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Sources Of Conservative Renewal

TAC and Your Working Boy, as well as our friends at Front Porch Republic, got a nice mention this morning by David Brooks in his column about the conservative future: [1]. Look:

If you listened to the Republican candidates this year, you heard a conventional set of arguments. But if you go online, you can find a vibrant and increasingly influential center-right conversation. Most of the young writers and bloggers in this conversation intermingle, but they can be grouped, for clarity’s sake, around a few hot spots:

Paleoconservatives.The American Conservative [2] has become one of the more dynamic spots on the political Web. Writers like Rod Dreher and Daniel Larison tend to be suspicious of bigness: big corporations, big government, a big military, concentrated power and concentrated wealth. Writers at that Web site, and at the temperamentally aligned Front Porch Republic [3], treasure tight communities and local bonds. They’re alert to the ways capitalism can erode community. Dispositionally, they are more Walker Percy than Pat Robertson.

Larison focuses on what he calls the imperial tendencies of both the Bush and Obama foreign policies. He crusades against what he sees as the unchecked killing power of drone strikes and champions a more modest and noninterventionist foreign policy.

“More Walker Percy than Pat Robertson.” I like that.

I’m grateful to David for his notice (I owe that guy a lot; it was his Dec. 29 column [4] about me and my return to St. Francisville that resulted in a deal to write a book about it all, and about my sister’s amazing life). One thing that jumps out at me from this column is how the writers he mentions are in almost every case high among my go-to writers for helping me think through politics and current events. None of them (none of us) are big names on the right, though some (e.g., Ponnuru, Levin) are bigger than others, and you won’t often see us on Fox News, but I read these writers because even when I disagree with them, I find that they usually make me think about things in a fresh way. If nothing else, it’s a more interesting conversation than one finds among the conservative old guard.

David says:

By and large, these diverse writers did not grow up in the age of Reagan and are not trying to recapture it. They disdain what you might call Donor Base Republicanism. Most important, they matured intellectually within a far-reaching Web-based conversation. In contrast to many members of the conservative political-entertainment complex, they are data-driven, empirical and low-key in tone.

That’s an important insight, I think. As it happens, last night I was looking for something on Netflix to watch while I exercised, and settled on The American Experience programs about Ronald Reagan. I watched as far as his election as California governor, and will finish it today. I found myself reacquainted with the man’s greatness. With all the gassy Reagan nostalgia on the contemporary right, it’s easy to diminish his legacy in one’s mind, if only as a reaction to all the hero-worship. So it was good to watch this detailed historical account of his life and times, and see him with fresher eyes. It was particularly helpful, at least to me, to have seen the part of Reagan’s biography dealing with his origins, and his rise to political prominence. When I think of Reagan, I usually think of Reagan the President, and forget what made him the man he became as Commander in Chief. This film made, at least to my eyes, a strong implicit case for why he was so right for his time.

I did grow up in the Reagan years, or at least I first came to pay serious attention to politics during the Reagan years (I was 13 when he was first elected president).  I’m not so young that I can’t remember how powerful Reagan’s narrative was. For better or for worse — I would argue for better, on balance — he really did change the narrative of American politics; on the right, he was so effective that it became impossible for his immediate descendants to think and talk about politics in categories that didn’t hew closely to the form of conservatism that Reagan espoused and indeed embodied.

The weakness here is that an iteration of conservatism that came out of an era of social chaos, overweening statism, and Soviet expansionism, and that presented itself as a compelling answer to the misery, malaise, and drift of the 1970s, cannot speak to voters who didn’t live through the times that formed Reagan, or immediately preceded his ascension to the presidency. If you can’t remember the inflation of the Seventies, or the humiliation of the Iranian hostage crisis, or the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the emotional weight of those times, chances are you will struggle to make sense of Reagan conservatism.

This is not, of course, Reagan’s fault, but it’s the fault of the conservative establishment that he helped build. In the same way that Democrats of the 1970s and 1980s couldn’t figure out a way beyond New Deal categories and modes of thought, leading Republicans and conservatives of our time are stuck in Reaganism. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, my comrade Elizabeth Scalia was mistaken when she said [5], despairingly, “because for young adults and the generations coming up the backbone of conservative theory—rugged individualism, privacy, minimal government—is a complete non-sequitur; it does not compute.” She’s right to say that these concerns don’t compute, but she errs in calling this “the backbone of conservative theory.” It’s the backbone of Reaganism, which is libertarianism with a conservative Protestant gloss. He was the embodiment of conservative fusionism: economic libertarianism + social conservatism, and it is by no means clear that fusionism makes a lot of sense in America 2012.

