Modern conservatism is a shuck

As the campaign ends and Inauguration Day augurs the bang of a House committee chair’s gavel announcing the start of a new investigation into the president’s conduct, credulous reporters will get access to people like this and produce stories like these:

The chasm that opened first was intellectual: The neocon movement, which was, in essence, the brain trust of the latter Bush, “has broken off,” Berkowitz said. The next fissure appears to be generational: The so-called reformicons—a priesthood of intellectual Gen X-ers who have been trying to recalibrate Reagan’s vision for the conditions of the 21st century—are at the very heart of the agonized intraparty conflict. On one hand, they’ve often been seen as the potential ideological future of the party. On the other, a resoundingly loud majority of their electorate, the very people for whom they were tending the flame, have roundly rejected their vision. Few in the Republican base in 2016 cared much for free trade and supply-side economics, preferring the isolationist, nativist, paleocon teachings of the itinerant preacher Trump.

Establishment stalwarts in their 60s, meanwhile, are rolling their eyes at the angst of these rarefied intellectual purists, saying there’s nothing wrong with tinkering with your ideology for the sake of forming a coalition to hold power, no matter how motley. To them, Trump is a black swan event, and the way forward, though significantly more difficult after the chaos he’s wrought, isn’t all that fraught: Toss some ideological dead weight overboard to bring in more voters, and run a candidate like Trump’s VP pick Mike Pence in 2020.

So trained are political reporters to take sources at their word, so delicious the idea of a political party flagellating itself for the sake of promoting this austerity proposal or that “entitlement reform” package, that few people will say the sentiments quoted above are rubbish. Thanks to an addiction to leaden polysyllabic words, William F. Buckley, Jr. normalized the detestation of the poor and disregard for complaints from minorities.

As the sun set on Richard Nixon’s felonocracy, George Will cracked the code for inserting Edmund Burke, Disraeli, Russell Kirk, Churchill, Hayek, and Oakesshott into columns that supported a contempt for busing, public schools, and healthy diets, and endorsements of abattoirs in Central America (later subjects include Allen Ginsburg, blue jeans, and the coarsening effect of Bill Clinton on civic life). In their children they inculcate their children in the conviction that federal laws against discrimination are the government’s means of destroying straight white men.

In other posts I’ve confessed to never recognizing conservatism as a positive force; it can’t be. By nature it must oppose. Since at least January 1981 and probably January 1968, what it opposes it must vaporize. The opposition is illegitimate. Busing doesn’t work? Fine. Then leave Jim Crow in public schools intact. Oppose welfare? Good. How do we put these young mothers to work? Gays want to get married? Tough luck – lie about pursuing this lifestyle choice, the same way a child denies sticking a hand in the oatmeal cookie jar. A public option is unmanageable? OK. What to do about pre-existing conditions or those stuck in jobs that don’t provide insurance? Repeatedly the last forty years of political life have seen conservatives back away from the complexities of modern life mumbling the mantra What’s mine is mine. Your bad luck is your business – and your fault, for obviously you deserved it.

A twenty-first century conservative, contrary to his sense of self-importance, is an interventionist, obsessed with the chiselers who might catch a break; he will not stop interfering in your life; he will oppose safe water and efforts to mitigate rising seas because we’re not supposed to spend his money on them, money he will spend on Aquafina and relocating to a suburb garnered from comfortable tax exemptions. Modern conservatism is a shuck. If Donald J. Trump has offered any contribution to our civic, it’s exposing the self-hypnosis practiced by his brethren, for which we did not need von Mises.


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