American Conservatism is Fiddling While Rome Burns | David Azerrad
What is conservatism in America today? It’s hundreds of millions of
dollars a year spent fiddling while Rome burns. It’s ideas with little to no
consequence. It’s getting trampled all over by History, but while yelling Stop!
Conservatism is the seven cheers for capitalism and the deafening
silence on demographic change, feminism, and corporate malfeasance. It’s the
same tired cast of speakers blathering about limited government almost a
century after the New Deal. It’s the platitudinous Reagan quotes and the
worn-out Buckley anecdotes. It’s the mindless optimism
and the childish exhortations—if something can’t go on forever, it won’t!
If it were only that, conservatism would simply be a harmless
persuasion for nostalgic Baby Boomers. Or to be more generous, one big Benedict
Option to offer a semblance of an alternative to the pervasive progressivism of
But conservatism is also the endless wars, the nation-building,
and the outdated alliances. It’s the free trade fetish. It’s the foolish
libertarianism that hates the government more than it loves America. It’s the
unconscionable refusal to clamp down on immigration.
Worst of all, conservatism is the cowardice and accommodation in
the face of leftist hegemony. It’s the long list of enemies to the Right. It’s
the court eunuchs and other members of the controlled opposition who offer an
echo, but never a choice. It’s the faux grandstanding while living in fear of
being called a racist.
Admittedly, this is not the whole of conservatism. There are still
dissidents, contrarian thinkers, and courageous gadflies who refuse to lick the
boots that crush them. Alas, their voices are, more often than not, drowned out
by those of the conservative establishment.
If this is conservatism, then we may be inclined to say, let the
conservatives keep it. Perhaps the time has come for patriotic Americans tired
of the Left desecrating all they hold dear to go beyond conservatism?
Conservatism may indeed be unsalvageable at this point. The old
guard is too heavily invested in—nay, it benefits too much from the status quo
to own up to its failures, correct its leftward drift, and reground itself in
the realities of the 21st century. Its business model works, as evidenced by
the hundreds of millions of dollars that flow into its coffers each year.
And yet conservatism, in its dotage, cannot shake the nagging
suspicion that it no longer speaks to the country it loves, in particular to
those who have no living memory of the Cold War. This dawning realization could
be amplified through probing questions: is America today more conservative than
it was when the conservative movement began 70 or so years ago? Is conservatism
itself as conservative as it was then? On the off chance that the conservative
agenda were to be implemented, would it fundamentally transform the United
States of America and lead to conservative hegemony (or would it simply save us
money and buy us time)?
Across the board, the answer is a resounding no. Conservatism must therefore overhaul itself. If it refuses, then
it should be left to die with the passage of time. A new Right, in any case, is
already overtaking it.
This new right, which of yet has no name, is anchored in the
realization that the conservative project in America today is fundamentally a
counterrevolutionary one. We lost. They won. Painful as it is to admit, we no
longer feel at home in our own country. In this progressive theocracy in which
all must worship at the altar of Wokeness, conservatism, if one can still even
call it that, is more about overthrowing than conserving. Burke’s edifying
exhortation—“Spartam nactus es; hanc exorna”—must be altered to suit the
times: Sparta was your inheritance, now reclaim her.
As such, this new Right has a decidedly unconservative
temperament. It is spirited, manly, and combative. We fight with the same
intensity, resolve, and clarity of purpose with which the Left fights. And we
fight not to stem our losses, but to win. As Pat Buchanan once wrote, we “want
to engage the Left on every front; to defund it; to drive it back into the
redoubts whence it emerged decades ago. We want to return to their places of
honor the republican beliefs, cultural norms and moral values we were raised
This new Right understands
not just ideas, but power. The Left’s ideological hegemony is not principally
the result of better ideas, but of its long march through the institutions. We
understand the need to build new institutions—in particular those with the
power to shape public opinion—and to reconquer lost ones or, at the very least,
defund them. The universities, in particular, must be brought to heel.
We also understand the importance of knowing how to govern.
However much we may long for a return to constitutional government, the modern
administrative-welfare state is here to stay. No one, not even the great
Reagan, has succeeded in taming it, much less scaling it back. The right must
be comfortable wielding the levers of state power. And it should emulate the
Left in using them to reward friends and punish enemies (within the confines of
the rule of law).
Ours is obviously a non-libertarian Right. The common enemy that
justified an alliance with the free market fundamentalists is long gone. Today,
libertarians actively side with our enemies: they promote open borders and
empty prisons, and strengthen China’s hand through their consumer-focused
economic policies. Ours is primarily a conservatism of countries and borders,
citizens and families, none of which can take root in the barren libertarian
soil of atomized individuals and global markets.
As for our priorities, they are clear. We must confront the great
threats of our time: unsustainable immigration levels and rapid demographic
change; cratering fertility rates and collapsing families; the corrosive acids
of neoliberalism and identity politics (in all their manifestations, from tech
censorship to racial preferences); pathological white guilt; a political system
largely unmoored from the consent of the governed; fiscal irresponsibility; and
the emasculation of men through feminized education and various forms of soma
that sap spiritedness (in particular pornography). In short, the entirety of
the ruling class’s ideology must be discredited.
develop policies commensurate with these problems, identify plausible ways to
implement them in a hostile landscape, and ensure they are enforced once
enacted. Since the entirety of America’s rotten ruling class will oppose us,
this bold undertaking requires both prudence and courage.
task before us is daunting. It may be insurmountable. But this much we know:
unless we succeed, we will eventually be reduced to second-class citizenship in
a declining country whose only solace will be the distant memory of former
David Azerrad is an assistant professor at
Hillsdale College’s Van Andel Graduate School of Government in Washington, D.C.