Since its inception, The American Conservative has been dealing with questions of what Right and Left mean in the modern context and to what extent the terms even apply anymore. Commentary memorably took up similar issues in a 1976 symposium, and, 30 years later, in a time of renewed ideological flux, we think a reconsideration is in order.
In the interest of hosting a lively discussion, we chose contributors from across the political spectrum and asked for their thoughts on the following questions:
1. Are the designations “liberal” and “conservative” still useful? Why or why not?
2. Does a binary Left/Right political spectrum describe the full range of ideological options? Is it still applicable?
Not all of these authors share TAC’s editorial orientation, but we believe there is wisdom in the council of many, and each was chosen as representative of a particular perspective.
The ever irritating John Derbyshire starts off well but begins his omnipresent "doomed, doomed" babbling and blinks at conservatism through his pessemistic myopeia.
The terms “liberal” and “conservative” are only useful as a first approximation. If you tell me you are a liberal or a conservative, I have information about you I did not have before. Much of it is probabilistic: a conservative is more likely to be a churchgoer than a liberal, though there are liberal churchgoers and conservative atheists.
I think we all have a vague sense that these words describe the “shape” of our thinking about the outside world.
Phillis Schlafly unfolds a pithy lecture on Bushism vs. conservatism and manages to nail why the President gets both laud and scorn from the GOP tent. Excerpt:
Then in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan made it politically and socially acceptable to be called a conservative.
Ronald Reagan not only made the word popular, but he was a major factor in defining conservatism for our times. By the end of the two Reagan administrations, conservative had come to mean sticking with unchanging principles based on the Constitution the way it was written, the Judeo-Christian moral code, limited government, victory over Communism, American sovereignty, military superiority, lower taxes, less government regulation, private enterprise, and “morning in America.”
Bush ran as a conservative, but he has been steadily (some might say stealthily) trying to remold the conservative movement and the Republican Party into the Bush Party. And the Bush Party stands for so many things alien to conservatism, namely, war as an instrument of foreign policy, nation-building overseas, highly concentrated executive power, federal control of education, big increases in social entitlements, massive increases in legal and illegal immigration, forcing American workers to compete with low-wage foreigners (under deceptive enticements such as free trade and global economy), and subordinating U.S. sovereignty to a North American community with open borders.
The conservative movement must reassert its identity distinct from the Bush Party. This process has started with the revolt against the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers, against the Dubai ports deal, and against the Bush-Kennedy-McCain Senate bill to approve “amnesty light” and the admission of tens of millions of new foreign workers.
In Schlafly's laundry list of Bush's perfidious policies I must quibble with the free trade. Not that Mr. Bush is for it, but that it is an anathema to true conservatism. Rather it is the logical conclusion to our own capitalistic, free market system because the US economy does not stop at the ocean or the border.
Ross Douthat contributes also and pinpoints a phenomena:
A conservative, meanwhile, is anyone who either says no to Baconism, or who says yes, but only up to a point—and so conservatism embraces anyone who has jumped off liberalism’s fast-moving train at any point over the last five centuries. If you’re a monarchist who thinks that liberalism went wrong with John Locke and the Glorious Revolution, step on up. If you’re a West Coast Straussian who thinks it went wrong with Woodrow Wilson, then welcome aboard. And if you’re a neocon who loved the New Deal but found the Great Society and George McGovern to be a bridge too far, there’s a place for you as well.
But here’s the rub, and the reason for a great deal of recent conservative confusion: the Right actually won a victory in the latter half of the 20th century, after centuries of defeat, and turned modernity away from a particularly pernicious path. This unexpected triumph has meant that many people who became accustomed to calling themselves “conservatives” when the conquest of nature seemed to require socialism or Communism are back on board the Baconian train, racing happily down a different track into the brave new future. These are the people who insist that conservatism ought to mean “freedom from government interference” and nothing more—the Grover Norquists of the world, for instance, or the Arnold Schwarzeneggers. In fact, they are ex-conservatives, because they are no longer sufficiently uncomfortable with the trajectory of modernity to be counted among its critics. They were unwilling to give up freedom for the sake of progress, but they’re happy to give up virtue. (bolding mine)