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Never Let Your Opponents Define You

November 24, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Is Conservatism Dead? (from The New Criterion)
A Reply to Sam Tanenhaus’ new book The Death of Conservatism

The liberal analysis of conservatism that was passed down from the 1950s and 1960s has caused endless confusion about what conservatism in America is and is not. It is never a good thing for any philosophical movement to permit itself to be defined by its adversaries, but this is more or less what happened to conservatism in the post-war period, as liberals sought to define it in such a way as to guarantee its failure or ineffectiveness. For one thing, they created a combination of traps and paradoxes for conservatives that gave added meaning to Rossiter’s concept of “the thankless persuasion.” On the one hand, conservatives, if they wished to maintain that designation (at least in the eyes of liberals), were obliged to endorse all manner of liberal reforms once they were established as part of the new status quo. Thus, self-styled conservatives who attacked the New Deal were not acting like conservatives because they were in effect attacking the established order—and, of course, “real” conservatives would never do that. So it was that conservatives who wished to reverse liberal victories became radicals or extremists. Conservatives, moreover, could have no program of their own or, at any rate, any program that had any reasonable chance of succeeding, because any successful appeal to the wider public would turn them into populists and, through that process, into extremists and radicals. Not surprisingly, they viewed a popular conservatism as a contradiction in terms. Conservatives, in short, could only win power and influence by betraying their principles, and could only maintain those principles by accepting their subordinate status. Thus, in the eyes of the liberal historians, conservatism could never prosper in America because, if it did, it could no longer be called conservatism. (Read the rest at the link above or here.)

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