The End of Conservative Ideology?

11/18/1986-Washington, D.C.-: President Reagan talks with William F. Buckley, Jr. prior to a dinner honoring the latter.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s conquest of the Republican presidential nomination, many wise critics have concluded that the old Buckley-Reagan conservative ideology is dead. The paradoxical reply: It is not dead because the original was not an ideology.

That declaration had always annoyed me in my younger days, when William F. Buckley, Jr. would ceaselessly insist that conservatism was not ideological.

Sure it was. What did Buckley himself write in his Up from Liberalism (1959) about the essence of conservatism? Its principles were set forth therein as “freedom, individuality, the sense of community, the sanctity of the family, the supremacy of conscience, the spiritual view of life,” a strong defense—and all were meaningful “in proportion as political power is decentralized.”

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The Secret Lives of Right-Wing Professors: A Conversation with Joshua Dunn


This next edition of Liberty Law Talk is a conversation with Joshua Dunn on a new book that he has co-authored with Jon Shields entitled Passing on the Right. Dunn and Shields interviewed 153 professors across a range of disciplines who consider themselves conservatives and libertarians. Their findings paint a more moderate position on the types of challenges conservative academics face compared to much conventional thinking on this subject. Evidence that they are the victims of a systematic campaign of exclusion and persecution doesn't seem to exist. What does seem to exist is a host of other problems that must be carefully…

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Dismantling the Leftist Academic Complex: A Conversation with Roger Scruton

foolsRoger Scruton is certainly no stranger to Liberty Law Talk. His return is occasioned by Bloomsbury's republication of his 1985 title, Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands, a book that caused tremendous academic controversy, threats against the publisher, and the book's eventual scuttling by Longman, its original publisher. Scruton's crime was to have attempted to take the New Left seriously, finding it severely wanting, if not absurd. We revisit the book's fallout, discuss its ideas, and consider the state of contemporary Leftist thinking.

Buckley’s Prize


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.”…

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Politics Anchored in the Past v. Politics Oriented Toward the Future

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.

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The Conservative Imagination of Russell Kirk: A Conversation with Brad Birzer

rkirk3Brad Birzer comes to Liberty Law Talk to discuss his upcoming biography of Russell Kirk entitled Russell Kirk: American Conservative. Our discussion focuses on the nature of Kirk’s conservatism and his place on the American Right. For example, many have prominently argued that Kirk’s conservatism is only strangely American. Birzer’s answer to this question will give these critics much to think about. We also discuss the influence of Edmund Burke and T. S. Eliot on Kirk, and we consider just what he meant by his invocation of the terms Moral Imagination and the Permanent Things.

The Wrath of Cons

D Brooks

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.

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Why Democratic Justices are More United than Republicans

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.

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Doing Time with John Hughes


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).

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The Conservationism You Can Believe In

River in forest

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.

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