Pace Dan McCarthy’s hope about the possible implications of a Romney victory, I think it may be time to hear counter-arguments. Although Dan is right that Romney holds no principles, and although the neocon form of aggressive liberal internationalism may not enjoy huge approval outside of Fox News junkies, this does not justify the belief that Mitt will grow into a “Burkean conservative.” As someone who has written widely on European conservatism, I do not find any connection between Burke’s political world and ours. Burke had no use for democracy and human rights ideology and was openly contemptuous of regimes driven by the ideal of equality.
What Burke loathed however has become our political culture; and given our population base it appears unlikely that we’re going to return to the ideas put forth by Burke in his tract against the French Revolution. We can move to the right or to the left in terms of our time but it is doubtful that we can reclaim the legacy of those who were addressing a situation in a very different age on the basis of no longer accepted principles of hierarchy and authority. On this point I’ll take my stand with Sam Goldman and Karl Mannheim, rather than with those “cultural conservatives” who cherry-pick the past in search of a few nice phrases with which to dress up their political choices. We should be discriminating about what we learn from earlier times and be aware of what for better or worse, is no longer applicable, unless we wrench it out of context. Like the Bible, I say “Let the dead bury the dead” as I hear all the selective adaptations of the words and thoughts of past statesmen.
But beyond the semantic problem, it also seems to me that there wouldn’t be anything significant pushing Mitt toward some variant of Taft Republicanism even if he does get elected. As I point out in a postscript to the French edition of Conservatism in America, the disproportion between the neoconservative media empire and its opposition on the old or libertarian right is so immense that it may be wishful thinking to imagine that we’re talking about a real confrontation here. The non-aligned right, or whatever we choose to call it, has not been given a place in the political conversation; and even if we occasionally piggyback on to a congenial presidential candidate, that hasn’t made up for the marginalization we’ve suffered at the hands of the media left and the establishment right.
Unless there is this dramatic change in the balance of power, it is unlikely that a President Romney would feel obliged to heed our admonitions. More likely, he’ll remain with those neocon handlers who now surround him in a smothering embrace. This is truly the path of least resistance for someone who shies away from principled stands and who rarely delves into political thought. Even for something as vacuous as a GOP presidential candidate, Mitt stands out as a particularly empty vessel. And what goes into that vessel will be determined by those who exercise influence in the GOP and the national media.