This, I think, is why the conservative future is being worked out among the post-Reagan right-of-center crowd. They can think about conservatism in a way that goes beyond Reagan, because they aren’t constrained by the sense that to do so is a kind of heresy.

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38 Comments To "Sources Of Conservative Renewal"

#1 Comment By Jay_Dubbs On November 20, 2012 @ 9:46 am

Rod,

As someone on the other side of the political spectrum, I too found this to be a list of conservatives that I go to when trying to see all view points. Even if I disagree, I usually at least am able to understand the thought process that leads to the disagreement. It also allows me to better see areas where the disagreement is not as vast or unbridgeable as the hyper-partisans on Fox or talk radio would make it seem.

The country is better off with reasoned debate and (although it would not inure to the benefit of my party) I hope that the GOP listens to these (and your) voice as it attempts to come to terms with its future.

#2 Comment By Polichinello On November 20, 2012 @ 9:52 am

I have to laugh. The writers on this site will never go to the mat with the left. Far easier to snipe at their own and get approving pats on the head from liberal commenters.

#3 Comment By reflectionephemeral On November 20, 2012 @ 9:58 am

Andrew Sullivan likes to stress that Reagan said, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem.” Kierkegaard noted that his philosophy was a “corrective”– a response to conditions, not the One True mode of thinking and being across all contexts. Raising marginal income tax rates a couple percentage points probably really was a bad idea in 1980. But Reagan himself was less rigid than today’s party of Norquist– he signed around a dozen tax hikes into law. Today’s GOP worships a Reagan who didn’t exists, in a context where Reagan himself would likely say his 1981 agenda is inapplicable.

Problem is, this has been clear for at least 5 years. (Consider Bruce Bartlett being purged for writing, too soon because the GOP still held Congress & the presidency, that they should care about the deficit).

In today’s GOP, leaders like Boehner have to fear folks like Cantor, and everyone in the party has to fear a primary challenge from someone like Christine O’Donnell.

So, sure, some folks are writing intelligently from a conservative perspective. But what does that have to do with the Republican Party?

No one within the GOP has the incentives, or perhaps even the inclination, to engage in rational discussion of public policy or electoral demographics.

#4 Comment By petebrown On November 20, 2012 @ 10:05 am

That’s an awesome line which I will steal myself if you don’t mind Rod….”libertarianism with a conservative Protestant gloss.”

And I too am wondering how long it will take for conservative Catholics to grow tired of the fusion you describe. Maybe losing a few more elections will do the trick.

#5 Comment By Blairburton On November 20, 2012 @ 10:11 am

Sorry, but the best description of the Reagan years I have ever heard came from a caller to a radio news line at the time of his death: “Ronald Reagan put a smiley face on selfishness.”

#6 Comment By John E_o On November 20, 2012 @ 10:14 am

My memories of the Reagan era are of worrying about whether he was going to get us into a shooting war in Central America.

#7 Comment By Dan Davis On November 20, 2012 @ 10:16 am

To use Rod’s frequent exhortation, I read the whole thing, and was interested to note that Brooks doesn’t mention Chronicles or any of their writers. I’ve read Chronicles since the Leopold Tyrmand days, and they have been largely responsible for my evolution to paleoconservative views. A lot of soul-searching and fresh thinking have happened in younger conservative venues since the election, but I’m afraid that doesn’t include what was my favorite magazine for decades.
Hope this isn’t too far off point.

#8 Comment By Russell Arben Fox On November 20, 2012 @ 10:26 am

It’s the backbone of Reaganism, which is libertarianism with a conservative Protestant gloss.

Love that line, Rod; I’m going to have to steal it and use it in a lecture sometime.

#9 Comment By Roger H. On November 20, 2012 @ 10:42 am

Rod,
While you’re on Netflix, if you haven’t already seen it, may I suggest watching the series “Stephen Fry in America”? ( [6]) It was filmed during the run-up to the 2008 election, but it visits all 50 states and gives a very interesting view of the country that I think meshes quite well with this emerging conservatism.

