THE CONSERVATIVE SURGE
We are witnessing the disintegration of the liberal experiment in borrow-as-you-go governance, a 30 year project that was allowed to proceed – until very recently – with active and tacit conservative cooperation.
This has opened an opportunity for conservatives to take front stage.
Here’s the question of the day:
Are the conservatives ready?
The Scary Context
As I’ve already written at some length elsewhere, the US economic model has arrived at a major turning point. For the latter part of the post WWII era the USA has been a consumption-driven economy supported by increasing levels of outsourced borrowing. We have now arrived at the dramatic juncture where the USA is being forced by compelling fiscal and international forces to become what we once were: a production-driven economy supported by savings and private investment. How well we make this transition (and whether we accomplish it before enduring a catastrophic debt and borrowing collapse) will have a profound ripple effect on the condition of Western civilization itself. The stakes could not be higher.
Civilization is our single most important social technology. Without its blessings, our lives will quickly become (quoting Thomas Hobbes) “nasty, brutish and short.”
The term “Dark Ages” was coined to describe the medieval period after the fall of the Roman Empire when “the light of learning” had gone out, in that our institutional memory of the ancient classics had effectively been buried. I use the term in a different sense here: A Dark Age describes any prolonged historical period when civilization regresses to one of its atavistic authoritarian forms or descends even further into chaos. The victory of Nazism or Soviet communism in the last century would have been new Dark Age, as would a global nuclear war…the risk of which grows in direct proportion to the decline of civilization. The current list of threats to civilization is too long for this essay. I assume you have considered some of them already or you might not be reading this….
Conservatism has been trapped in a dangerous malaise. I use the term dangerous advisedly: the prospect of an effective freeze-out of robust conservative participation in governance should alarm almost everyone. Without a real political dialogue between the liberal and conservative elements within each political party and throughout the culture at large, and without the realistic checks and balances the inevitable result is “trouble, right here in River City” (to quote from Meredith Wilson’s Harold Hill).
Liberalism in its most undisciplined forms is prone to capture by plausible idiots. These are the faux-reasonable ideologues, the elite fools who are fully capable of taking the country into a fiscal train wreck of unprecedented scale. The predictable efforts by the left-wing to “repair” its own damage will – if allowed – drive the USA into a command and control economy. This is the same a model (how soon we forget!) that so spectacularly failed in the former Soviet Union. That in turn would represent the terminus of the American Experiment in it replacement by the dying European model. The failure of America would have a ripple effect, one that would take Western civilization (already fragile) past a dangerous tipping point.
I am not making another case for a political movement as we tend to understand that term. Political movements are like bowel movements. They begin with a warning sign, followed by a period of effort; and they eventually end, leaving a pile of crap for others to clean up. Instead we need a something more durable and universal. I am making the case for a new conservatism, resurgent, robust and relevant; and inter alia, for a return to a liberalism untainted by ideological lunacy, the kind that was constructively engaged once upon a time in a dialogue with conservatism.
This realignment needs to happen as soon as possible. The prospect of a new Dark Age looms like a cloud of locusts just on the horizon…and we are unprepared for the assault.
An interesting article about the growing ferment within conservatism appeared recently in the New York Times. Ironically it was located in the ARTS section. It is an excellent point of departure for discussion.
‘Epistemic Closure’? Those Are Fighting Words
By Patricia Cohen
New York Times Art Section
LINK — http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/28/books/28conserv.html?ref=arts
Pull quote –
“…the phrase ‘epistemic closure’ has been ricocheting among conservative publications and blogs as a high-toned abbreviation for ideological intolerance and misinformation.
/George H. Nash, a conservative historian and most recently the author of ‘Reappraising the Right: The Past and Future of American Conservatism’ (ISI Books), described the first generation of modern conservatives as the ‘era of the intellectual,’ led by people like William F. Buckley and Russell Kirk, who laid down the movement’s theoretical and historical foundations.
“The second, which began in the late 1970s and continued through George W. Bush’s administration, was the era of “applied conservatism,” he said. This was when conservatives started to build a large infrastructure of research organizations for scholars and experts who created policy initiatives.
