This column begins another new series, one devoted not to the politics of the current presidential campaign but rather to its policy side. What agenda do conservatives have to offer as an alternative to the Establishment’s failed agenda?
My long-term colleague, the late Paul M. Weyrich, and I addressed this question in the last book we co-authored before his death in December, 2008. It is titled The Next Conservatism. For those interested in reading it, it is still available from St. Augustine’s Press in South Bend, Indiana. In these columns, I will discuss the policy prescriptions it offers–which are very different from what the Republican Establishment defines as “conservatism” today.
Philosophically, the conservatism offered in The Next Conservatism is that of Russell Kirk. Kirk may have been the only real conservative in the post-war conservative movement that grew up around Bill Buckley’s National Review. Kirk’s conservatism was what Paul and I called cultural conservatism: conservatism based not on a combination of nationalism and free market economics, but on “the permanent things”, the great truths recognized by traditional Western culture. Kirk disdained unnecessary foreign wars fought to impose our ways on other peoples, and while he was, like all conservatives, in favor of a market economy and strong property rights, he believed markets were less important than culture and politics. Life is to be about more than getting and spending.
Kirk recognized that every generation faces the challenge of redeeming the time. To that end, Paul and I sought in our book to address today’s issues through the lens of Kirk’s cultural conservatism. We consider needed political reforms, such as putting “None of the Above” on every ballot and, where it wins, calling a new election with new candidates. We talk about how to win the war for Western culture, a war conservatives have been losing since the 1960s. We discuss national security in a world where the decline of the state, the rise of new non-state primary loyalties and the spread of Fourth Generation war has made our armed forces and the type of war they prepare for, war between states, obsolete. We call for an end to free trade and the reindustrialization of America; the return of small family farms; and for big government and big business both t0 yield to the local, small-scale, and controllable. Finally, we recommend a new conservative movement that would be about more than politics, one where conservatives would pledge to recover the good things from our past in their daily lives. We call it Retroculture.
At the beginning of this column you will find a photograph of me giving a copy of The Next Conservatism to presidential candidate Donald Trump. Trump’s views on avoidable foreign wars, free trade, political correctness and a number of other subjects have much in common with The Next Conservatism. If he reads it, our book might be helpful to him in fleshing out his agenda. And no one can say Paul Weyrich was not a conservative.
The next conservative agenda, as Paul and I defined it, is available to all candidates of either party. Bernie Sanders would find much to agree with in our discussion of foreign policy. A friend who knows him handed a copy of The Next Conservatism to Senator Ted Cruz. The likely Republican nominee, Paul Ryan, will not be elected president on a platform of more foreign wars, more benefits for Wall Street, and more political correctness. If he wants to win, he will need a new agenda.
Thanks to the late Paul Weyrich, we have one to offer. Carpe liberem.