In an America in which a Republican administration has nationalized the financial sector and both Left and Right call on the government to save them, the authentic conservative is a stranger in his own country. The old signposts are missing, and he travels on roads he’s never seen.
Conservatives looking for direction, for some clue as to how to get out of their present conundrum had best look to where they’ve been. One who has traveled that way before can tell them what lies ahead and how best to face it. In the case of the road we are now traveling, there was a wayfarer who knew this trail by heart: his name was Garet Garrett.
One of the first financial journalists in the country, a writer of nonfiction and sometime novelist, a polemicist and prose stylist without equal, Garrett was born on a farm in the Midwest in 1878, the year Edison patented the gramophone. Apprenticed at 16 to a printer, he fell into the business of journalism and made his way to the big cities, winding up in New York. There he joined the staff of Adolph Ochs’s New York Times, where he served on the editorial board. He specialized in business and became the chronicler of the Roaring Twenties. In the heyday of untrammeled individualism and capitalism untamed, he was the chief celebrant of the New Era of prosperity and seemingly unlimited economic ascent. Later he became the historian of its betrayal and decline at the hands of its own defenders.
The stock market Crash of 1929 augured the end of the world he had known and the beginning of something new in American history: what Garrett called a revolution within the form. Reading of his agony at the victory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a chill of déjà vu crawls up the spine of today’s conservative: Our fighting base is gone. Formerly we could say the people had voted for the New Deal. Now they have voted for it in a positive, overwhelming manner. Then what? Where is the new base? I don’t see it. Where is the fighting position? I haven’t any. No one else seems to have one. Hearst and [Al] Smith and Rockefeller embrace it. The Republicans are saying they must reorganize the party on a liberal platform.