Talking Points

The conservatives who want to conserve nothing

The name "conservatism" conveys its political aim quite clearly: It aims to conserve. But what happens when conservatives come to despise pretty much everything about the world around them? 

That question comes to mind in reading a statement by the editors of American Greatness on the occasion of the website's fifth anniversary. A scrappier, lower-brow spin-off from the now-fully-Trumpfied Claremont Institute, AG publishes essays that ape the five-alarm-fire rhetoric that Michael Anton deployed so potently in his September 2016 essay "The Flight 93 Election." So it isn't especially surprising that their anniversary statement includes this line: "to the extent that the American political and cultural scene requires not conservation but disruption, we're not conservative at all. We started this publication not to vindicate the status quo, but to obliterate it and build something better." (Italics in original.)

The honesty is refreshing. But it's unfortunate that the authors of these sentences show so little awareness of what can happen when conservatives become revolutionaries. Germany's Weimar Republic was filled with groups making quite similar arguments and claims about the irredeemable decadence of the present order of things. Most of them considered Adolf Hitler a repulsive philistine leading a movement of thugs. Yet many nonetheless ended up supporting the National Socialists when the time came because they convinced themselves that the radicalism of the Nazis made them the most useful blunt instrument with which to smash a corrupt status quo.

If some progressives make the mistake of assuming there are "no enemies to the left," ostensible conservatives can fall prey to their own delusions, recklessly rallying behind and empowering cretins who promise to tear down the crumbling edifice of a worthless present so that beautiful castles of the imagination can be constructed in its place. But "no enemies to the right" is at least as irresponsible as its ideological opposite. One wishes the circle of writers and editors at American Greatness were self-aware and wise enough to recognize it.