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And so the Movement ended.
Now there are conservative journals galore, for the public, for students (there are more than 100 college newspapers in the Collegiate Network run by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute). More than 100 think tanks. Radio programs. A television network. Columnists. Speakers. Speakers’ bureaus. Dating services! That’s not a movement. That’s an avalanche. A tsunami. A major portion of intellectual, political life in America.
In 2008 Eric Alterman wrote (in the Nation) about the early days of the Conservative Movement: “If you look at the great thinkers of the conservative movement, they wrote books. Not only Friedman and Buckley but also Russell Kirk, Friedrich Hayek, Whittaker Chambers, even Allan Bloom.” That seems to be all the conservative writers he could think of, but that’s exactly the point. He could name them all. Well, maybe not all, but the leading lights. Now there’s a galaxy of writers, and you can see, weekly, fortnightly, monthly, and quarterly, advertisements for their books in the conservative publications.
Today, there are so many active conservative intellectuals around, you couldn’t squeeze them into all the phone booths in America.
Movements are particular crusades with limited goals. The Oxford Movement, which started the Catholic revival in the Church of England, began, according to John Henry Newman, one of its participants, with John Keble’s Assize Sermon on National Apostasy in July 1833. A more or less agreed-on date for the movement’s end is 1845, when Newman converted to Rome.
One could argue when the civil rights movement in the U.S. began — a plausible date is 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus — but there is little question when it ended. According to Steven Hayward in volume one of The Age of Reagan, a “top aide to Martin Luther King remarked in August 1965 that ‘there is no more civil rights movement; President Johnson signed it out of existence when he signed the voting rights bill.’”
Does the cause of promoting civil rights continue? Yes, of course — though it has now de-scended to political-football status with the extension, for 25 years, of the federal government’s power to disapprove of state actions involving changing precinct boundaries, polling places, legislative districts, ballot formats, and other voting procedures.
The “Conservative Movement” is also over. Conservatives won. Conservatism is now a national intellectual, and political, force. To speak of conservatism today as a “movement” belittles it, marginalizes it, which is why it makes sense for liberals like Krugman and Fineman to use the term. But why would conservatives? The term sets conservatism back, back to the days when Bill Buckley had the phone booth nearly to himself. And the government-sponsored monopoly AT&T had all the phone booths to itself.
Now we’ve had a generation — a whole generation! — of deregulation, privatization, and tax cuts. With New York Times editorials frothing all the way. You never hear them complaining about Rosicrucians. And the Soviet Union is on the ash heap of history, exactly where, nine years before it got there, President Reagan predicted it would be, and where National Review sought to consign it when the magazine was launched in 1955.
Curiously, perhaps, the end of the movement is not signified by the number of people in the country who call themselves conservative, which is now 40 percent but in 1968 was only three points lower. What counts is the number of intellectual operations there are, because they set the tone and shape the zeitgeist (not to be confused with immanentizing the eschaton).
Are we winning all the elections? Not on your obama, we’re not. But that’s politics. In the intellectual world, which was where the movement began, conservatism has succeeded.
Of course there’s work to be done. Young people to be taught. Old-timers refreshed. New problems addressed. As Bill Buckley said in 1964, in an address to the Conservative Party of New York State: “Modern formulations are necessary even in defense of very ancient truths. Not because of any alleged anachronism in the old ideas — the Beatitudes remain the essential statement of the Western code — but because the idiom of life is always changing, and we need to say things in such a way as to get inside the vibrations of modern life.”
After the last election it became clear that we need new formulations. But we always need new formulations. We always need to rebuild. Now at least we have a foundation.
Nostalgic conservatives, seeing old age, may long for the Movement. After all, those were glory days. We were young. We had stomach for the fight. We were going to change America. And maybe the world. But the odds were long, and the money was short.
Younger conservatives (living in easier times?) may long for the fellowship of movement politics and covet the honor of its success. The struggle, the hopes, the fears, the disappointments. And some day, dawn. Maybe. How do we prove to our fathers, and our children, that we’re strong? How do we prove it to ourselves?
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?