On Friday, National Review published a scathing editorial in opposition to Donald Trump as the Republican candidate for President, followed by the statements of 22 prominent conservatives ranging from neocons like Bill Kristol, to social conservatives like Cal Thomas and Michael Medved, to radio/television personalities like Glenn Beck. The editorial slammed Trump as “a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones.” True to pugnacious form, Trump fired back, asserting that “the late, great William F. Buckley would have been ashamed of what happened to his prize.”…
The transition from one year to the next prompts reflections on how our relation to the past constitutes the politics of the present. Before the 1700s politics was wholly oriented toward the past. As Robert Tombs puts it in his brilliant new book, The English and Their History: “Legitimacy came from the past: rights, status, property, laws—all were inherited. So desirable changes were conceptualized as a return to a pristine past. The idea was of a stable ordered hierarchy in which all knew and accepted their place.” In that world the culture made political arguments naturally conservative. Public ideals had to be put in the categories created by past practices.
The hierarchy described by Tombs started to break down with the rise of capitalism. But the nature of political legitimacy persisted, as the memory of the people still preserved an idealized past. Thus, even in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century political arguments were almost entirely founded on continuity with past political settlements, real or imagined. The American Revolution was fought on the basis that the British government was violating what they understood as the ancient prerogatives of Englishmen, which were then codified as the Bill of Rights.
But as technology created one new revolutionary invention after another and the market broadly delivered these benefits, the culture necessarily became focused on the future.
David Brooks is in an angry and spiteful mood. Perhaps he’s even getting to be a bit unhinged, as history is putting his vision of American conservatism onto its rubbish heap.
It has been reported that this term is shaping up to be one of the most liberal at the Supreme Court since 1969. Another report by Eric Posner shows that the justices appointed by Republican Presidents are agreeing less among themselves, while the justices appointed by Democratic Presidents remain a united bloc.
We should be cautious about reading this information as a trend. The case mix changes from year to year and thus there can be expected to be overall ideological variation from year to year depending on that mix and the justices’ idiosyncratic views. But there is no doubt that the country is moving left at least on social issues and the oldest adage about the Court’s decision-making is that it follows the election returns. Certainly, the expected creation of a right to same-sex marriage would be unimaginable without the rapid and dramatic shift in public opinion on the issue.
The more interesting question is why Republican justices tend to fracture while the Democrats stay united. The first reason is that Supreme Court opinions implicate not only ideology, but jurisprudential methodology and Republicans are more divided on jurisprudence.
The fanfare surrounding the 30th anniversary of The Breakfast Club may puzzle some people—anybody, in fact, who wasn’t born between 1966 and 1979 in the United States of America. Those of us who are older (as I am) or younger than that might well have missed “the movie that defined a generation.” The writer-director John Hughes made The Breakfast Club as the second in what became a trilogy of teen movies, in between Sixteen Candles (1984) and the box-office smash Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986).
The words “conservative” and “conservation” are similar; surely their meanings overlap. They do, says the English philosopher Roger Scruton, and conservatives need to think more seriously about conservation than they have hitherto. To be a conservative is to value the cultural and political traditions we have inherited from the past, to hold them in trust, and to pass them along undiminished to our descendants. To be a conservationist is to value our ecological heritage and to pass it along undiminished to our descendants. By this telling, environmentalism ought not to have a leftish slant at all.
When a political movement changes labels, that usually means its adherents are unelectable. Take the Democrats in 2004. When the presidential candidacy of Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, a liberal protégé of the state’s senior senator, Ted Kennedy, went down in flames, their party almost immediately switched from the buzzword “liberal” to “Progressive.” Not only was this changing the subject, it was reaching for the latter term’s historically bipartisan connotations. The Democrat Woodrow Wilson had been adapting himself to a doctrine first put into circulation in national politics by a Republican, Theodore Roosevelt. The initiators of the change in emphasis, Democratic consultants Paul…
At the height of the Iran Contra scandal in Washington, “Saturday Night Live” had a funny skit about Ronald Reagan. It showed the President’s folksy, out-to-lunch personality to be a façade. Behind closed doors, he was a worker bee, driving younger staff members to exhaustion. Liberals could only entertain such a possibility fictionally. To them, Reagan was a lazy leader, “sleepwalking through history.”
Liberal avoidance of such a possibility tracked back to Dwight David Eisenhower’s 1953-1961 administration. To the liberals of that era, he was a disconnected President, more interested in his golf game than in leading the nation. Worse, he lacked political courage, specifically with regard to halting a rampaging Joe McCarthy.