#10 Comment By TOM QUINN On November 20, 2012 @ 11:16 am

This is exactly the right time for a new generation of conservatives to step forward. Those of us who came of age in the 50’s, inspired by Kirk and fired up by the National Review (and even American Opinion) fought an uphill battle within the Republican Party. We bit the bullet through all the “I told you so’s” after 1964. We just worked on at precinct and county and state levels. We bit the bullet through the Ford years, but kept working. The movement was rewarded with the presidency of Ronald Reagan.

However, I believe that many of us then got complacent. We allowed the party to slide back to Democrat Lite.

For better or worse, we have a 2 party system, and the best hope for the conservative movement lies within the Republican party. Conservatives, however, have to battle continuously to keep the movement alive and viable within the party.

I am convinced that conservatism is a bottom-up movement, which provides the base for State and National leaders to emerge. The base I refer to is not Super PACs nor Multi-National Corporations, nor K Street lobbyists. Those entities do not share our values.

I am excited by the conservative discussions in TAC, Front Porch Republic, National Catholic Register and many others.

I would exhort the next generations to become active at precinct, city, county and state levels. Hang in there, strengthen the base, and you will be rewarded in one or two generations.

#11 Comment By loudonisafool On November 20, 2012 @ 11:27 am

I read the whole thing, and was interested to note that Brooks doesn’t mention Chronicles or any of their writers.

Shhhhhh. Don’t talk about those guys. The future of the conservative movement only includes the people you would invite to a cocktail party with your Godless pro-abort friends without the fear that they might challenge any (or all) of your other guests to a duel.

Still the point is a good one.

#12 Comment By EngineerScotty On November 20, 2012 @ 11:28 am

Politics ought not be, primarily, about defeating the other camp.

It ought to be about advancing those causes you feel just and proper. If that means “going to the mat with liberals”, or likewise with conservatives, great; but it is unwise for a political movement to define itself as a reaction to another movement. There’s a reason “reactionary” is a cognate of “react”; don’t be one.

Rod is not unafraid to criticize liberals when he deems it warranted; and were I to utter a complaint about his work, it’s that he does tend to engage in sniping and resentiment a bit far too often. Speaking as a liberal, I don’t worry one iota that Sarah Palin likely thinks ill of me; conservative intellectuals likewise shouldn’t worry about being looked down upon by upper-class twits from Park Slope. (Fanning such flames may be a useful GOTV strategy; but shouldn’t be part of a conversation about ideas).

#13 Comment By Rod Dreher On November 20, 2012 @ 11:39 am

Shhhhhh. Don’t talk about those guys. The future of the conservative movement only includes the people you would invite to a cocktail party with your Godless pro-abort friends without the fear that they might challenge any (or all) of your other guests to a duel.

Ah, yes, where would we be without that old warhorse of the rightist imagination, the Georgetown Cocktail Party, where Republicans go and drink the Kool-Aid and leave as RINOs?

#14 Comment By Alan Jacobs On November 20, 2012 @ 11:46 am

I just want to note how deeply hurt I am at not being invited to those elegant, exclusive St. Francisville cocktail parties where the movers and shakers set the agenda for the conservative future. NOT FAIR.

#15 Comment By Charles Cosimano On November 20, 2012 @ 11:54 am

I think something should be remembered. The Republicans held onto the House. Which means in those districts the demographics of the voters look just fine to them. They have no reason to change anything because at the level of the Congressional party, what ain’t broke don’t need to be fixed.

The problem for the Republicans is at the Senate and Presidential level, and that means winning state-wide races. So their difficulty is how can they change to do that and still keep their House seats?

And the lesson of the last election is simple on that. At the Senate and Presidential level, the candidate cannot be too openly pro-life. He can be mildly pro-life, but if he does a Mourdock, you know what will happen. The ideal, however, is to hand the pro-life extremists a choice–no choice.

#16 Comment By EngineerScotty On November 20, 2012 @ 11:57 am

Rod,

Whining about pundits being tempted by the siren call of the fabled Georgetown Cocktail Party, is an equally tiresome practice on the political left.

