I’ve done a couple of columns in this space (and at my site The Hayride we’ve had even more) on the subject of revivalism as a necessary successor to conservatism, and those have generated a nice little flurry of responses via email and other means.
One of those, which wasn’t all that complimentary, has stuck in my head. My correspondent turns out to have been partially correct.
“You haven’t invented anything special,” he said. “You’re just repackaging things others have said and calling it yours.”
We’ll set aside the fact that I never claimed to be a prophet or to be possessed with any kind of divine inspiration here. Nor is there anything unique about any of the basics of what I and others writing under the “revivalist” banner have presented.
All we’re talking about here is injecting a little testosterone and human growth hormone into conservatism, giving a movement a new name better reflective of the challenge it seeks to meet, and demanding that it go on offense and stop losing ground to the Hard Left.
Conservatism hasn’t conserved enough. The Marxist crowd figured out how best to weaponize its oppressor-vs.-oppressed binary critique of Western civilization in America, namely by using race and sex to create its new revolutionary proletarian vanguard, and turned a dead economic philosophy into a live cultural virus which has swallowed up all of our institutions and has gain-of-functioned its way into the halls of political power.
Conservatism wasn’t built for that fight. Conservatism was built for polite conversations with liberal Democrats. It was built for Firing Line and for The McLaughlin Report. Conservatism, as it was constructed by people like William F. Buckley, aimed to “stand athwart history, yelling ‘Stop!’”
It was never built for offensive maneuvers. And for a time, that was all right. For a time, the opponents of conservatism largely shared the same set of cultural and political values we do.
But that time is over. And again and again the people who have called themselves conservatives have proven they lack the firepower to beat the Marxists in the real fight in which we’re currently engaged for the soul of not just America but the Western world.
The Mark Milley fiasco of this week couldn’t be a better illustration of that. Whether you take the text of Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s forthcoming book Peril at face value and see Milley’s reported words and deeds as treason or whether you think those may have been embellished, perhaps by Milley himself, what’s unmistakably true and perhaps most disturbing about the controversy is the American Left’s reaction shows they’re perfectly fine with the utter dysfunction the story represents.
Do you think Daniel Patrick Moynihan would have been all right with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff demanding loyalty oaths from top military personnel to the exclusion of the elected President of the United States? Would Joe Lieberman have said it was fine to tell the Chinese they’d get a heads-up in the event war with them was in the offing?
And yet hourly on CNN and MSNBC this week there have been wild-eyed leftists and ruling-class sycophants calling Milley a hero.
Consider the left’s COVIDgasms as well. You can’t successfully make common cause with people whose response to a recall effort against Gavin Newsom based on public outrage over hypocritical, unscientific, and authoritarian abuses of power to create COVID lockdowns is to (1) invoke the specter of Donald Trump’s unpopularity in that state and then (2) claim a mandate for more COVID lockdowns when the Trump demonization works as an electoral strategy.
Yes, Larry Elder’s campaign comes off in retrospect as more of a publicity tour for his radio show and past and future books, which probably didn’t help the recall effort, but that’s not the point. The Left, who’ve routed the liberals out of the Democrat Party’s leadership and even reprogrammed a not-insignificant number of them into running-dog communist lackeys, wasn’t interested in an honest debate about Newsom’s Branch Covidian power grabs. What they wanted was to hold on to, and grow, their power. So you call Larry Elder the black face of white supremacy and you cover California with “Orange Man Bad,” and now you claim a national consensus for things the Constitution clearly doesn’t allow.
It isn’t David French’s world anymore, if it ever was.
But the good news is a revivalist movement, if it even takes on that name, is right there waiting to launch. The foundations, intellectual, spiritual, and political, are already in place.
Yes, you want examples, and yes, I’ll provide some.
Go and read the text of the speech Mollie Hemingway gave upon receipt of the Bradley Prize, with an audience full of Old Regular conservative attendees, where, in talking about the cultural aggressions and bullying of the Left, she said this:
For conservatism to mean anything now, it has to be about rejecting this rigged system. Don’t just say “stop.” Our duty is to not to say “stop” but then bend the knee in cowardice when the mob comes. That brings even more harm to our more vulnerable neighbors and does nothing to prevent the destruction of the country.
It’s not comfortable for conservatives who value order and civility to even think or speak this way. But the fact is that many Americans are alienated from and no longer feel at home in their own country. The moral climate has been degraded as the left has taken over every single one of the powerful institutions in the country and is actively pushing people to lead a life of godlessness, barrenness, selfishness, gluttony, and addiction to outrage and dopamine.
All of a sudden, the conservative project is not a conservative one, so much as a counter-revolutionary one.
That’s about as revivalist a message as you can get.
Or have a look at the scalding indictment of the military-industrial complex former Marine Josiah Lippincott delivered this week at American Mind distilling much of the new critique of our woke generals and their paymasters into concrete ideas for reform. Or the incandescently-revivalist piece Bruce Abramson put forth Thursday at RealClearPolitics declaring the Buckley conservative formulation obsolete in the modern fight against the woke Left.
Brandon Morse at RedState dashes through revivalist territory as he exhorts the Right to give up its retreatist mentality when tough fights are afoot particularly in the culture:
We’re going to lose and we’re going to lose a lot. They’re so entrenched that driving them out will take years of hard-fought battles ranging from the legal to the physical. People will suffer character assassinations, cancelation, heartbreak, and threats to their well-being … but it’s a battle worth fighting because America is worth fighting for.
The final goal of the culture war isn’t to make someone pull a lever for a certain side, it’s for the very heart of the citizen. Currently, conservatives are appealing to an emotion that the left is starving out of Americans, and soon there won’t be anything left to appeal to. Gone will be the desire to keep freedom, capitalism, and true equality alive.
These losing battles need to be fought, but losing battles doesn’t mean losing the war. You can ask George Washington about that.
Revivalism is on its way to becoming the zeitgeist of the Right. Its critics, if and when it develops some, will dismiss this as mere Trumpism. But Donald Trump was not Ronald Reagan, and even Reagan didn’t invent conservative populism. Trump merely appropriated what was already there, and then he showed two things in his four years in office: first, that the application of some of what we’re calling revivalist politics and policy actually works, and second, that the entrenched elites and Establishment types are so threatened by it as to actively tear the country apart in defense of their power structure when confronted by it. You didn’t just see that with Trump; you saw it even more intensely with Marjorie Taylor Greene before she’d even done anything.
Which might or might not damage Trump as a political force, but it certainly hasn’t dampened that which summoned Trump into being. Don’t forget that if Trump hadn’t been the GOP nominee in 2016 it would have been Ted Cruz, who’s clearly a revivalist in his own right. And if Trump isn’t the nominee in 2024 it’s almost certainly going to be Ron DeSantis, who is arguably more revivalist than Trump is.
Because the public has taken the measure of the Paul Ryans and Bill Cassidys and Liz Cheneys of the world and wants no more to do with them.
A movement larger and longer-lasting than Trump, though perhaps led by him for a time, is waiting to take shape. It’s present in green shoots all across America which are growing despite the toxic spray of the Biden administration and the neo-communist regime which props him up.
Revivalism is coming. It’ll be unmistakable by next November.
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