Jefferson or Bismarck: What is the Future of US Conservatism?

Jefferson-Bismarck

Patulcius

Current Threats to Conservatism

Conservatives in the United States face a serious crisis. On one front, the arrival of vast numbers of immigrants, legal and illegal, threatens to politically overwhelm the voices of American conservatives. And few of these immigrants will ever develop an appreciation for the values that the conservatives share. Even if we assume that the immigrants’ descendants will ultimately assimilate into the popular culture, it’s a culture that opposes all things conservative.

The culture is the second, and larger, front in the war against conservatism. The current popular culture celebrates social egalitarianism, hedonistic materialism, and seems dedicated to contradicting the traditional values that led Western civilization to its mastery of the world.  Most people do not uphold traditional values today, and many actively oppose them. Very few young people today care at all for Western traditions.

In the face of these threats, what will ultimately happen to conservatism in the United States?

Conservatives and Traditionalists

Conservatism by itself is a force of dead weight. A conservative will dig his heels and fight against “progressive” changes, but when he is defeated and after the taste of failure fades from his mouth, he will staunchly defend his new position as if he thought of it himself. (Think of all those earnest White men who claim to revere Martin Luther King, Jr., trying to usurp the Black icon for their own cause, and those who now defend the Civil Rights Act of 1964, support Medicare, and speak of the need for the federal government to improve education.)

A traditionalist is a slightly different creature. Every nation of people, great and small alike, has formed traditions over time, many of which have helped their members survive through difficult times. These traditions knit a nation together. The founders of the greatest of nations crafted systems of order that united their people in purpose and lifted them out of barbarism. Traditionalists promote and uphold these values.

While a conservative resists change because he wants to cling to the old ways, a traditionalist resists changes that threaten the traditional order. The difference can be a subtle one, but occasionally it can split the two groups.

And of course many traditionalists are conservative, though as society drifts further from its original values, traditionalists might adopt the tactics of the progressives or even revolutionaries.  (Think of the Iranian Revolution in the seventies, an uprising of traditionalist Shiite Muslims against a corrupt conservative regime.)

Conservative Factions in the US: Establishment vs. Traditionalists

In the United States, conservatives are split in two factions: the establishment and the traditionalists.

The establishment cares mostly about power and wealth. They want a sound fiscal policy and fewer restrictions on business, a strong military to make the world safe for US interests, and enough freedom for the people to stimulate the economy but not so much as to threaten stability or security (security for the people, yes, but security for the state especially). They want an education system that will make the US competitive, and they support the equal treatment of all people without special privileges. They support a system that unconsciously bears similarities to that created by Otto von Bismarck.

boehner_bush_mccain-620x412

The three stooges: Boehner, Bush, and McCain, typical of today’s establishment conservatives.

Bismarck forged most of the various German states into a single empire by 1871. When socialists threatened to take power in the Reichstag, Bismarck shrewdly expanded the welfare state, usurping the platform of the Social Democrats and undercutting socialist grievances, and his party remained in power.

The American traditionalist typically supports individual liberty, small government, non-intervention in foreign affairs, and many of them uphold the Christian values of the 18th and 19th centuries. Most of them, even the Christian fundamentalists, primarily want to be left alone and do not care to impose their values on everyone else. The developments of the past fifty years have come largely at the expense of traditional America, and many in this faction express great hostility to both the Republican and the Democratic wings of the ruling establishment. (And if you don’t think the two parties belong to the same establishment, look at how they came together against Edward Snowden and how they have united against Syria.) Generally speaking, traditonalists want the restoration of Jeffersonian government.

Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, as president solidified a culture of individual liberty, limited foreign intervention, sound fiscal policy, and limited government. His leadership proved so popular that it effectively killed the opposing Federalist Party (creator of the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts). While not overtly devout, Jefferson supported the freedom of religion while opposing the establishment of a state church.

Clusivius

Can Conservatives Even Win Another Presidency?

While many people have written off the ability of the Republican Party to ever win the presidency again because of shifting demographics, the United States is still at a point where the presidency can toggle back and forth between parties. If a Democrat is left holding the bag when the economy fails or the military suffers a humiliating defeat, or people have grown tired of Barrack Obama’s goofy head like they did with G.W. Bush’s, or if they have wearied of the failings of the liberal social agenda, then the Republicans could easily return to power for at least the next twelve to fifteen years.

