That was the title of a Heritage Foundation lecture I attended this afternoon, delivered by Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield. The title was somewhat misleading in that it ended up being less a prescriptive talk on what conservatism should be going forward, but more of a meditation on what conservatism is and has been.
Mansfield/>/> traced the origins of conservatism back to the French Revolution, when it arose out of a need to check the excesses of liberalism. Ever since then it has faced the dilemma of whether to offer an alternative to liberalism, or to essentially act as the best defender of liberalism by saving it from its extreme application. As he put it, "Does it go back, or go slow?"
In an Aristotelian sense, conservatives see democratic society as an end by itself, while liberals see it as a means, and constantly charge forward in the name of equality, without thinking about the consequences.
Remember the controversy over whether Sarah Palin was, gasp, a Buchananite? Sean Scallon has an interesting article in the current issue of the American Conservative exploring how Jacksonian social conservatives migrated from the 1990s Buchanan Brigades to the Bush Leagues, even though they represent polar opposites in terms of foreign policy.
The liberal reaction to the McCain ad illustrates the folly of trying to achieve race-neutrality through heightened racial consciousness. People for whom racial tolerance and equality are top virtues scour a political ad with no overtly racial content to locate racial stereotypes. They end up looking at an ad that simply includes a black man and young white women and they see, "Barack Obama will rape yo daughters overtones." And they assume everybody else, especially evil racist conservatives, must see it too. But you can't fight racism by adopting the racist mindset.