That said, both social conservatives and economic liberals have a devil of a time penetrating the beltway political consensus; and there is ample evidence that many DC political hacks are more about schmoozing and access than they are about journalism–or have fallen into the trap of believing that getting access is so important to practicing journalism, that they only worry about the access and forget about the “journalism” part. But still–accusing someone of being a Cocktail Party R/DINO simply because they aren’t consistent bomb-throwers, is cheap talk.

#17 Comment By Will in Mississippi On November 20, 2012 @ 11:59 am

Maybe I’m rephrasing your point with slightly different emphasis, but Reagan and many of those around him had answers to the problems of their day. The present day’s challenges are different, and so the same answers cannot be expected to work. I think Reagan himself would see that, but those claiming to be Reagan’s heirs and followers don’t. So they push ideas responding to high marginal tax rates and the Soviet threat long after those two phenomenon have gone. That’s a big part of why they sound dated.

The challenge, then, is to identify present discontents and offer persuasive solutions. What Walter Russell Meade describes as “big blue” institutions can’t do that. Maye conservatives beyond the Republican donor base and the political entertainment complex can.

#18 Comment By Aaron Gross On November 20, 2012 @ 12:11 pm

@Dan Davis: That was one of the first things I noticed: No mention of Chronicles in a discussion of paleoconservatism. I think that’s a reflection on Chronicles, not on Brooks. Chronicles is simply irrelevant, and has been for a long time. The tone is that of very bitter, very old men complaining about how bad things are today. (That certainly doesn’t describe all the contributors, some of whom seem to be very nice people, but it’s the overall tone.)

Brooks’ praise of paleocons, David Frum’s praise of the new TAC, and Reihan Salaam’s praise of paleocons in general – to which Paul Gottfried responded by making fun of his name – show that paleocons’ exile is largely self-imposed. Mainstream people, not excluding the author of “Un-Patriotic Conservatives,” are open to many paleocon ideas.

I wonder what paleoconservatism would have achieved in the 1990s if it had been led by different personalities. Maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference, I don’t know. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It’s a real misfortune that Buchananism was represented by Pat Buchanan.

#19 Comment By bjk On November 20, 2012 @ 12:16 pm

This list of writers just happens to be, with the exception of Dreher, people who share Brooks aversion to social conservatism and desperate need for a conservatism that would stop fighting the embarrassing culture war. And although Salam gets invited to all of these panels as the face of the new conservatism, his NRO blog is an absolutely can-miss destination. There’s not a whole lot of clamoring for, in the words of our great president, position paper conservatism.

#20 Comment By Dakarian On November 20, 2012 @ 12:33 pm

It sounds like the conservatives of the political scene are experiencing the sort of change happening to Christian groups. Similar to how the ‘new conservatives’, the next generation, are looking to change the landscape of the old guard, new Christian groups seem to be taking no approaches not seen by the old guard of their stance.

And just how that new Christian guard helped build the bridge that led me back into that faith, it seems if I hang around you guys enough I might end up becoming a full Conservative.

I’m not sure I’d dislike that.

Well,, if it is how things are going, then it’s just a matter of time. Even if the ‘movers and shakers’ don’t notice, they can’t stop Time from switching the voice from Old to New.

However, I fear that by then I’ll be fighting against the Old Democratic guard still fearing the days of ‘fighting against the 1%’ to go to your coronation party. I’ll try to send a card at least.

#21 Comment By CK On November 20, 2012 @ 12:36 pm

“Ah, yes, where would we be without that old warhorse of the rightist imagination, the Georgetown Cocktail Party, where Republicans go and drink the Kool-Aid and leave as RINOs?”

Nevertheless, the point still stands, which is that those who are deemed respectable will be tolerated by the establishment media. The remainder are lowbrows not worthy of even paying any attention to, regardless of the truth of their arguments.

But to be fair to Brooks on this, he can’t mention everybody. And it’s good to see AmC and FPR get a chance a wider appeal.

#22 Comment By Franklin Evans On November 20, 2012 @ 12:36 pm

I just had an epiphany. 😉 I can’t believe no one has yet made DINO the mirror-image of RINO, because they do exist in droves!

Seriously, my peeve — not “pet”, because I consider it the critical failure of our times — is the “citizen in name only”. They register with all parties, not just The Big Two. They sit in front of their TV or computer screens, waiting for some Party Annointed Big Mahoff to tell them for whom to vote, for which issue to scream the loudest, and for that short list of lies they must believe are true because someone wants them to be true, or because someone is afraid they might be true.

