The defining political question of our time is this: “Do you know what time it is?”
The line, popularized by the Claremont Institute’s David Reaboi, succinctly captures the most essential of points: If you don’t understand the stakes, and how fraught the situation is — that the ruling class seeks total power, is closing in on it, and will stop at nothing to achieve it — you are unfit to lead. You ought to exit the playing field.
Knowing what time it is leads one to prioritize different ends and to pursue them using different means. Among those on the right, although more so in the chattering class than among activists, there appears to be a divide over the stakes inadvertently elucidated in some of the recent debates over national conservatism.
In the Wall Street Journal, Chris DeMuth and Matthew Continetti jousted over it. Continetti took issue with DeMuth’s argument endorsing national conservatism in part by claiming essentially that the movement captured so many schools of thought as to be incoherent, and that he favored his “conservatism without modification — constitutionalist, market-oriented and unapologetically American.”
I laid out what it is that unites national conservatives in a recent piece here at The Federalist — noting that a shared understanding of the stakes is inherent to the movement.
The idea that conservatism needs no modifier becomes questionable if conservatism — which has in many quarters focused on economic liberalism while ceding most everything else — is not conserving or doing everything it can to restore what it ought to in the face of a ruling class onslaught.
Nor is it clear why a conservatism unmoored from or even effectively hostile to the national interest can be treated as “conservative.” Hence the utility in part of “national conservatism,” in contrast with a globalist, values-neutral liberalism that ultimately aims at a nationless, secular progressive, likely China-dominated world.
In response to Continetti’s formulation, one colleague commented: “I’m sorry but these days when I read the phrases ‘market-oriented’ and ‘limited government’ coming from people on the right I kind of throw up in my mouth a little.” Why do these words ring hollow to those traditionally most receptive to them?
Because such concerns are anachronistic. Thomas Jefferson’s statue was just removed from New York’s City Hall. People are being deemed inherently evil based on their skin color, and the country deemed evil itself. “Equal rights for all and special privileges for none” has given way to a ruling class ethos of unequal rights and special privileges.
We do not share a common belief in our history, the righteousness of our cause, or the cultural basis for a free and flourishing society. These fundamental issues make economic policy and the size of government of secondary concern. It is futile to focus on them when facing an existential crisis in which the ability to even freely debate anything of consequence is under assault.
Cultural Over the Material
When one hears bromides today about free enterprise and limited government — as if those are not only the main thing, but perhaps the only thing — this is a sign that one may not know what time it is. It also implies a certain focus on the material over the cultural, again when we are in the throes of an anti-cultural revolution, and it is the culture that is preeminent.
What does “market-oriented” matter if you’ve lost the culture on which a genuinely free enterprise system — which we are nowhere near — relies, and the market actors themselves are among the most culpable actors in killing that underlying culture?
What good is “limited government” when the state is colluding with non-state actors to erode the core values and principles on which the republic was founded? Does “limited government” mean exercising restraint while those who loathe our system run roughshod over it? Does it mean the Constitution is a suicide pact, whereby conservatives keep their arms tied behind their back and the left waltzes to victory almost by default?
It’s not that these ideals are not imperative or worth defending. I’d like to abolish the administrative state, reinstitute sound money, and see a massive redistribution of federal power to the states and more importantly the people — along with a host of other policies associated with traditional conservatism and libertarianism.
But an emphasis on these issues to the detriment or exclusion of the almost pre-political, existential challenges we face, indicates a focus on a world, and a time, that we might wish for, but in which we are not currently residing.
A Cold Civil War
To reiterate: We are in a fight about the most fundamental things, mired in a Cold Civil War at home and a Hot War by Other Means abroad. The aggressors are our woke ruling class and Communist China, to which the former kowtows and increasingly seeks to emulate.
Big business hates our guts. Big tech wants us silenced. Schools want to indoctrinate our kids into racial Marxism. The justice system punishes dissenters from ruling class orthodoxy and rewards its friends. The national security apparatus wants to pursue rightly outraged parents like they’re al-Qaida.
At every turn, the institutions privilege non-Americans, and criminals, over law-abiding Americans. The ruling class breaks every rule, and seeks to break the Americans they hold in such contempt with those rules.
This effort accelerated with the revolt of every power center of the country against Donald Trump. But it is climaxing with every power center in the country targeting dissenters down to the last nameless, faceless resister of its every diktat.
To focus on anything else is to bury the lede. When the ruling class is obliterating the American way of life, the old emphases are simply inapt. We must know what time it is, and operate accordingly.