How Mainstream Conservatism Failed—And Why

After slapping themselves on the back for the last decade or so, the elders of the "conservative movement" now seem to have glimpsed the dreadful truth: Conservatism as they defined and led it for the last 30 years is at best only a partial success and may even be a flop. Last week reporter Ralph Z. Hallow detailed the elders' reflections in a long front-page story in the Washington Times. [Conservative lament, August 24, 2003.]

"We won the battle against communism, but I guess we've largely lost the battle against big government," reflects Phyllis Schlafly, who almost single-handedly won one of the few unequivocal victories of the right, the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. "And we've lost lots of our liberties," she added.

Mrs. Schlafly's rather sad tone of resignation is matched by most of the other leaders, who are mainly from inside the Beltway and mainly—well—a bit over the hill. Hardly a one is under 60 and most are well beyond it. That's not a criticism, but it does perhaps suggest that whatever the virtues and vices of these conservatives, they've failed to reproduce themselves. There's a word for that sort of creature: dinosaur.

The somber note of most of what the leaders had to tell Mr. Hallow is rather different from the merry tune they sang a few years ago, when the Soviet Union had collapsed and the Republicans were winning clear majorities in Congress and the White House. Back then the music was a triumphal march. Two victories by Bill Clinton, the fizzle of Newt Gingrich and his vaunted "Republican Revolution" and the steady advance of anti-Western, anti-American and anti-Christian causes in the media and the culture generally have perhaps led the elders to pipe a sadder song.

It's even questionable that "we won the battle against communism" or that Ronald Reagan won the Cold War. Few conservative anti-communists at the time thought we were winning, and not a few believed we were losing. The Soviets collapsed mainly because of the dismal failure of their own economy and political system, not because of our virtue and valor, and Marxism still flourishes in American universities.

Since the 1980s hardly any conservative even talks about reducing the size and scope of the federal leviathan, let alone seriously proposes to do it. Nor do they talk seriously anymore about winning the "culture war." When Pat Buchanan proposed that at the Republican convention in 1992, he got denounced—by conservatives or those who claimed the title.

So what happened? Most of the leaders Mr. Hallow interviews don't seem to have a clue, but since no one asked my opinion, I'll volunteer it.

David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, unwittingly suggests a large part of the answer in what he told the Times. The early movement, he says, had to "shape a movement that wouldn't drive away more people than it attracted. Therefore, the Birchers, racists, anarchists and assorted monarchists and kooks were turned away."

Well, many of them needed to be turned away, but in the process, the "movement" spit out just about anyone who was interesting, different, or creative. The result was a movement all right—of apparatchiks, enlivened by the occasional con artist and outright crook.

It also purged anyone who wasn't acceptable to the standards of liberalism—that seems to be the common denominator of the types Mr. Keene says were "turned away." If there was anything the "conservative movement" dreaded more than "kooks," it was being attacked by the liberals they claimed to oppose.

The end result was not only the takeover of the "movement" by neo-conservatives—liberals who mouthed a few conservative phrases and enjoyed the "credibility" and "respectability" that liberal elites conferred and movement conservatives craved—but also the quiet abandonment of some of the basic items on the conservative agenda. For reasons that ought to be obvious, few young people have stuck around for the next generation.

Does conservatism have a future? Not if it's led by these types, who are more worried about "turning away" anybody might get them in trouble with the left.

The conservatives—if that's the right word—who remain need to understand that the people and forces now in power in this country—in government, the culture and Big Business—are the enemies of the real America and the real civilization of the West. And they need to explain to young people what's happened to their country and civilization and what needs to be done to save what's left. This is not so much a mission for conserving as it is for revolution, but because the elders of the "conservative movement" were such a dismal flop, it's the only course the serious right has left.

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[Sam Francis [email him] is a nationally syndicated columnist. A selection of his columns, America Extinguished: Mass Immigration And The Disintegration Of American Culture, is now available from Americans For Immigration Control. Click here for Sam Francis' website.]