“A third generation of modern conservatives is now taking shape, he added, although its defining characteristics are still unclear.”
CONSERVATISM AND THE “VISION THING”
A compelling vision is the missing piece in the conservative recovery.
Vision requires perspective. I invite you to step back and look at the really big picture for a moment. Human history from the Roman Empire to the present day presents a Darwinian drama, the life-death struggle of competing forms of civilization for survival on the world stage. The American experiment was something entirely new on the planet, a new model of what a civilization can become. For this reason alone we were and are seen as a threat to the competing models. But we are not alone. Civilization in all its freedom-friendly forms is under attack, particularly those nodes of civilization that are most “American” in their organization and character. And 20th and 21st century weapons have ramped up the stakes. We have arrived at the “We dare not lose” level of the struggle.
My thesis is that one general type of civilization is uniquely equipped to survive the challenges of resurgent atavism, post-modern tribalism and the collapse of self confidence of the secular intelligentsia. That general type is the creative /adaptive civilization model. The American experiment was the first, but far from the last such creative civilization. Creative civilizations must prevail in the present century or the entire game could be lost to a new Dark Age.
Creative civilizations require freedom and the institutions that secure and protect freedom.
But without a resurgent conservative movement, ascendant and respected in the culture, the media and in government, most of the freedom-respecting zones of Western civilization will go under…possibly for a very long time. I would prefer to avoid a Dark Age rather than attempt to climb out of one.
Under the present conditions, conservatism is the key ingredient in the defense of any healthy, creative civilization. Such a civilization is necessarily held up by two pillars: renaissance conservatism (a term and concept I will flesh over the coming weeks) and a deeper, more reasonable liberalism.
I really don’t like the rhetoric of apocalypse. Yes, the stakes are high, but I am confident that a renewed conservatism linked to the rescue of creative civilization will in fact prevail. Yes, there is peril. Yes, there are existential risks. This is why this vision has both historical relevance and urgency.
What passes for liberalism in the present moment is far too infected with pathological post-modernism to be a constructive player in the coming struggle. The next “winds of change” will necessarily be led by the conservatives, at least until the reasonable liberals come out of the closet to join them.
Among the current crop of postmodern liberals, reasonable minds are as rare as classical guitar players among a flock of turkeys.
Conservatism and Liberalism are capable at their best of transcending ideological movements and the coalitions-of-convenience movements.
This episodic transcendence tends to happen only during those periods when Liberalism and Conservatism become part of the ongoing creative-constructive dialogic of civilization. These rare moments in history are the Dialogic Periods. The future of civilization may well hinge on whether renaissance conservatives can initialize another Dialogic Period of unprecedented scope and duration.
In the most generic sense, conservatism is about the defense of essential human boundaries, while liberalism is the arbitrary boundary-dissolution project. In this universal sense, Conservatism and Liberalism are the most fundamentally relevant voices in any vital political system. When they function effectively in the dialogic role, each operates as a constructive check and balance against ideological excess. Within the resulting creative dialogic, their respective advocates are confident, but humble as well, mindful of the larger purposes in play, knowing that neither side can claim exclusive ownership of the best future for humanity. In this essential role, conservatives and liberals remain actively conscious of the great dialogic of which they are an essential voice, but never an exclusive one.
At this historical juncture, conservatism has a uniquely urgent historical role because of the moral crisis that has disabled post-modern liberalism. To fulfill that role conservatism must undergo an in-house renaissance on order to be able to lead the general renaissance. In this space I am beginning an outline of what such a conservative transformation would look like and, inter alia, what a renewed liberal-conservative dialogic period can accomplish for America and the world.
I will return to this topic in detail over the next days, weeks and months.
The Author, a California Attorney, is the former Alameda County Public Defender (Profile – www.jaygaskill.com/Profile.pdf ) and author of two recent works of fiction, released a e-books. Search Amazon and Barnes and Noble, using “Jay B Gaskill” for more….