I am a social liberal, rather further to the left than most… though I don’t disclose that very often. In my private thoughts, I throw practicality to the wind on some issues. I go beyond support for same-sex marriage, and want plural marriage made legal. I want religion completely out of public schools, with standardized curricula that explicitly comply with that.

I am, perhaps paradoxically, also a fiscal conservative. That makes me the rarest of birds on my side of the spectrum, so finding like-minded compatriots is exceedingly difficult… unless I make the effort to meet social conservatives half-way, and engage in civil and thoughtful discussion with them that permits two-way understanding.

Rod is my personal benchmark for that. Despite what others may think they see, I know full well that he makes the same effort to meet me half-way. TAC has shown that they value him in general, that other blog authors here are of similar inclination, so it should surprise no one that I am here, too.

I also am a philolophile (is that a real word? I love language.). My minimum daily requirement of bons mots is amply fulfilled here. I am very content. 😉

#23 Comment By Mark in LA On November 20, 2012 @ 1:04 pm

The problem with Reagan was that so much of Reagan wasn’t Reagan. Paul Volker was hired as Fed chairman under Carter and his policies stopped the inflation of the 70s. Of course the Reagan administration took credit. Carter started our involvement in Afghanistan and Reagan got the credit – at least until people wanted to start calling it a mess, then they remembered Carter.

If Reagan represented conservatism, I would like to know what he conserved?

#24 Comment By JohnO On November 20, 2012 @ 1:45 pm

bjk: Yuval Levin is as social conservative as they come. And I don’t know some of the names Brooks mentions, but very few of them (maybe Josh Barro) think the way forward is to get rid of the culture issues. They just all unify under the theme that they have actual policy ideas, something that’s been missing for a long time in Republican politics.

I’m too young to have remembered Reagan but I go to many of these authors because they have *ideas. Whether they spend sufficient time beating up the left or not, which apparently is so very important, proposing substantive solutions to our problems is what is needed.

#25 Comment By Wesley On November 20, 2012 @ 2:04 pm

Polichinello,

It’s because of comments like yours from people on both sides of the political aisle that we have such a dysfunctional political system.

#26 Comment By Aaron Gross On November 20, 2012 @ 2:11 pm

It’s sort of true that “those who are deemed respectable will be tolerated by the establishment media,” but it’s a half-truth that’s misleading. What I’ve been saying here and all along for years is, respectability is largely a matter of tone rather than political substance.

Heather Mac Donald, one of those cited by Brooks (either he or a NYT copy editor misspelled her name), has been saying very paleo-ish or alt-rightish things about racial profiling, immigration, etc. for years, and she always gets a mainstream hearing, including NPR.

I recently watched, on the Internet, the paleolibertarian Kevin Gutzman give an extremely paleo talk at an academic conference on politics, surrounded by liberals and leftists. The academic audience and co-panelists received it very positively; for a while, he had them eating out of the palm of his hands. He was making straightforwardly paleo arguments, and they were accepting or challenging the various points on the substance, collegially, with no name-calling or whatever.

Obviously there are limits. Jared Taylor is a perfect gentleman, but he really is kept out because of his views (though Tim Rice has engaged in polite, substantive debate with him). But why is Kevin Gutzman deemed respectable and not just tolerated, but invited to speak and warmly received? Why is Heather Mac Donald invited to talk about race and immigration on NPR? It’s because they themselves are willing to listen, to talk with people rather than at them, without foaming at the mouth.

#27 Comment By Wesley On November 20, 2012 @ 2:11 pm

petebrown,

I don’t know why Rod Dreher would say conservative “Protestant” and not conservative “Christian.” It’s true that the United States was founded as an overwhelmingly Protestant country. But all five Republican-appointed and conservative-leaning Supreme Court justices are Catholic, the Republican Speaker of the House is Catholic, and the 2012 Republican vice-presidential nominee who also happens to be one of the biggest rising stars in the party is Catholic. Also, former Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich also recently converted to Catholicism.

#28 Comment By Aaron Gross On November 20, 2012 @ 2:13 pm

Correction: that should be Tim *Wise*, of course.

