The end of the old America is tragic—but it also bears hope of renewal.
By Jack Hunter | October 20, 2011
Anyone who has met Patrick J. Buchanan in person can tell you he is generally upbeat and jovial, yet his books are rather grim: State of Emergency; The Death of the West; Day of Reckoning. In Buchanan’s defense, perhaps pessimism is the only honest outlook on politics. Perhaps it is the only proper way to look at our politics.
In his new book, Buchanan makes the case that it is—that any sober observer must admit America, in the historic sense, is over. Suicide of a Superpower delivers exactly what its title suggests, outlining how the long-dominant philosophies of liberalism, multiculturalism, egalitarianism, imperialism, and feminism, along with various other anti-Western and anti-Christian pathologies, have mortally wounded America’s traditional cultural core.
He describes what America used to be:
We shared a country and a culture. We were one nation. We were Americans. We spoke the same language, learned the same history, celebrated the same heroes, observed the same holy days and holidays, went to the same films, rooted for the same teams, read the same newspapers, watched the same TV shows on the same three channels, danced to the same music, ate the same foods, recited the same prayers at church, the same pledge of allegiance at school, and were taught the same truths about right and wrong, good and evil, God and country.”
And he concludes, “We were a people then. But we are not a people anymore.”
Buchanan describes the ways in which the traditional America is in retreat. Christianity has been diminished, both in its theological and cultural influence and in the number of actual Christians in our society. Catholicism is a weaker force in the United States than at any time in our history. Keynesian economic policy and unfair trade practices have undermined our material wealth. Our globalist mindset and perpetual wars hasten an inevitable imperial downfall. White Americans will soon be a minority in a country that has been predominantly European since its founding.
Buchanan makes his points by breaking down the numbers, sketching momentous political and philosophical trends, and giving a historical context to his overall narrative. He presents the case that what many have considered the greatest nation in the history of the world is now marching hastily toward its end.
And it is a strong case. I have no doubt, and little disagreement with Buchanan, that the old America as most Americans have known it is now being relegated to history. In fact, I know of few other books, with perhaps the exception of some of Andrew Bacevich’s considerations on foreign policy and mass consumerism, that make the broad civilizational case that America cannot withstand current conditions and remain American in any traditional sense.
Perhaps my favorite definition of conservatism is that of Russell Kirk, who said it is the conservative’s task to preserve a particular people, living in a particular place during a particular time.
For Buchanan, and likely for all of us, the days when America was an indomitable superpower with endless resources and a well-defined national cultural core might very well be over.
Yet there is still something called America. There are Americans living in it. There will be other Americans living in it in years to come, particular people living in this particular place at another time. Some of these younger Americans already do not like this place or time in our politics and desperately want to change it. So could some of the unavoidable changes conservatives reasonably fear, strange as it may sound, produce a more conservative future?
I’ve always believed that if America needed saving, conservatism would do it—but I’ve also come to the conclusion that many of our immediate problems are due to the patent ineffectiveness of older generations of conservatives. I most certainly do not include Buchanan in this category; he inspired me at a young age and continues to inspire me today. But I do include most of Buchanan’s enemies within the movement—from the neoconservatives who cursed him so harshly during the 1996 presidential election to the old Republican guard that sabotaged his potentially revolutionary campaign that year and who have always held his populist conservatism in low regard.
When Buchanan was complaining about our illegal immigration problems, these same Republicans were calling him “racist.” Now concern for illegal immigration is a standard Republican talking point. When Buchanan was complaining about unfair trade practices, he was dismissed as an “isolationist,” while now Republicans as mainstream as Mitt Romney seem to want a trade war with China. Buchanan warned that our constant interventionism overseas might produce horrific blowback, even predicting a 9/11-style attack in his 1999 book A Republic, Not an Empire. No one listened. Buchanan tried to explain Where the Right Went Wrong in 2004, but the right insisted on continuing to go wrong.
Deficits and debt exploded under George W. Bush. We saw more government. More executive power. Less constitutional constraint. Less liberty. Too many older conservatives seem to have learned few lessons even at this late date, and as if the Iraq and Afghanistan wars weren’t complete debacles, too many Republicans today are eager for another war with Iran. This is astounding.
I could go on, but the gist is this: the cultural, political, economic, and spiritual disintegration described in Suicide of a Superpower was brought on as much by vaunted conservatives as by any conscious liberal agenda. Our political and cultural establishment helped usher in this demise, this national suicide.
As a class of voters, Baby Boomers have become accustomed to post-New Deal American-style statism; they now cling to bankrupt government promises—and not unfairly, as these were promises—with all of their political muscle. The average American under 30 has little political or emotional attachment to this system and does not expect to benefit from it later in life.
Young people might not show up in droves at the ballot box, but their activism has always steered the direction of both major parties. Many if not most in the rising new generation on the right are eager for the old America of high taxes, massive debt, unsustainable entitlements, and endless wars to go away as quickly as possible. They are libertarians. They are constitutionalists. They are conservatives. They are activists. They are anxious. Many are angry at what their parents and grandparents have done to this country, an unconservative sentiment, perhaps, but not necessarily an incorrect one. I’m not as young as many of them, but I’m inclined to agree with them.
And it’s because I essentially agree with Buchanan and his concept of traditional conservatism. Buchanan writes in his introduction to Suicide: “In America today, the secession that is taking place is a secession from one another, a secession of the heart.” He’s describing the cultural retrenchment that is divorcing Americans from one another. But there is a contemporaneous political retrenchment that is intellectually exciting: a secession within the American conservative movement of young from old, principled from partisan.
Perhaps I’m being too optimistic. But I do believe the demise of American superpower could bear conservative fruit unforeseen at the moment. Richard Weaver once wrote that revolutions have occurred in history that would have surprised everyone given the circumstances that preceded them.
Based on my observations of the rising conservative generation, I have hope that Weaver’s observation will be borne out again in the decades to come. And if this American superpower insists on suicide, perhaps a new generation of conservatives can trade empire for a little of the old republic.
Jack Hunter is a columnist for the Charleston City Paper.