There are no coincidences in politics, which is why when three different people attacked the idea of national conservatism from three directions in the span of a day last week, it was worth noting.
National conservatism is the idea that people organize themselves into nations to achieve a variety of goals and that historical experience is important in the creation of a nation and in forming its values. In the case of the United States, those goals are best delineated in the preamble to the Constitution.
National conservatism’s Statement of Principles (which I have signed) includes newfangled ideas like supporting national independence, rejecting globalism, recognizing the necessity of the rule of law, believing that religion is important in both public life and individual lives, thinking that free enterprise is a good thing and understanding that strong families are essential to national survival.
In short, national conservatives believe in all the things that until about 50 years ago were the bedrock of America.
Who could attack such historically anodyne sentiments? Well, last week a professional provocateur (David French) wrote that these sentiments were “a direct threat to religious freedom!” Oh, dear.
Around the same time, a former congressman turned gadfly (Justin Amash) tweeted: “National conservatism is repackaged authoritarianism… [and] fundamentally rejects individualism and property rights…” Oh my.
There are a few problems with these “thoughts.” Everything in national conservatism’s Statement of Principles – which, as a reminder, includes an explicit endorsement of freedom of conscience — is in the middle of the fairway of historical American political values, thoughts and actions. There is nothing in the principles that suggests or endorses anything authoritarian at all. If anything, national conservatism honors the individual and the community.
The statement of principles is also on target with respect to property rights: “We believe that an economy based on private property and free enterprise is best suited to promoting the prosperity of the nation and accords with traditions of individual liberty that are central to the Anglo-American political tradition.” It goes on to explicitly reject socialism.
Can’t make it any clearer.
The good news is that the third skater in the fight, Mary Imparato, a writer for the Catholic newsletter Post-Liberal Order, only complained that the recent National Conservatism Conference in Miami didn’t include enough neoconservatives, Catholics, or Catholics who believe that we should establish some sort of Catholic Republic here in the United States (called “integralists” because they believe in integrating religion and the State).
Unfortunately, there are no more neoconservatives, and the six Catholic integralists were busy moving back into their parents’ basement that weekend. No, seriously, they couldn’t make it because national conservatism isn’t their cup of tea: That crew declined to sign the Statement of Principles.
There were, however, plenty of Catholics. There were two panels on Catholicism and national conservatism during the conference (full disclosure: This columnist participated in one of the panels). In all, the Catholics spent three full hours sharing their various thoughts on the world.
The larger problem with all of this is that it is an example of how corroded and barren our public discourse has become.
How have we come to a moment where anyone pays attention to these people? It is not clear what they have achieved in life such that anyone should listen to them. They don’t seem particularly marked by wisdom, intellect, or success in business, or the law, medicine, politics, or art.
What they seem to do most is get paid for having opinions, irrespective of whether they know much about the topic at hand.
Good for them, but probably bad for the rest of us. Do they have any insight or wisdom gained either through examination of the political theories about which they write? Indeed, in this instance, they attacked without bothering to pick up a book to read about or a phone to talk to the intended target.
It is a small wonder that some wander when they are led by people who don’t have any experiences that can help people make sense of the world.
Since they are paid to have opinions, it is fair to ask who in this case paid for them to have and share opinions about national conservatism that are neither well-grounded nor defensible.
There is an old saying in the South that dogs don’t bark at parked cars. If you’re doing something – and national conservatives clearly mean to do something – all kinds of dogs are going to start barking.
• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, co-hosts “The Unregulated” podcast. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.
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