Sunday, June 19, 2022

"The job of a conservative is to remember"

I just finished reading Matthew Continetti's The Right: The Hundred Year War for American Conservatism. I suspect that anyone involved in politics, especially conservative politics, over the last sixty years would find this book interesting and an education. 1960 was the first election in which I took real interest. I started reading National Review and Human Events while in high school, was devastated by Goldwater's defeat in 1964, and an enthusiastic supporter of Reagan from 1968. So the book covers my early political experience, and since, and does so well. Continetti is a conservative, but in this book, a historian rather than a cheerleader.

His final chapter "An American Conservatism" is a summing up and considers what a post-Trump conservatism should look like. From the final paragraphs:
.... However the future unfolds, conservatives must return to the wisdom of their best minds and advocates. "The proper question for conservatives: What do you seek to conserve?" George Will wrote in The Conservative Sensibility (2019). "The proper answer is concise but deceptively simple: We seek to conserve the American Founding." ....

...[T]here would be no American conservatism without the American founding. The Constitution and its twenty-seven amendments anchor conservatives eager to preserve and extend the blessings of liberty that are the birthright of every American. The Constitution grounds conservatives in a uniquely American tradition of political thought that balances individual rights and popular sovereignty through the separation of powers and federalism. The Constitution not only protects human freedom but also creates the space for the deeper satisfactions of family, religion, community, and voluntary association. "A free society certainly needs permanent means of restricting the powers of government, no matter what the particular objective of the moment may be," wrote Friedrich Hayek. "And the Constitution which the new American nation was to give itself was definitely meant not merely as a regulation of the derivation of power but as a constitution of liberty, a constitution that would protect the individual against all arbitrary coercion."

One cannot be an American patriot without reverence for the nation's enabling documents. One cannot be an American conservative without regard for the American tradition of liberty those charters inaugurated. "Conservatives may of course draw from foreign sources—I yield to no one in the admiration due to Edmund Burke, a great friend of America—but they should be read with a view to possibilities in America," Harvey Mansfield said. "America cannot abandon the great principles of liberalism, above all the principle of self-government and, with it, the constitutional means for achieving and preserving it."

Nor can conservatives abandon America. The preservation of the American idea of liberty and the familial, communal, religious, and political institutions that incarnate and sustain it—that is what makes American conservatism distinctly American. The Right betrays itself when it forgets this truth.

Why? Because the job of a conservative is to remember.
Matthew Continetti, The Right: The Hundred Year War for American Conservatism, Basic Books, 2022.

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