Bismarckian Possibilities

The Bismarckian views of establishment conservatives possess a certain appeal, with their promise of a wealthy state looking out for national interests, with a large measure of social freedom, if not true civil liberty. But the establishment would expand the government to ever greater proportions to achieve these goals, much to the detriment of inalienable personal liberty. And establishment conservatives are more than willing to expand US power abroad, with war if necessary.

For a truly conservative Bismarckian system to prove viable in the long term, it would have to embrace much of the Democratic Party’s social programs. Conservatives would expand welfare benefits, establish true government healthcare, and grant free second-level education.  If they were smart, they would stop illegal immigration and increase restrictions on legal immigration; these measures would prove popular with the common people and also preserve what’s left of the conservative voter base. Since backing out of free-trade agreements would prove difficult, the US could stimulate domestic business with subsidies, low corporate taxes, and reduced regulation. On the social front, Bismarckian conservatives, assuming that they are interested in the long-term viability of American culture, would strongly oppose same-sex marriage and they would oppose special treatment for women and minorities while upholding equal pay standards and anti-discrimination laws. Protests would be tolerated so long as they didn’t interfere with the liberties of others, but once that point was reached the government would disperse them with its arsenal of non-lethal crowd-control weapons. Much of our Constitutional system would either be bypassed or scrapped altogether, which would prove necessary for these conservatives to stay in power and weed out the rot of social democracy.  (And let’s face it, one side or the other is going to scrap the constitution, so it might as well be the conservative side versus the loony liberal side.) Basically the Bismarckian America would look like Putin’s Russia or perhaps Xi Jinping’s China.

But deep-down, establishment conservatives do not want to uphold traditional American values.  While they certainly favor an expanded role of government in citizens’ day-to-day lives, they are also willing to follow the liberal lead on social issues (even if they won’t admit it).  They just want to slow down the progressive agenda, to form compromises rather than advance a social-traditionalist agenda.  That is why they will sometimes talk about civil unions versus homosexual marriage, of common-sense gun purchasing restrictions versus gun bans, or of a gradual path to citizenship for illegal aliens instead of full-fledged amnesty.  They are willing to be Democrats-lite.

So long as the Republican Party continues to follow the current lead of establishment conservatives with their watered-down Democratic social program, they will lose ground.  Moderates will continue to shift leftward and the traditional base will continue to stay home on election day, or support their own parties.

And what is the likelihood that a true conservative would arise who would uphold traditional morals while sacrificing the tradition of individual liberty for the sake of national unity and order?  About as likely as a third face appearing on my head.

Jeffersonian Possibilities

The type of federal government that a Jeffersonian envisions would be much smaller than our current bloated beast.  The government would no longer legislate on education, local and state business, personal morality, or most social causes.  It would no longer provide benefits such as healthcare, welfare, or unemployment.  State power would increase at the expense of the federal, and the states would be free to legalize drugs or homosexual marriage, ban abortion, battle illegal immigration, or require voter identification (or not).  States would adopt some of the roles of our current federal government, but these would be tailored to their local electorates. The US military would shrink and bases would close overseas, shrinking a major expense that brings little benefit to the country. Federal taxes would decrease. The federal government would stop spying on its citizens.

For states that followed such a small-government path internally, the economic benefits would be enormous.

The advantages in the United States for such a system would be that a liberal could move to a liberal state and a conservative could move to a conservative state without concern that the federal government would impose the viewpoints of one side onto those of another.  The federal government would focus on issues of truly national concern, such as interstate economics or foreign policy, and it wouldn’t generate such a high level of controversy with every move it made.

Many people have grown disgusted with the increased meddling of the government in their lives, with the imposition of a warped social agenda through various laws and the pressures of political correctness, with the cronyism of huge corporations and government, and with the reckless monetary policies that fuel all of this corruption.  They want to see this monster rolled back to a manageable size.  This disgust has fueled the rise of the Tea Party movement and other anti-government movements around the country, as well as the popularity of Glenn Beck and Ron Paul.

tea-party

Today’s tea party movement would seem to support a Jeffersonian conservatism. But theirs is a race against a demographic clock.

