More government, centralized power in Washington, overreaching government intervention in the market, state-enforced indoctrination of subjective morality, centering the collective over the individual, and coercing an anti-liberty agenda into the American polity.
You would be correct if you read that and thought it described progressive leftism in America. You would also be correct if you read that and thought it described national conservatism in America.
A new fusionism emerging between the left and right has one thing in common – they want more government in our lives.
Carolina Journal readers may have only recently been introduced to National Conservatism, as it appeared in two of its latest op-eds, one in favor and one opposed. Both articles demonstrate that the National Conservatism movement presents a different vision of conservatism in America.
At first glance, the National Conservative’s Statement of Principles appeals to most with a conservative disposition. There are elements within it that seem to be singing from the same hymnal that many on the right espouse because they are, after all, conservative like us. Supporting the family as the center of a flourishing society, preserving the sovereignty of the nation-state, and the rule of law are good examples.
However, the statement is littered with subjective generalities whose more extreme meaning becomes only too evident when one examines the ideas expressed by national conservatives on social media and at their conferences. Such encounters prove it to be a frighteningly anti-liberty, authoritarian ideology.
There are numerous problems with national conservatism, and other articles have revealed them well. I recommend John Hood’s recent column in National Review and two articles (here and here) published in Law & Liberty. Reason also has an extended piece on the rise of illiberalism and authoritarianism on the American left and right. These articles will provide one with a solid informational background on a variety of issues many conservatives and libertarians have with the “Nat Cons.”
The primary issue I want to raise here is the blatant hypocrisies that emerge from national conservatism for those on the right who have been combating the anti-limited government, anti-free-market, and anti-individual freedom we experience from the left.
National conservatives propose a right-wing form of progressivism that is fine with judicial activism, obstructing federalism and promoting coercive virtue. They seek to use federal power to enforce specific moral and theological ideologies onto citizens rather than allowing it to flourish freely amongst individuals in their respective communities and allowing the people, through their state legislatures, to determine the best public policy for their state. In essence, they oppose keeping the government closer to the people.
Conservatives and Republicans have been unified in the beliefs that limited government, free markets, the rule of law, and ordered liberty are the bulwarks that define us. Likewise, like-minded thinkers like myself believe in federalism, limiting the federal government’s power and empowering the states on a majority of public policies. Where we may be a big tent in some policy areas, socially or fiscally, those are the unifying tenets of the movement, and with good reason. They are the classically liberal elements of the American political tradition given to us by the Founders. They embody the Declaration and the Constitution: free speech, individual liberty, religious tolerance, equality under the law, and self-governance. These are some of the essential elements that make the American Founding exceptional.
American conservatism has been defined by conserving our constitutional order and the political traditions the Framers gave us, which make up our entire American political structure. We have been fused by the belief that the ends of government should be ordered liberty and freedom, and the ends of individuals should be building community and virtue.
National conservatism, embracing ideas primarily found in Europe and rebranding them as American, presents a framework that is perfectly fine with undermining our constitutional order and the political structure of the Founding so long as they get policy outcomes in their favor. Like the left, they believe that a forcibly strong national government is the best pathway forward, thus preventing individuals from flourishing organically in local communities and forcing compliance to the national regime.
A right-to-left fusion of authoritarianism is antithetical to our constitutional order.
The Founders fought against tyranny in the name of liberty. American conservatives, under the banner of preserving the ideals of the Founding, have constantly been battling against the progressive left, who seem hell-bent on undermining those ideals we believe are worth conserving.
We should not play their game.
Conservatives should not concede that our ideas need to be enforced by an active nationalistic police state. What are we doing if we don’t believe in our own ideas and that they will win hearts and minds? If we destroy the Constitution and the exceptional principles of the American Founding just for political victories, what are we genuinely conserving?
André Béliveau is the Strategic Projects and Government Affairs Manager at the John Locke Foundation. He is an M.A. in government candidate at The Johns Hopkins University and previously served as a policy advisor in the North Carolina Senate.