Conservative intellectuals recently gathered in the free state of Florida for three days of spirited debate about the challenges facing America and how to confront them.
Much has been written about the differences exposed by the wide spectrum of thinkers at the second National Conservatism Conference, where I moderated a panel and was thus reimbursed for my travel by the conference organizers. These differences between and among participants — from “nationalist conservatives” to “anti-Marxist liberals” — are and were very real and meaningful. But NatCon 2 also revealed commonalities in this nascent movement that transcend our division — indeed, that must transcend our division, given the stakes.
I observe three points of fundamental agreement. First, we see a common set of threats that we believe imperil the American way of life. Second, we believe that the way these threats have been combated — or not — has proven a failure, demanding change. Third, we are united by core beliefs deeper than our differences, understanding we will not have a society to hash out these differences without a vigorous defense of the most basic things.
The Adversaries and the Stakes
We are in a cold civil war at home, and facing a substantially greater Communist threat from abroad in Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-ruled China than we did during the actual Cold War from the Soviet Union.
The conflict at home pits a woke ruling elite against those who would dare dissent from its rule. These differences manifest in culture, taste, and aesthetics but also of course in politics. In the political realm, they concern the nature of our regime — who rules, how, for whom — and our conception of justice.
Our ruling regime is not just the administrative state, or the whole federal government, but every power center with which our state is partnered — from business to media and education. If you preach diversity, inclusion, and equity (DIE), or environmental, social, and governance (ESG), you are just as much a part of the regime as the alphabet soup of federal bureaucracies.
With the ruling class controlling the commanding heights of society, and unable to tolerate dissent, it pursues increasingly tyrannical means in pursuit of increasingly tyrannical ends. In so doing, it threatens to unmake America — unmooring it from the values and principles on which it was founded and guaranteeing social chaos and disfunction, poverty, and misery.
Compounding this threat is Communist China. The ruling class has been invested in its rise for decades, and increasingly emulates it as it seeks a monopoly on power. Communist China desires to be the dominant world power, which necessarily means displacing the United States, which would be not only subordinate to, but subservient to it. These are existential, intolerable threats.
That national conservatism has drawn so many divergent thinkers reflects an understanding that times demand setting aside disputes and focusing on the main thing: That we are in an ideological, geopolitical, and cultural war for survival, and we must be on a war footing.
The Untenable Status Quo
That our woke ruling class and China are both bidding for hegemony can be attributed to a variety of causes — which do matter, although not as much as the fact that their power plays demonstrate our failure to counter them, and demand a new approach.
The left marched through the institutions unimpeded. Now, its indoctrinated helm our preeminent institutions. “Neutrality” and value-free liberalism proved no match for dogged illiberals, who exploited liberty and justice to erode them both — in our schools, in our workplaces, and beyond.
Some would argue we have failed morally or spiritually, which the decline of our institutions has contributed to, and reflects. Absent a moral and virtuous people, the families that produce and sustain it, and the communities that bind it, why would we expect anything different?
China’s rise with U.S. elite backing can be attributed to greed and naivete that trade with China would make it more liberal — rather than that it would pocket the gains and use them against their trading partners. “Engagement” with China was also rooted in a belief that economic efficiency and market access would outweigh the costs of the creative destruction inflicted on communities and of the CCP’s empowerment. Lastly, it reflected ignorance among our elites, who neither understood China nor the America they were supposed to be representing.
Agreed on the Need for Change
Regardless, we all seem to recognize the need for change — for confronting problems using different tactics and strategies than we have previously because the times, circumstances, and threats necessitate it. Ceding putatively private institutions to those who loathe the country and sneer at its Deplorables out of a belief said institutions ought to be apolitical, and worst case we can build our own, is a losing formula when the opposition politicizes everything.
Refusing to wield power because of fear of the precedent it might create — knowing one’s opponent will do anything to achieve its goals, among them crushing us — is suicidal.
We cannot abide a Big Tech that destroys the marketplace of ideas; a Big Business that indoctrinates employees in wokeism and demands their submission to it; an academy that teaches children their country is evil and they are too if born with the wrong skin color; we cannot abide these things any more than a tyrannical deep state or two-tier justice system.
We must employ every lawful means to end the public and private onslaught against us, and towards rebuilding America qua America. We must counter a China seeking economic, military, and technological dominance with just as ambitious an effort of our own.
We will differ on the means to achieve these ends. Friends Chris Rufo, Rachel Bovard, and Josh Hammer have provided much food for thought in this regard to right things on the domestic front — a prerequisite to grappling with problems on the foreign one. Most important is acknowledging we must creatively and courageously fight.
Fundamental Ties that Unite
Unlike during the Cold War, Americans do not believe in the same things, and just differ on policy. It is not clear an enemy — in this case a far more formidable one in China — can unite us, because we are so divided about what we are defending, and even about whether we should defend it.
We do not have the privilege of simply worrying about tax rates, or social welfare programs, or pork, because we disagree about the fundamental nature of our country, its history, and people. This is in part why there is a national conservatism movement — because two visions of America have emerged, they are incompatible, and one has lacked a clear voice.
Here is an effort to articulate what unites the tens of millions of the unheard, if not silenced, un-Woke:
- America is good.
- Judeo-Christian morality and virtue are the predicates for goodness, freedom, and justice.
- There are two sexes.
- Strong families are our essential building block.
- America requires borders; immigrants must assimilate.
- Law and order, and equal justice are imperative.
- Communities must be safe, orderly, and cohesive.
- Schools exist to teach children how to think, and to be patriotic and productive citizens.
- Society must cultivate excellence.
- The interests of the nation and its people must be put first.
- Culture trumps economics.
The ruling class from Washington, D.C., to Wall Street, to Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and across all of our institutions of politics, commerce, culture, and education, is at war with these ideals.
National conservatives seek “A normal country in an abnormal time,” to play on the words of Amb. Jeanne Kirkpatrick, who might unite them more than some might think based on her neoconservative branding. To restore and re-found a normal country in these abnormal times will require a counter-revolution; it will require courage and tenacity.
We owe our progeny nothing less.