#29 Comment By Shawn On November 20, 2012 @ 2:31 pm

I think that the Reagan worship only makes it more difficult for your side to reach young people. My college freshman barely remember September 11, don’t remember the Clinton years or the Gingrich revolution. All the recent talk of Reagan over Carter might as well be saying “we’re going to restore the glory days of your parents’ youth.”

#30 Comment By Polichinello On November 20, 2012 @ 3:10 pm

Wesley,

Democracies are defined by raucous, noisy division. The alternatives, not so much.

#31 Comment By Polichinello On November 20, 2012 @ 3:13 pm

What I’ve been saying here and all along for years is, respectability is largely a matter of tone rather than political substance.

If the wrong substance gets traction, the tone will be portrayed quite differently. It’s an easy thing to do in this our age of quick cuts and selective edits. The liberals will politely golf clap the people you’ve mentioned up until they start having serious influence, at which point the applause will suddenly stop that SNL skits will kick in.

#32 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On November 20, 2012 @ 3:15 pm

I read these writers because even when I disagree with them, I find that they usually make me think about things in a fresh way. If nothing else, it’s a more interesting conversation than one finds among the conservative old guard.

Yup. That’s why I read this column. Of course I find things to agree with too. I even agreed with Polichinello about something once.

Cosimano: you are enough of a cynical realist to know why Republicans won the House and lost the Senate and White House. Gerrymandering. A majority of Americans voted for Democrats in house races, over-all, and, incidentally, the same is true for Wisconsin legislative races. No pattern of districting perfectly reflects the popular vote over a larger area. But the distinction is, you don’t get to gerrymander state boundaries every ten years.

#33 Comment By Hank L On November 20, 2012 @ 3:16 pm

I think you describe Reagan’s approach reasonably well, but I also think you overlook that it is that very approach that is problematic for centrists like myself who have tended to vote Democratic for the last 20 years.

Libertarianism, it seems to me, works well as a philosophy when we are dealing with personal behaviors that are not harmful to others. From that perspective, then, the GOP would do well to get rid of its irritating and self-defeating focus on sexual behavior among consenting adults. The same can be said of gay marriage. Civil unions, which don’t occur in churches, are not a violation of anyone’s right to worship as they see fit. They are, instead, society’s recognition that the benefits of marriage – to the bride and groom and to society – should be extended as far as possible.

This, of course, touches on the problem with the “protestant gloss.” Republicans should take seriously the idea that freedom of religion is best advanced when no religious tradition is allowed a dominant voice in policymaking and, certainly, no sect is allowed to determine social norms for all. Abortion, for example, is something that most Americans recognize as an issue with significant moral freight. That does not imply that the law must adopt current evangelical or Catholic teaching on the matter (which, by the way, has changed over time).

Another problem with Reaganism is that it extended libertarianism into the marketplace in ways that were, and remain, harmful to the public as a whole. Freedom to bargain cannot be achieved if those who do the labor are prevented or discouraged from bargaining collectively, for example, and the harm to the commons that comes from a “hands-off” approach to environmental degradation, workplace safety hazards, corporate corruption and fraud, rampant mergers and consolidations, and unfair pay practices does justify strong government oversight.

If the GOP thinks that, by going back to that kind of approach, it will win, I suggest it is deluding itself. Speaking as a moderate voter who agrees with the need for a vital enterprise system and who avidly supports all of our civil rights, I want a Republican party who rccognizes the merit of those positions. It looks unlikely that we will get one soon.

#34 Comment By Wesley On November 20, 2012 @ 5:55 pm

Polichinello,

I’m not saying never oppose the other side of the political aisle. I’m just saying to not oppose the other side of the political aisle for the sake of opposing them. By the same token, a person should never blindly agree with or accept everything that somebody on their side of the political aisle says or does or follow them blindly. What I would tell people involved in politics is that they should bring their principles with them but leave their ideology at the door. Ideology is dogmatic and can easily be hijacked by special interests.

And no, democracies, as opposed to dictatorships, are not defined by raucous, noisy division. Democracies, or at least liberal ones, are defined by classical political liberalism which means protection of our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In liberal democracies, raucous, noisy division isn’t necessarily optimal. Political, economic, and social stability is important for the survival of liberal democracies. Many of our Founding Fathers warned against the development of political parties.

