After every election half the country sighs with relief while the other gnashes its teeth. What remain constant as Republicans and Democrats rotate through office are the intractable difficulties the nation now faces. From budget surpluses and confidence in perpetual prosperity at the end of the 20th century, America has arrived at trillion-dollar deficits and an economy razed by the Great Recession. The “indispensable nation” that emerged the indisputable victor in the Cold War 20 years ago is today a superpower still, but one mired in the longest war of its history—in Afghanistan, no less, graveyard of the Evil Empire—a superpower strategically adrift in a disordered new world of drone killings, terror, and rising regional powers.
What America needs most amid all this is conservatism: not the ideology of any party, but a disposition to conserve, and wisely invest, our national capital. The capital in question is not merely financial; Lord Salisbury, in an earlier era of humanitarian intervention and empire, warned against squandering “military capital” on unnecessary and unwinnable conflicts. More important yet is our civilizational capital—our habits and laws as a people, the written and unwritten Constitution. How has it fared? Our civil liberties and the civic fabric of American life have lately been torn to rags by both parties.
Confronted by systemic crisis, the parties prescribe a quick fix—quack remedies from invading Iraq to subsidizing Solyndra—while a people hard pressed by diminished opportunity and dwindling incomes stands ready to accept whatever is offered. This is a mistake: careful analysis and consideration, a competent diagnosis, must precede any cure.
This is the task of the American conservative and The American Conservative. The watchword is realism—in foreign policy, in economic reasoning, and in life. “The philosophers have only interpreted the world; the point is to change it,” urged Karl Marx. But change—“regime change” as practiced by President Bush, for example, or the “change” Barack Obama promised in 2008—is never salutary reform unless one first understands the realities of the situation. For America today, that means taking a hard look at our strategy and diplomacy toward others, at our monetary system as well as our taxes and spending, at our social order and popular culture, and at religion and philosophy, examining all of these things not through the lens of partisan politics but with a keen critical eye.
This is hard work, to be sure, but we undertake it cheerfully. For as we wrote ten years ago in our inaugural issue, “We believe conservatism to be the most natural political tendency, rooted in man’s taste for the familiar, for family, for faith in God. We believe that true conservatism has a predisposition for the institutions and mores that exist,” and America needs it now more than ever.