By Aiden Buzzetti
In “The National Conservatives Are Right About Something,” James Sweet III writes: “Roosevelt, Disraeli, and Burke argue for a more paternalistic form of governance. They believe that the government, as well as the more wealthy members of society, should work together to provide for middle and working-class citizens.” He could not be more right. James largely understands the driving force behind the growth of national conservatives and populists although there is a difference between the two. In this instance, it is important to note that right-wing populism in America can draw from libertarian influences just as much as or more than Burke, Disraeli, and Roosevelt, something that Luca Cacciatore refers to as “folk libertarianism.” All national conservatives are populists, but not all populists are national conservatives. Despite ideological differences between national conservatives and other populists, the social, moral, and overall cultural decline of the United States has proven that the acceptance of Reaganism as dogma in the GOP was a mistake not to be repeated.
While James’ article discusses the reaction to Pete Buttigieg’s time off via paternal leave, it is relatively inconsequential compared to another point he made: the rising belief, or at least discussion of, illiberalism within the Republican Party and the national conservative movement. The philosophies that national conservatives derive from are rich, intellectual traditions on their own. They do not make the mistake of thinking that mass participation is the sole good for society. In fact, national conservatives instead strive to promote a virtuous, civic, and faith-based national revival that would on its own lead to healthier and re-established societal bonds that would greatly benefit our republican system. James rightly points out that Theodore Roosevelt was considered a progressive Republican in his time, with “progressive” having a different meaning in the early 1900s, yet the country was fundamentally different in 1912.
There were different rates of religious and civic participation, different demographics, and completely different issues than what the modern-day conservative has to consider. For large portions of the Republican electorate, the system has failed. For large portions of the Democratic electorate (even post-2020), the system has failed. There is a nearly unanimous feeling across the country that something is not right with how things are working. Only conservatives, specifically national conservatives and adjacent populists, are open about the ideas of their movement. The progressives that continue to dominate the Democratic Party still endlessly pose as the victims even as they acquire the tools necessary to eliminate dissent from society at large.
What James refers to as illiberalism within the national conservative movement is not foreign to the United States nor is it illiberal in the traditional sense. National conservatives do not want to create an autocracy within the country. They do not want to promote corruption, influence elections, or crack down on political dissent. That is the job of the opposition. Instead, national conservatives want to reinvigorate areas of life and development that have been degraded or completely abandoned, which are also fundamental to the preservation of America as both a nation and in principle, not antithetical to it. A return to moral virtue both in the populace and in governance is necessary for this revitalization, which makes a strong hand in certain policies required.
The fact that the government looked helplessly at the riots in the summer of 2020 and the mob on January 6th is indicative of the abject failure of our current system to provide not only security for citizens but even for its own civic principles. There can and should be civic participation without crime and property damage, but that was not the case. Unlike the Trump Administration with the summer rioting, President Biden is willing to use the full force of the state to punish people who entered the Capitol building. Lawlessness goes completely unpunished except when used for a political purpose, in this case being used — along with mandates — to shove conservatives out of the military, government, and other key institutions that can actually preserve our system against a silent and authoritarian onslaught.
We are still learning new information about the events on January 6th, and the most damning thing we have learned so far is that the Biden administration is consistently and unapologetically abusing the due process and civil rights of January 6th prisoners. Instead of blasting conservatives for defending grievances, it might be better to look at how the supposed party of liberal democracy is abusing due process and the rights of January 6th prisoners all the while falsely accusing political opponents of doing the same.
What we have seen is a mass degeneration of “liberal” values across the board, and only one group — conservatives, and internally national conservative/populist movements — are framed as dangerous. The other group frames its goals in terms like “equity,” “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,” and “anti-racism” in an attempt to mask how fundamentally opposed they are to the Constitution and the American state. The foundation of the American republic rested on a virtuous citizenry that we no longer have, as well as a trust in the responsibility of governance, which we no longer have. When those foundations are shaken, we must take action to restore those values no matter the culprit.
Theodore Roosevelt, while in favor of the more “progressive” reforms like women’s suffrage, understood the centrality of American civic virtue to responsible democratic participation. Above all, National Conservatism is a dynamic movement with fresh and constantly debated ideas, not dogma that has been rhetorically and ideologically stale since the new millennium. There are dozens of different perspectives, and most rely on a simple realization: there is no separation between public life and private life. A truly free society is ordered and virtuous, and that needs to be fought for on every institutional level possible.
This article was published as part of the Forum on National Conservatism that is being held by The District Conservative in conjunction with the American University College Republicans on November 22nd. If you are interested in virtually attending the event, please RSVP here.