Conservatism of the big government: bad for the movement and the country

(Larry Downing / Reuters)

In this current era, too many rights have fallen into the lures of bellicose and centralizing populism.

Oworm In recent years, parts of the American political right seem to have forgotten, dismissed, or simply abandoned many of the guiding principles that have defined American conservatism for generations. While the political circles supporting nationalism, populism, industrial planning, Trumpism, or the common good do not coincide, there is one important area of ​​overlap: compared to those on the right a decade ago, they are more open. to a more managerial, muscular approach, Uncle Sam a spendthrift and less enthusiastic about the idea of ​​distributing authority to states, localities and non-governmental bodies.

Now that the progressives controlling Washington are pushing for a New Deal-Great Society-style agenda centralizing power and sporting a breathtaking prize, conservatism finds itself in a bind. It’s hard to be taken seriously as an anti-statist after flirting with statism. One type of response you might hear is like, “But our costly, centralized management proposals are better than their expensive, centralized management proposals. But American conservatism has not been and should not become another flavor of consolidating power. The key to defeating the hyper-ambitious plans of the progressives and crafting an inspiring and politically successful agenda is to pick up and dust off the guiding principles that we have recently neglected.

Conservatism always begins with the beliefs, institutions, and policies that have worked for a particular people in a particular place. So, American conservatism is not contemporary Hungarian conservatism or Iranian conservatism of 1979 or English conservatism of the 17th century or French conservatism of the 12th century. America was founded on concepts such as religious freedom, ordered freedom, egalitarianism, democratic republicanism, and enumerated government powers. Its character was shaped by the courage of immigrants, the pioneering spirit, the promise of endless opportunities and a vibrant civil society. It has become a continental nation with more diversity than any other on the globe.

This is a unique and complex combination of factors. A supercomputer could not design the right habits, standards, and organizations to make it work properly. Only experience could do it. The commitment of American conservatives to personal virtue, voluntary associations, self-government, localism, federalism, capitalism and textualism is not simply the consequence of an understanding of human nature. That is, American conservatism does not stem solely from appreciating human fallibility, understanding natural law, and valuing prudence. It is the result of centuries of trial and error in the real world – understanding the American experience and the American people in America.

American conservatives do not protect individual freedom, promote civic organizations, and distribute government power just because. We do not oppose technocracy, socialism and adventurous judges just because. We aim to keep these beliefs and practices as they are essential here. American success requires nurturing personal responsibility and civic virtue; loyalty to non-state action, positive law and local governance; and respect for a range of cultures and traditions.

Consolidated power, centralized tinkering, and a bulky, authoritarian Washington are incompatible with American conservatism because the American character and the American experience teach us that they are incompatible with American success.

About ten years ago, something healthy, even exciting, began to creep in on the right. No longer satisfied with the political agenda that became popular in the 1980s, some began to make new proposals. The “reformist conservatives” played an important role in this movement. This renewal project was important because, as I wrote before, too many people on the right had confused politics with principles. That is, tax cuts and deregulation are certainly a manifestation of American conservative thinking; in fact, they were political ideas in line with our guiding principles and perfectly suited to the post-Great Society era.

But tax cuts and deregulation are just one manifestation of the US-Conservative guiding principles. By continually pushing these policies regardless of the circumstances, our agenda has become blunted and our policy-making muscles have atrophied. We needed ideas that were both consistent with our intellectual tradition and adapted to our time. The Tea Party, at its best, seemed to be heralding this very thing. It was a timely reaction to increased federal spending and the concentration of power in the early Obama era, and it advocated cutting spending and redistributing power.

Likewise, as I reread “reformocon” documents, I was struck by the desire of this group to approach contemporary issues in new ways while remaining true to concepts such as personal responsibility, limited government and a society. prosperous civilian. Indeed, as Peter Wehner wrote at the time, “Today’s conservatives must show Americans how the principles that led to successful solutions when applied to the problems of that time can do the same. when applied to problems quite different from this one. The same principles applied to new problems will produce new solutions.

But things took an unfortunate turn. Rather than saying, “We need to draw new political ideas from the American-Conservative guiding principles,” some on the right have simply abandoned the conservative guiding principles. Yes, we had to stop pushing old-fashioned proposals; no, that doesn’t mean we have to give up virtue, originalism and liberalism and start supporting I-alone-ism, giant federal budgets, tariffs, industrial policy, federal child allowances, etc.

There is nothing wrong with criticizing “zombie Reaganism” or “dead consensus” if the goal is to erase decades of exhausted thinking and reasoning from American-conservative guiding principles. There is, however, something wrong with ignoring these principles and reasoning with vague feelings such as “helping the family,” “the support workers,” or “strengthening America.” This can, as we have seen, lead to an agenda that neglects states, localities, civil society and pluralism; surcharges Washington; expands government expenses; and educate technocrats.

The greatest challenges of our time can be met through strong American conservatism. Legitimate concerns about the disproportionate power of disconnected and condescending elites can be addressed by distributing authority, opposing technocracy, and trusting practical wisdom. The frustration over our loss of community and solidarity can be addressed by catalyzing local mediating bodies, respecting traditional lifestyles and preserving pluralism. Dealing with our international competitors and solving our border problems comes from focusing Uncle Sam’s attention on the narrow set of problems that only he can handle.

This era could and should have led to a multitude of creative and practical solutions in line with our proven principles. Instead, too many on the right have fallen prey to the lures of bellicose and centralizing populism; followed the decidedly unconvincing whims of Donald Trump; and engaged in unproductive and unproductive Twitter, Cable News and Substack wars. So now, when progressives come up with federal initiatives that blow up banks, cradle to grave, the Right can look boring when asked why the consolidation of money and power in Washington is suddenly a failure. bad thing. Worse yet, we have too few sensible and practical proposals in hand that would tackle today’s family, community and cultural issues through decentralization and civil society. And we have too few public leaders with a track record of successful governance in accordance with the tenets of American conservatism.

It is fashionable today in some center-right circles to denigrate “the establishment” and “proceduralism”. It’s true that old networks can become friendly, selfish, and sclerotic, and focusing too much on the process can distract us from our desired goals. But every conservative should know that radicalism and amateurism wait behind the scenes when we dismiss proven institutions, norms and rules of thumb. The guiding principles of American conservatism reflect the American character and have evolved based on the American experience. They contain the accumulated wisdom of those who have gone before us and ruled before us. They should not be blithely thrown away. They can tell us why and how to resist this period of progressive strength in Washington, and they can tell us how best to resolve America’s current problems after this period is over.

Andy Smarick – Mr. Smarick is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, where his work focuses on education, civil society, and the principles of American conservatism.

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