And many, maybe even most, dictatorships, have raucous, noisy division, even if the divisions aren’t necessarily legal. Sometimes the divisions are within the authoritarian regimes themselves. But dictators usually have more to fear from their own peoples than they do from their regime rivals. This is why authoritarian regimes don’t often last for very long. But liberal democratic political systems last much, much longer. Few if any liberal democratic political systems have ever fallen to authoritarian regimes within their own nation.

#35 Comment By Dan Davis On November 20, 2012 @ 6:51 pm

I agree with Aaron Gross that Chronicles has become moribund. Which is too bad, because they are certainly excellent and learned writers over there. Every issue pretty much amounts to consigning the country to Hell. Which may be where it’s heading, since as a human artifact, Western Civilization in general was by definition doomed already a thousand years ago. I just let my subscription lapse because I hadn’t read anything new in the magazine in a long time. Plus it just costs too damn much-forty-five bucks for a year. I will miss the days when I used to read it cover-to-cover.

#36 Comment By Wesley On November 20, 2012 @ 7:28 pm

In David Brooks’s article, he writes that there are two different reforms of the Republican Party that are currently being discussed. The first “is the upper-middle reform story: Republicans should soften their tone on the social issues to win over suburban voters along the coasts.” The second “is a lower-middle reform story: Republicans should focus on the specific economic concerns of the multiethnic working class.”

This is a no-brainer. It has to be the lower-middle reform story. The upper-middle reform story is for a party that wants to rule an aristocracy, while the lower-middle reform story is for a party that wants to govern a nation. Social conservatism is the glue that formed the modern Republican Party and still binds the Republican Party together. In the same way, social liberalism is what binds affluent, educated whites to the Democratic Party. Even though most of our politics concerns economic issues, most people, especially whites though minorities as well, are attached to their political party as much or even more by social issues as they are by economic issues. Unfortunately, the United States is getting more and more socially liberal and less and less religious every year. But socially liberal policies should rise up organically from the people and not forced on them by the political elites.

In the debate over which reform story to write, the Republicans are asking themselves which part of the current Democratic Party coalition that they should court: affluent, educated whites or minorities and economically distressed whites who are socially conservative and religious. Many of these economically distressed whites already lean Republican, but they believe that many Republican economic policies benefit the rich at the expense of their own economic interests. It’s the same way with many minorities who tend to be poorer and less educated. But minorities are attached to the Democratic Party even more because of racial tribalism. This is especially the case for blacks. Democratic leaders, both white and minority, have told minorities, both implicitly and explicitly, that Republicans are racist.

If the Republican Party does “focus on the specific economic concerns of the multiethnic working class,” and if the party is able to end the Democratic Party’s racial tribalism, then the Republicans would have a permanent governing majority or at least a governing majority that would force the Democratic Party to change course. This of course has happened to both parties.

#37 Comment By BN On November 20, 2012 @ 9:30 pm

I can understand Brooks casting about and looking for some sign of hope on the conservative side, but I get the feeling he doesn’t read Rod or the Volokh Conspiracy that closely…

#38 Comment By Charles Curtis On November 21, 2012 @ 3:12 am

On the greatness of the supposedly “conservative” Reagan, all I can say is that while Mr. Reagan obviously achieved some things under his presidency, it really amuses me that he is held up as such a paragon of political greatness.

This is a man I, as a Catholic, am supposed to lionize? Who signed the nation’s first no-fault divorce law, and a very liberal (libertarian) abortion law as governor of California? Who appointed Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy to the bench, denying us the overturn of Roe? All while his wife indulged in loopy Hollywood new age ju-ju? That Reagan, I’m supposed to revere as some sort of champion of Catholic social values and sexual traditionalism? Really?

The man under whom the national debt started to explode exponentially? The great “conservative” Keynesian (cut taxes for those with cash, then spend like there is no tomorrow, because eventually for you there won’t be – enjoy the ride, pass the buck!) Reagan, who began the trend that may end in the insolvency and destruction of the government? That he hated?

Look, the servile idiocy of the so called right is no better demonstrated than in this cult of Saint Ronnie. The man made good television, and was a genial public personality, that is true. That’s why the plutocracy pine for him so. He was the Wilford Brimley of the libertarian revolution. Make everyone feel all warm and cozy inside as we slowly drown the New Deal and Great Society in a bathtub.

Yeah. Sorry. I’ll take Obama over all that, any day. At least he’s not seething with hypocrisy and leading me on.