Andrew Sullivan, in last Friday’s weekly editorial, says “America Desperately Needs a Healthy Conservatism,” and tells us what he thinks that consists of.
In todayâ€™s America, this conservatism is completely under siege. The left will increasingly tolerate nothing that gets in the way of what it calls â€œsocial justice,â€ which far too often reduces individuals to their racial or class or gender identities rather than their merits, or character, or talents. The conservative approach to a multicultural and multiracial society is to keep our focus on the individual and do whatâ€™s best to help every individual, regardless of their race, gender, or whatever, to be part of our shared liberal democratic inheritance. Conservatism is about enfolding the new into the old, sustaining a societyâ€™s coherence and cohesion, while being extremely tough on particular injustices against particular individuals, vigilant about corruption, and anguished when the criminal justice system loses legitimacy, because of embedded racism.
But conservatism is more deeply besieged by the Republican Party, its alleged harbor. If you consider the themes Iâ€™ve emphasized above, it becomes clearer that the GOP is not only not conservative, but actually dedicated to destroying that tradition. Republicans pursue the ideology of free markets and lower and lower taxation, regardless of its brutal assault on fiscal solvency, human dignity, social cohesion, and community life. They have nominated and protected a president who assaults the norms that conservatives revere, has contempt for existing institutions and sees the rule of law as a means to advance his own interests, rather than that of the society as a whole.
This is a man and a party that has such disdain for conserving anything that it is actively despoiling our landscape, enabling a climate catastrophe. It is a party that has generated crippling and everlasting debt â€” even in good economic times â€” in a way that makes a mockery of any compact between generations. It is a party that actively endorses cruelty as a policy tool, deploys fear as its prime political weapon, and insists that the opposite party has no legitimate right to govern at all. It is the party of torture, the absolute nemesis of the liberal inheritance, the party of corruption, propaganda, vote suppression, and barely masked bigotry.
I despise it because I am a conservative. I donâ€™t believe that conservatism can be revived on the right (it has been thankfully sustained, by default, by the Democrats in recent decades) until this hateful philistine would-be despot and his know-nothing cult is gone. And by revived, I do not mean a return to neoconservatism abroad or supply side crack-pottery at home. The 1980s and 1990s are over. I mean a conservatism that can tackle soaring social and economic inequality as a way to save capitalism, restore the financial sector as an aid to free markets and not their corrupting parasite, a conservatism that will end our unending wars, rid the criminal justice system of its racial blind spots, defend liberal education and high culture against the barbarians of postmodernism and the well-intentioned toxins of affirmative action, pay down the debt, reform the corruption of religious faith, protect our physical landscape, invest in non-carbon energy, and begin at the local level to rebuild community and the spirit of American civil association.
Andrew’s thesis is summarized perfectly at the point where he writes:
The goal is not to stand athwart history and cry ‘Stop!’, as William F. Buckley put it. Itâ€™s to be part of the stream of history and say: slow it down a bit, will you?”
In essence, Andrew Sullivan is reacting with indignation and hostility to the populism of Donald Trump, but in the course of defining his own position of opposition to Trump, he makes it clear that his version of supposed Conservatism also rejects the Conservatism of William F. Buckley, Jr., Barry Goldwater, and Ronald Reagan.
Andrew’s “Conservatism” is really the “Me, Too, Just a Little Less” style of Republicanism of Dwight Eisenhower, Nelson Rockefeller, and all the Establishment, Country Club-style Republicans of the Bad Old Days before the Conservative Movement took over the GOP and equipped it with principles and a backbone.
Andrew’s Conservatism finds its compass, not in the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, and the writings and debates of the framers, but in the editorial page of the New York Times.
Andrew’s Conservatism is intellectually uncritical. It accepts in every jot and tittle the consensus of the elite community of fashion. Junk science, Dualism, and the worship of Gaia, immolating billions to drive off this imaginary catastrophe or that? No problem. Andrew is on board.
Andrew’s Conservatism shares with our liberal establishment reliance on the radical hardcore Left as its conscience. Idealism and morality belong to that radical Left. Declining any of its edicts or demands endangers your moral standing and threatens the stability of society. We must wage war continually on intrinsically evil Bankers and Big Business. We must always regulate out of existence any stigmatized compound or element. We must always choose the emotional gesture expressing our love of Nature over energy or productivity, always disregarding crass calculations of costs and benefits.
We must become deficit hawks during any Republican Administration and deplore tax cuts. We must embrace Isolationism and Pacifism in our Foreign Policy, unless the Left wants to go after some reactionary regime.
Identifying exactly what is conservative in Andrew’s Conservatism is not easy. The best I can do is to point to Andrew’s implicit conviction that the national establishment inevitably is made up of the wisest and best people and therefore possesses the mandate of Heaven. Opposition to establishment culture and politics is intrinsically revolutionary and just plain bad form. Andrew’s Conservatism is really the Conservatism of the Vicar of Bray.
He tells us in the opening of his essay that he had just read Roger Scruton on Conservatism. If he did, he certainly was not really paying attention.