Realistically, however, the Jeffersonian conservatives face a major uphill battle.  Most of the country receives material benefits from the behemothic federal state, whether it’s Social Security or Social Security Disability, Medicare, military retirement or disability, government employment, college tuition, and/or unemployment benefits.  Most of these people would rather not lose these benefits.  The Jeffersonian conservatives also face the hostility of the establishment Republicans, most of whom would rather see Democrats in charge than accept the Jeffersonian wing of the Republican Party.  Also, the Jeffersonian group is highly fragmented, with the fading Tea Party movement its most focused political force.  This lack of organization is a great disadvantage against the combined wings of the establishment.

Concorditas

Which is the best route for American conservatism?

Currently establishment conservatives in the US have little to offer that differs substantially from the establishment Democrats, and no conservative leader has the fortitude to propose a social-traditionalist Bismarckian solution to America’s problems. We must assume that the current establishment Conservatives will remain the way they are now: Democrats-lite.  While this is the likeliest course for American conservatism, it does not provide the best course for traditionalist conservatism.

Libertarian, or Jeffersonian, conservatism does currently possess popular appeal, and could gain even greater appeal still. Currently the average conservative voter harbors an enormous suspicion of government and would welcome a platform of federal devolution to the states, an elimination of social engineering programs, and a reduction in foreign obligations overseas. By enshrining civil liberties, true equality under the law for all, and an anti-interventionist foreign policy, a libertarian Republican such as Rand Paul could even win support from some fringe elements of the Left.  The window of opportunity here is short, however, because this type of liberty mostly appeals to White Americans.

The Jeffersonian system provides the best hope for the survival of individual liberty into the next few centuries, so long as the conservative regions of the country could uphold and maintain their Western Christian traditions in opposition to the rot of the popular culture.  It provides a true and popular opposition to the current globalist establishment and might be capable of generating enough support to overwhelm an establishment, globalist candidate of either of the two political parties.

But if an American social-traditionalist Bismarck were to somehow appear on the political scene, it would be very tempting to support him, even if it came at the expense of individual liberty.

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5 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on Brittius.com.

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  2. I have noticed that “proposition nations” are never very free. For example, Rome, USSR and, increasingly, the US.

    I question whether Rand is a libertarian, or even a conservative, he seems to be an establishment Republican when push comes to shove.

    Inteteresting site, I’ll add you to my non-NC site links if you have no objections.

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    • Most of the time in history, the “proposition” of a proposition nation is “we propose that you send us taxes and resources, and in return we won’t destroy you”. Yes, the United States increasingly follows that proposition rather than those of its founding, which wouldn’t have held for so long if people hadn’t assimilated into the people of the founding nation.

      I share your doubts about Rand Paul, and I add my own doubts about Glenn Beck as well. Sometimes I think they’re patriots, and other times I question their motives. But we’ve got to work with who we’ve got and hold their feet to the fire.

      Thanks for reading and for adding me to your list; I am honored.

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      • I also doubt Beck, is he a commedian or a serious comentator?

        I’m not sure that people assimilated into the US after the revolution. At the time of the revolution, the nation was a true nation, or pretty close, as 90+% were English or Scottish. Beginning in the 1830s the Germans began arriving and were the largest immigrant group for the next 60 years. If you’ll remember, there was a pivotal event in the middle of that time, but talk of seccession began in the 1830s. I doubt its a coincidence, look where there decendents are:

        http://nclinksandthinks.wordpress.com/2013/06/25/oil-and-water/

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      • I agree with you in general that assimilation was never really completed for many large groups, though I don’t share all of your conclusions.

        While I’m sure that immigrants played a role in the friction between North and South, the WASPs still controlled the political strings at the time. The Civil War seems more of a cultural war between fanatic Northern Puritan/Quaker English groups and conservative Southern Episcopalian/Baptist groups than anything else. I think the differences in the maps along the Mason-Dixon account for the use of immigrant labor in the North instead of black labor in the South.

        And so long as most of our immigrants came from Europe with people who learned the language and most of the culture, a process of at least partial assimilation, and so long as none of these groups threatened to upset the dominance of the British-inherited culture, then stability could be maintained.

        But I’m just nit-picking, because we both agree that peoples never completely lose their original culture and attitudes even if they all speak unaccented English and listen to rap “music”. While different British peoples caused some friction, especially with the addition of Black slaves, and different European groups added more, the variations were manageable because genetically and culturally the European groups weren’t that much different. But enough different international groups added to the mix spells doom for a united United States.

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