their Marxism was readily visible. And, more significantly, through this control of most “conservative” institutions, especially those centered in Washington, D. C., they very soon began to provide experts and advisors to the national Republican Party and its candidates. Their dominance manifested itself in organs such as the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and in publications like Commentary, The Public Interest, and National Review (which shed its previous attachments to Old Right conservatism). The advent of the Rupert Murdoch media empire, with Fox News television, The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, and the New York Post as its notable voices, cemented this influence, which manifested itself abundantly in post-Reagan GOP policies and prescriptions.
And almost immediately their essential base principles, which remained over on the philosophical Left, clashed with the precepts and principles of the older conservatives. The principles which so characterized the Old Right were replaced with an ideological zeal for the very opposite of those principles. Older conservative icons such as Southerners John Randolph and John C. Calhoun, included prominently in Kirk’s pantheon of great conservatives, were, due to their opposition to egalitarianism, expelled from the Neoconservative lexicon, to be replaced by Abraham Lincoln, and later figures such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
Lincoln, who was not included in Kirk’s pantheon, became the new and real “Founder” of the American republic, as the editor of the post-William Buckley National Review, Rich Lowry, contends. The civil rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960s, with its far-reaching and radical court decisions, was pronounced to be “conservative,” and, at the same time, Southern conservatives, such as the brilliant Mel Bradford, and anti-egalitarians, such as Dr. Samuel Francis, were purged out of the “movement.” Scholars such as Bradford, Joseph Sobran, and the internationally-recognized political scientist/historian, Paul Gottfried, had their careers attacked, were denied well-deserved professional positions, and were banished from formerly conservative publications and access to the largesse of formerly conservative foundations.
The Neoconservative template bears an uncanny resemblance to its older Marxist/ Progressivist internationalist narrative, which, in effect, has never been fully discarded. Let me cite just one very striking example from writer Stephen Schwartz of the “new” National Review. Pay particular attention to his praise of Marxist internationalism and Trotsky:
“To my last breath, I will defend Trotsky who alone and pursued from country to country and finally laid low in his own blood in a hideously hot house in Mexico City, said no to Soviet coddling to Hitlerism, to the Moscow purges, and to the betrayal of the Spanish Republic, and who had the capacity to admit that he had been wrong about the imposition of a single-party state as well as about the fate of the Jewish people. To my last breath, and without apology. Let the neofascists and Stalinists in their second childhood make of it what they will.”[see Paul Gottfried's commentary on Takimag.com, April 17, 2007]
In the execution of their policies, the Neocons and their Republican subalterns have led the American republic into unwinnable and extremely unwise wars everywhere in the name of international crusades for democracy. They have scorned the older conservatism that rejects egalitarian nostrums, liberal democracy, feminism, and all the hoary stream of aberrations that have come from those barbarities. They zealously, with near religious desire, seek to remake this nation, with “amnesty” and accepting millions of illegals who will transform and radically alter our culture (which is already under severe attack). They have enacted global trade and commercial deals that have destroyed native American manufacturing and eliminated millions of American jobs, shipping them overseas. Even more, these very same Neocons (and their GOP camp followers) have warmed to and even endorsed same sex marriage, transgenderism, and “moderate” feminism (i.e., in the National Review, The Wall Street Journal, and from their pulpits at Fox News, etc.), views which were once considered anathema to historic conservatism.
But out in the nation, in the homes of millions of hard-pressed Americans whose everyday challenges have little to do with Inside-the-Beltway rhetoric, the decline and disappearance of the traditions and culture that once sustained them has continued unabated, increasingly severe. These are the folks on the edge who work hard sometimes twelve hours a day in the trades, who barely hold on in service jobs, who work long hours in factories that Bush, Cruz, and Rubio (not to mention Obama and the establishment GOP) want to send to China and Mexico; these are the young professionals with young families who see the once-vaunted American dream slipping uncontrollably away from them, forever gone; these are our friends (and we each have some) who have seen their jobs go to cheap illegal labor, while the “anchor babies” of those illegals get “free” education (at taxpayer expense), “free” lunches (at taxpayer expense), “free” tuition (at taxpayer expense) and “free” welfare (at taxpayer expense); these are those retired persons who wake up like Dorothy in Oz, and remark, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore!” And these are the citizens for whom the Establishment narrative now increasingly seems more like run-off sewage, used, recycled, smelly, and foul.
