Friday, March 1, 2019

Vox Popoli: Fixing conservatism to save the West

The author of The Virtue of Nationalism, Yoram Hazony, is attempting to define a viable alternative to the neo-liberal world order.
The present moment is one of growing discomfort, both in America and in Europe, with the regnant liberal political theory often described as liberal democracy. It is frequently said that the only genuine alternatives to liberal democracy are Marxism and Fascism, but I don’t believe this is true. I want to sketch an alternative viewpoint that I will call conservative democracy. This ­position is closer to the spirit of traditional constitutionalism in both America and Britain than the liberal political theories of our day. Moreover, it is far better equipped to maintain the free institutions of these nations than liberalism.

There are prominent scholars and public figures who are convinced that “things are getting better” in almost every way. As for me, I find it difficult not to see the Western nations disintegrating ­before our eyes. The most significant institutions that have characterized America and Britain for the last five centuries, giving these countries their internal ­coherence and stability—the Bible, public religion, the independent national state, and the traditional family—are not merely under assault. They have been, at least since World War II, in precipitous ­decline.

In the United States, for example, some 40 percent of children are today born outside of marriage. The overall fertility rate has fallen to 1.76 children per woman. American children for the most part receive twelve years of public schooling that is scrubbed clean of God and Scripture. And it is now possible to lose one’s livelihood or even to be prosecuted for maintaining traditional Christian or Jewish views on various subjects.

Add to this the fact that the principal project of European and American political elites for decades now has been the establishment of a “liberal international order” whose aim is to export American norms and values to other nations, and you have a stunning picture of what the United States has become—a picture that in certain respects resembles that of Napoleonic France: an ideologically anti-religious, anti-traditionalist universalist power seeking to bring its version of the Enlightenment to the nations of the world, if necessary by force.
I applaud Hazony's efforts. They are without question an improvement on the current situation. But his efforts are not going to work because Christianity is an integral component of Western Civilization and Hazony's habitual conflation of Judaism with Christianity is far too akin to the anti-Western Judeo-Christianity that is one of the primary causal factors of the decline of the USA and the West. Hazony even appears to understand this on some level:
What is now called “liberal democracy” refers not to the traditional Anglo-­American constitution, but to a rationalist reconstruction of it that has been detached from Protestant religion and the Anglo-American nationalist tradition. Far from being a time-tested form of government, this liberal-democratic ideal is something new to both America and Britain, establishing itself as authoritative only in recent decades.

Traditionally, Americans referred to their form of government as republican government. Indeed, insofar as usage is concerned, the term “liberal democracy” does not become more common in public discussion than the traditional term “republican government” until the 1960s. And it does not achieve its present dominant position in discourse on forms of government (overwhelming even the expression “democratic government”) until the 1990s.

This shift in language is not arbitrary, but reflects a profound reconfiguration at the level of ideas as well: a reconfiguration of what kind of government is considered desirable and legitimate. Roughly speaking, the dominant position of the term “republican government” corresponds to the period in which the Anglo-American conservative tradition remained to some significant degree intact, and so was able to serve as a bulwark against too great a penetration of liberal axioms into public life.

What was a “republican government” in the traditional American conception? A republican government in America was, among other things, one that could see itself as reflecting and reinforcing the values of a “Christian people” (to use a famous phrase of the Supreme Court that continued to be reaffirmed through the 1930s). Indeed, in 1942, FDR was still speaking of the United States as a nation that “hold[s] to the old ideals of Christianity.”

But by 1948 we find, for the first time, the U.S. Supreme Court banning voluntary religious education in public schools that offer simultaneous Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish classes.

Almost everyone wants the fruits of Western Civilization less whatever aspects make them feel uncomfortable or excluded. But they will never attain them, or even preserve them, without accepting and embracing every aspect of it, even if it leaves them on the outside. In any event, it's a well-written article and it's interesting to see an Israeli intellectual defending both nationalism and American Christianity, as well as highlighting the mythology of the "proposition nation". And he is correct to observe that the survival of the West will require the rejection of what he describes as the closed liberal axiom system of Enlightenment-rationalist principles.