(James Ostrowski is an attorney in Buffalo, New York and author of Government Schools Are Bad for Your Kids: What You Need to Know and Political Class Dismissed: Essays Against Politics." His latest book is Direct Citizen Action: How We Can Win the Second American Revolution Without Firing a Shot. See his website.)
Why did conservatism fail in its duel with the progressive state? First, conservatism is an incoherent and ill-defined doctrine. It is difficult to defeat a powerful and appealing set of ideas like progressivism with such a vague doctrine. Who will go to the barricades for a mishmash? Few, apparently. Progressivism offers a simple and very satisfying panacea for all human ills. Conservatism offers hostility to that simple solution without offering up an alternative vision.
Second, American conservatism is a reaction to progressivism as opposed to a positive doctrine itself. It defines itself as an attempt to slow down progressivism. As Mises argued, “conservatism is an empty program. It is merely negative, rejecting any change.” Mises also asked rhetorically, what do conservatives stand for? In the battle for public opinion between progressivism, which promises utopia on earth via the government and cost-free as well, and conservatives who said either “No” or “slow down,” it is no surprise that progressivism has defeated conservatism for decades and especially currently