Do conservatives need to change into radical revolutionaries? 6

Are American conservatives trying to conserve what no longer exists?

John Daniel Davidson, writing at The Federalist, declares that to be the case.

His article is titled We Need To Stop Calling Ourselves Conservatives. Why? Because “the conservative project has failed, and conservatives need to forge a new political identity that reflects our revolutionary moment”.

He argues that –

Conservatives have long defined their politics in terms of what they wish to conserve or preserve — individual rights, family values, religious freedom, and so on. Conservatives, we are told, want to preserve the rich traditions and civilizational achievements of the past, pass them on to the next generation, and defend them from the left. In America, conservatives and classical liberals alike rightly believe an ascendent left wants to dismantle our constitutional system and transform America into a woke dystopia. The task of conservatives, going back many decades now, has been to stop them.

In an earlier era, this made sense. There was much to conserve. But any honest appraisal of our situation today renders such a definition absurd. After all, what have conservatives succeeded in conserving? In just my lifetime, they have lost much: marriage as it has been understood for thousands of years, the First Amendment, any semblance of control over our borders, a fundamental distinction between men and women, and, especially of late, the basic rule of law. …

He maintains that “conservatism used to be about maintaining traditions and preserving Western civilization as a living and vibrant thing” but “Western civilization is dying” – is effectively already dead, and “you cannot preserve or defend something that is dead”.

The traditions and practices that conservatives champion are, at best, being preserved only in an ever-shrinking private sphere. At worst, they are being trampled to dust. They certainly do not form the basis of our common culture or civic life, as they did for most of our nation’s history. …

So what kind of politics should conservatives today, as inheritors of a failed movement, adopt? For starters, they should stop thinking of themselves as conservatives (much less as Republicans) and start thinking of themselves as radicals, restorationists, and counterrevolutionaries. Indeed, that is what they are, whether they embrace those labels or not.

He recalls Thomas Jefferson’s assertion that “periodic revolution to preserve liberty and civil society has always been and always will be necessary”.

He is  convinced that it is necessary now.

The imperative that conservatives must break from the past and forge a new political identity cannot be overstated. It is time now for something new, for a new way of thinking and speaking about what conservative politics should be.

He dates “the end of  Republican politics as we knew it” from the election of Donald Trump to the presidency in 2016. That event “heralded a populist wave and … we are in uncharted waters”. He does not see Trump’s populism as a solution to the terrible change that the West has undergone.

Put bluntly, if conservatives want to save the country they are going to have to rebuild and in a sense re-found it, and that means getting used to the idea of wielding power, not despising it. Why? Because accommodation or compromise with the left is impossible. …

The left will only stop when conservatives stop them, which means conservatives will have to discard outdated and irrelevant notions about “small government.” The government will have to become, in the hands of conservatives, an instrument of renewal in American life — and in some cases, a blunt instrument indeed.

To stop Big Tech, for example, will require using antitrust powers to break up the largest Silicon Valley firms. To stop universities from spreading poisonous ideologies will require state legislatures to starve them of public funds. To stop the disintegration of the family might require reversing the travesty of no-fault divorce, combined with generous subsidies for families with small children. Conservatives need not shy away from making these arguments because they betray some cherished libertarian fantasy about free markets and small government. It is time to clear our minds of cant.

In other contexts, wielding government power will mean a dramatic expansion of the criminal code. It will not be enough, for example, to reach an accommodation with the abortion regime, to agree on “reasonable limits” on when unborn human life can be snuffed out with impunity. As Abraham Lincoln once said of slavery, we must become all one thing or all the other. The Dobbs decision was in a sense the end of the beginning of the pro-life cause. Now comes the real fight, in state houses across the country, to outlaw completely the barbaric practice of killing the unborn.

Conservatives had better be ready for it, and Republican politicians, if they want to stay in office, had better have an answer ready when they are asked what reasonable limits to abortion restrictions they would support. The answer is: none, for the same reason they would not support reasonable limits to restrictions on premeditated murder.

On the transgender question, conservatives will …  need to get comfortable saying … that Drag Queen Story Hour should be outlawed; that parents who take their kids to drag shows should be arrested and charged with child abuse; that doctors who perform so-called “gender-affirming” interventions should be thrown in prison and have their medical licenses revoked; and that teachers who expose their students to sexually explicit material should not just be fired but be criminally prosecuted.

If all that sounds radical, fine. It need not, at this late hour, dissuade conservatives in the least. Radicalism is precisely the approach needed now because the necessary task is nothing less than radical and revolutionary.

To those who worry that power corrupts, and that once the right seizes power it too will be corrupted, they certainly have a point. If conservatives manage to save the country and rebuild our institutions, will they ever relinquish power and go the way of Cincinnatus? It is a fair question, and we should attend to it with care after we have won the war.

For now, there are only two paths open to conservatives. Either they awake from decades of slumber to reclaim and re-found what has been lost, or they will watch our civilization die. There is no third road.

While it would not be hard to make a confirming case that “marriage as it has been understood for thousands of years, the First Amendment, any semblance of control over our borders, a fundamental distinction between men and women, and, especially of late, the basic rule of law” are “lost”; and “that Drag Queen Story Hour should be outlawed; that parents who take their kids to drag shows should be arrested and charged with child abuse; that doctors who perform so-called ‘gender-affirming’ interventions should be thrown in prison and have their medical licenses revoked; and that teachers who expose their students to sexually explicit material should not just be fired but be criminally prosecuted”, other assertions of his need more examination.

Is Western civilization effectively dead?

Is the idea of small government outdated and irrelevant?

Is the idea of a free market economy nothing more than an unrealizable “cherished fantasy”?

Should divorce be made harder?

Should abortion be totally forbidden in all circumstances?

Above all, if conservatives “awake from decades of slumber to reclaim and re-found what has been lost” will the strong exercise of political power – which he recommends as the remedy – be enough to resuscitate Western civilization?

If it is too late for traditional conservatism to recover the values that have been discarded, would authoritarian government be a new development of Western civilization or would it be a replacement of it with its opposite – Oriental style, Chinese Communist Party style, dictatorship?

If that is the only way to re-establish the rule of law, be rid of same-sex “marriage”, restore the efficacy of the First Amendment, re-seal our borders, save children from forced mutilation and sterilization for the profit of doctors and from racist indoctrination by teachers, then yes, Western civilization is already dead.

There is no third choice between liberty and tyranny.