REVISITING A MASTERWORK AT
A TURNING POINT IN A MOVEMENT
This year marks six decades since the publishing of a seminal work of the modern Conservative Movement, The Conservative Mind by the late Russell Kirk. Let us celebrate the occasion in these days when we have just witnessed a great struggle over what remains of fiscal restraint in the Congress. To be honest, is there really that much left?
But then, who says you can’t have it all in life? Now we’ve got universal health insurance and unlimited debt to pay for it.
“Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”
Who are they kidding?
By the way, the Chinese ratings agency, Dagong, has downgraded our sovereign credit rating from A to A- despite the so-called bipartisan resolution of our debt crisis and the reopening of the federal government. As reported by Agence France Presse…
“The fundamental situation that the debt growth rate significantly outpaces that of fiscal income and gross domestic product remains unchanged,” Dagong said in the statement, adding Washington’s solvency was vulnerable as old debts were still repaid through raising new debts.
“Hence the government is still approaching the verge of default crisis, a situation that cannot be substantially alleviated in the foreseeable future,” it said.
But, hey, it’s only money — and who’s counting?
True to the spirit of his 21-hour filibuster, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex) spoke against the settlement even as he granted that further resistance was futile. Newsmax reported that…
“Cruz slammed his fellow senators but praised the GOP-led House for taking a stand against raising the debt ceiling and Obamacare. ‘I want to commend the House of Representatives. They have taken a bold stance listening to the American people, but unfortunately the United States Senate has refused to do likewise.’
“‘The United States Senate has stayed with the traditional approach of the Washington establishment of maintaining the status quo and doing nothing to respond [to] the sufferings Obamacare is causing millions of Americans.
“‘This is unfortunate, but nobody should be surprised,’ the freshman senator said.”
In the words of the late Republican Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen, “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you’re talkin’ real money.”
Well, at least the parks are open.
Does this mark the end of Conservatism as a force in American politics?
Jeff Nelson, executive vice president of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute — and Russell Kirk’s son-in-law — points out a striking similarity between the current standing of Conservatism and its depleted condition at the time Kirk’s book first appeared. Writing in the online journal, The Imaginative Conservative, Nelson observes…
“Questions about the continuing relevance of conservative first principles are common fodder for the chattering classes, both right and left.
“But there is not much that is really novel in this latest conservative setback. Some 60 years ago, the chief role of conservatives was to resist and oppose, even as a Republican assumed the presidency. And almost 50 years ago [the presidential election of 1964], conservatives suffered an even more complete catastrophe at the polls.”
Yet by 1980, the tide had turned so decisively in favor of the conservative vision that Ronald Reagan was swept into office with GOP control of the Senate (the first time for that in 28 years).
Columnist Pat Buchanan revisits the dark days of 1964, noting a parallel between how Ted Cruz and those few others waiving the conservative flag have taken their drubbing from so-called Republican moderates and the treatment which Barry Goldwater, the conservative standard bearer back then, received from the party…
“After his defeat of Nelson Rockefeller in the California primary assured his nomination, Goldwater was 59 points behind [Lyndon Johnson] — 77-18.
“Rockefeller, George Romney and William Scranton — to the cheers of the Washington press, began to attack Goldwater for ‘extremism….’
Buchanan goes on to cite how…
“Bill Scranton packed it in in 1966. George Romney was trounced in 1968 by Nixon [who had supported Goldwater], with Goldwater’s legions at his side, in New Hampshire, and quit the race two weeks before the returns came in.
“Rockefeller, who had spent a career calling Nixon a ‘loser,’ lacked what it took to challenge Nixon in any of the contested primaries.”
As it’s said, every doggy has his day.
Is Ted Cruz the next Nixon — or better yet, the next Reagan?
Conservatives will remain active in American politics. But this isn’t the ’60s, and there’s no guarantee they’ll continue doing their work within the GOP.
Richard Fernandez, proprietor of the Belmont Club blog, thinks the stars are aligned for political fragmentation on both the right and the left. He cites a recent Gallup poll that shows a new openness for a third party among conservatives and liberals alike.
“The very issues over which the shutdown was bitterly fought underscore this. The establishment ‘won’ not because it was rich and powerful but because it was so poor it resorted to hair-pulling, eye-gouging and ear-biting. The elite can only continue to sustain itself by borrowing. That was what the crisis was about, borrowing. Obama’s basic demand was simple: let me borrow and borrow without limit. His ‘victory’, if so it can be called, is the victory of a bankrupt who has compelled his relatives to mortgage the farm so he can return to his losing streak at the casino.”
Mmmmm…yes…but I don’t really see the President’s far-left partisans feeling he’s spent too much to bring on socialist utopia. And whatever fiscal conscientiousness remains in the Democratic Party is hardly enough to spur rebellion. Long gone are the days when Dems criticized George Bush for running up the debt. Now the goal is NO CEILING AT ALL!
The Republican Party, on the other hand…
Well, let’s face it — the heart of the Tea Party movement has always harbored the seed of rebellion. That’s where change could come. And maybe it’s time. The Whigs were consigned to the ashcan of history by the abolitionists. It’s not unthinkable that the GOP’s days are numbered.
Ted Cruz, the next Lincoln?
Revulsion at the nation’s economic profligacy may be the immediate cause of such a split. But for a third party to gather and consolidate the necessary critical mass of support, a much broader vision is required. And here we get into the human dimension, which embraces things like culture, morality and religion.
Russell Kirk knew this. Jeff Nelson writes of the “encompassing spiritual standpoint; the disposition Kirk communicates” which he notes was “just as important as the particular arguments” his father-in-law advanced…
“Well before today’s cognitive behaviorialists, Kirk understood that people are moved to act principally by feelings, intuitions and affections.
“He also knew that such feelings proceed directly from thoughts, and so he set out to reframe popular thinking about conservative ideas in a positive way, and to elicit intelligent conservative action from his readers.
“He often did so by evoking ideas expressed in literary and artistic works that appeal to the very sentiments Kirk believed conservatives were obliged to renew.
“This approach is why optimism even in the face of defeat is so integral to Kirk’s vision. Kirk’s ‘imaginative conservatism,’ as he termed it, still provides the best guide to constructing a positive vision that appeals to both mind and heart.”
Do today’s conservatives have that kind of imagination? Time will tell.
Peter Beinart of The Daily Beast would likely argue that the whole third-party argument is nonsense, when in his view, the Republicans have actually won the shut-down standoff…
“The promise of the Obama presidency was not merely that he’d bring Democrats back to power. It was that he’d usher in the first era of truly progressive public policy in decades. But the survival of Obamacare notwithstanding, Obama’s impending ‘victory’ in the current standoff moves us further away from, not closer to, that goal.
“It’s not just that Obama looks likely to accept the sequester cuts as the basis for future budget negotiations. It’s that while he’s been trying to reopen the government and prevent a debt default, his chances of passing any significant progressive legislation have receded.”
Maybe we should call this Conservatism by Stealth.
Take time to read his piece. Beinart is no Ted Cruz fan, but he may have assessed the situation accurately…
PS: I was honored to cross paths often with the great Russell Kirk during my days on the staff of Hillsdale College, where he spoke frequently. At right is a small glimpse of a fond memory.
Kirk was a writer of remarkable accomplishment and infinite variety. Numerous original works of fiction complemented his prolific output of social commentary and political philosophy.
He was also a born educator. He mentored hundreds of aspiring scholars, and conducted seminars and intellectual retreats that often included thinkers of world renown.
Since his death in 1994, his widow, Annette, has carried on those programs at the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal, operated at the Kirk home and library in rural Mecosta, Michigan.