The Ascendent National Conservatives - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Ascendent National Conservatives

Over the past four years, a loosely organized group of wonkish college students, disgruntled journalists, exhausted political operatives, and a couple of heterodox public figures have denounced the lack of conviction from the conservative establishment.

They call themselves populists, post-liberals, and national conservatives. And they believe that as times change, so should how we react to the times. For them, finding comfort in the same old universally applicable solutions is harmful, if not masochistic. They profess that for conservatism to conserve anything beyond free markets, the “days of stultifying libertarianism and leaders numb to the pain of American’s forgotten cross-sections” must come to an end, as Chase Reid, MIT Political Review’s editor-in-chief, said last week. 

For national conservatives, people who position freedom from restraint as the ultimate goal (rather than virtue) exemplify the weakness that has pushed the conservative movement into an ever-evolving defensive position. They do not despise liberty; in fact, part of why they emphasize culture over tax cuts is because they think that upholding liberty requires social cohesion, fraternity, communitarianism, and order.

They believe that for the sake of what is worth conserving, shared lofty ideals must be bounded by realism. 

They believe that we can’t win if we do not actually govern, and we can’t even fight if we refuse to use the weapons in our arsenal. Thus, instead of appealing to neutrality in opposition to a rapacious progressivism, national conservatives lay down a positive vision, a vision that betters the life of the American worker, strengthens the bonds of the American family, and defends the customs and traditions of the American citizen. 

In this, they are absolutely right.

In conferences like the National Conservatism Conference in Orlando, Florida, which took place earlier this month, the group has demonstrated a level of intellectual sophistication, and let’s not forget, popular appeal, that remains unmatched within today’s conservasphere. 

With voices of dissident academics like Brown’s Glenn Loury, Notre Dame’s Patrick Deneen, and Georgetown’s Joshua Mitchell, national conservatism has garnered enough intellectual maturity to change the nature of the conservative movement.

These heretics of the academic world recognize that for more than half a century, fusionism, the combination of social conservatism and economic liberalism, has defined the Republican Party. They comprehend that its philosophical predominance greatly contributed to the alliance that defeated the Soviet Union, spurred monumental economic growth, and strengthened American hegemony. 

They recognize that this bloc accomplished much when the war was against inflation and Stalinists. But the terrain has changed, and domestically, a war is being waged on our history, our independence, and our way of life. Hence, they argue that if we remain moonstruck by the ideas that worked then — not now — we lose. (READ MORE: David French: The ‘Principled Conservative’)

Now, some believe it is time for their concepts to become action. And a few trailblazers are already seeking to become the voices of this energetic wing.

At the National Conservatism Conference, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley gave a contentious speech where he masterfully articulated how “the reigning political consensus shows little interest in our shared way of life.” Or even worse than that, he argues, “it denigrates the common affections and common loves that make our way of life possible. It undermines the kind of labor and economy on which our way of life depends.”

Two years ago, in the same podium, now Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance delivered his “Beyond Libertarianism” speech, in which he stated that “[libertarians] are so uncomfortable with political power, or so skeptical of whether political power can accomplish anything, that they don’t want to actually use it to solve or even address some of these problems.” He suggested that it was time for conservatives to stop outsourcing policymaking to libertarians because we ought to “choose the civic constitution necessary to support and sustain a good life form, and choose the healthy American nation necessary to defend and support that civic constitution.”  

Hawley and Vance are not alone among those with political power and unmeasured ambition who share such sentiments. Joining NatCon II via Zoom since American Airlines canceled his flight, Sen. Marco Rubio appealed to what he knows is a widening, energetic, and innovative faction, positing that “Americans are looking for, and America needs, a conservative movement that defends our culture and values and promotes capitalism.” And when he said capitalism, Rubio specified that it must be a capitalism that “allow[s] people to get married, own a home, raise a family in a safe neighborhood, retire with dignity, and leave their children better off than themselves.” 

National conservatives know that this is a capitalism that does not and cannot exist today — unless Republicans talk less and do more.

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