In 2016 the accumulated anger and frustration rising up from the grass roots citizenry has challenged, first, the corrupt Republican Party establishment, but also, indirectly but just as certainly, the Neocon elites in DC and New York, the Bill Kristols, the Charles Krauthammers, and the George Wills, who bring down those quarter-million dollar salaries with perks, simply because they edit a “magazine of conservative opinion” or because they appear as “a knowledgeable commentator” on Fox. The “conservative elites” enjoy their cocktails in New York’s Upper East Side with the Leftist friends they supposedly oppose, and they still don’t “get it,” or perhaps they do but they think if somehow the elites can rally around just one establishment Republican candidate in 2016, things will go back to the old tweedle-dee, tweedle-dum dialectic, with them continuing the opposition charade in which they’ve been engaged now for three or four decades?
It is important to remember: for a century and more these self-congratulatory elites have heralded that “the people rule,” that “more rights are what we all need,” that “more democracy will give you more freedom,” and at the very same time they have assured the grass roots time and time again, “trust us, don’t worry, we’ve got everything under control.”
The late scion of the famous John Adams family, Henry Adams (featured in Kirk’s book, The Conservative Mind), wrote in his volume, The Degradation of Democratic Dogma, of the tendency for demagogic elites to rise when “democracy” becomes little more than a talismanic slogan. And the late Samuel Francis (another great conservative intellect expelled by Movement Conservatism) warned of an emerging managerial class, unelected, powerful, and authoritarian, whose rule and control is worse than any old fashioned dictatorship ever was.
Most of our citizens are not academics or philosophers, but most can still intuit through all the suffocating fog and propagandizing that what Adams and Francis wrote and warned about is occurring and has occurred with a vengeance. Most now see that our American democracy is, to paraphrase the late Southern Regionalist author Donald Davidson, a “tousled whore” who sells herself to the highest bidder, to a kleptocratic regime, to an oligarchic duopoly.
Movement Conservatism is an integral and eager part of this decadent regime, and its emphasis is to protect its position, its power, its income sources. For years we have followed along, placing in it hope against despair, but in 2016, perhaps no longer. Before our eyes “the Movement” has seemingly fractured and run aground. There is panic in the offices of National Review and in the cubicles at Fox News and the Murdoch media empire. Rupert recently attended a $2,700 a plate fund raiser for Hillary Clinton, and other establishment GOP donors plot a possible brokered convention or a desperate third party effort (with maybe Mitt Romney as the “conservative” standard bearer) should Donald Trump succeed in his nomination quest.
The panic of the Establishment betrays their fear of losing power, control, and financial bounty. A nationalist/populist revolution rises, intent on chasing the money changers out of the temple and cleaning out the Augean stables filled with dross and filth.
Sometimes it takes a veritable bull-dozer, an unruly wrecking ball, to clear away the detritus, before a real renaissance can occur. In 2016 just possibly that agent of change may be Donald Trump. Trump has taken identifiably Old Right positions on American overseas intervention, Russia and Syria, US trade policies, and immigration, and he knows that his enemies come from the Neocon intelligentsia and their GOP camp followers. None of the other candidates will or can pull off a revolution. It may be a slim hope, but The Donald just might. And if he does that nasty, thankless job, we are willing to forgive him a whole list of personal sins. For the times are truly perilous, and 2016 may well offer our last chance.
Movement Conservatism is dying a well-merited death. Perhaps it is time finally to turn Ronald Reagan’s portrait to the wall? His conservative descendants have squandered and abused whatever inheritance he left them.