Cargo Cult Conservatism

If you were to go back in time to the 1980’s, scoop up a group of conservatives and show them this post from the National Conservatives, those retro-conservatives would be very confused. For starters. they would be puzzled as to why such a thing was even necessary in 2022. Surely by this late date everyone would know the general framework of the American Right. More important, it would be the general framework of the nation, given the trajectory of the conservative movement.

Once the present situation in America was explained to them, they would no doubt want to know what went wrong? Was there a horrible calamity that derailed conservatives and sent the nation reeling into authoritarian degeneracy? Did the Left stage a revolt and seize the country by force? Did we lose the Cold War? At this point, the room would fall silent as none of the signatories of that post could provide a coherent explanation for why things have gone so horribly wrong.

Many of them have been participating in a long running debate about what fills the void left by the implosion of Buckley conservatism. A few camps have formed up around various concepts. They all agree that Buckley-style conservatism was a failure, but there has not been much discussion about why it failed. In fact, they seem to think Buckley conservatism was fine, as they make clear in that document. Again, everything there was baseline conservatism in the 1980’s.

Those 1980’s conservatives would also be a bit puzzled by the names. Once they got their bearings, they would quickly figure out that many of their favorite conservatives in the 1980’s did not live to see 2022. New voices would have come along to fill those spots, but surely some would have made it. Which of these names are taking up the banner once held by Sam Francis, Pat Buchanan and Paul Gottfried? It seems like those guys were right about the direction of conservatism.

Imagine the shock when it was explained that those guys were not only purged from conservatism but pre-emptively purged from the new conservatism. Sure, this statement of principles is being posted in a magazine founded by Pat Buchanan, but not a single name on that list would want his name in the same sentence with Buchanan or any of the other guys from the 1980’s who turned out to be right. In fact, many have denounced the old paleos as immoral.

There is something to be said for getting back to basics in a time of stress, so this statement of principles makes sense for a group that largely seems dedicated to going back in time and starting over. By embracing what was standard issue conservatism in the 1980’s, they are hoping to reset the movement and install themselves at the top, with all the benefits that come from it. That means their central claim is that real conservatism has never been tried.

It is in that document, however, where you see the seeds of failure within the old Buckley-style conservatism. The first principle starts with “We wish to see a world of independent nations.” It finishes with “We endorse a policy of rearmament by independent self-governing nations and of defensive alliances whose purpose is to deter imperialist aggression.” The fact that this obvious contradiction was not obvious to the signers suggests they have leaned nothing from failure.

As George Washington explained in his farewell address, a nation cannot remain independent when it forms alliances with other nations. As history makes clear, when you agree to defend Poland from its enemies, you inherit the enemies of Poland, even if that contradicts the interests of your people. Washington correctly argued that “inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded.”

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