These days, it has become trite to begin any written piece with the phrase “after the collapse of communism”, but in many ways, that is what we need to talk about. Less than a decade ago, leftists who perceived flaws in the Western systems of government largely flocked to communism or its weak sister socialism to frame their opposition. But, as others have observed, the collapse of much of Marxist ideology turned the opposition from an unified enemy to “a nest of vipers, each ready to strike.” And, as we’ve seen in Iraq, it can be neither easy nor popular to kill but one of the vipers.
More than fifty years ago, William F. Buckley observed:
Some of the importunities upon a decent American conservatism are outrageous, or appear so to me, at any rate. (“We should have high tariffs because the farmers have high subsidies, and they shouldn’t, by the way.”) Some are pathological (“Alaska is being prepared as a mammoth concentration camp for pro-McCarthyites”). Some are deeply mystical (“The state can do no good.” My answer: it can arrest Communists, can’t it?); some ambitiously spiritual (“ Conservatism has no extrinsic significance except in relation to religion”). Some urge the schematization of conservatism, “(What passes for conservatism these days is nothing more than sentimentality and nostalgia. Let us give it structure…”); or the opposite (“Beware the ideologization of conservatism,”).
Still, for all the confusion and contradiction, I venture to say it is possible to talk about “the conservative position” and mean something by it…
In spite of all the blather to which Mr. Buckley referred, it is this conservative position, today, of which I wish to speak.
Recent fashion for liberal journalists—which is to say nearly all of them—has been to attempt to lay out whether some candidate for political office is a “true conservative”, or even “conservative enough”. Setting aside the sheer idiocy of allowing someone of opposing beliefs to define what conservatism means, or the even greater idiocy of allowing them to decide whether a putatively conservative candidate meets the suspect definition, we do need to debate what, exactly, a conservative believes.
I do not claim to be able myself to create a definitive definition. In some ways, this manifesto is my personal “laundry list” of those positions which I–one conservative individual–believe unites us all as conservatives. Nevertheless, I’m certain that there will be a multitude of conservatives who will take issue with one point or another. Let me put them at their ease: it is not necessary to agree with each and every position which I lay out to agree that we, as conservatives, need to unite around a common conception of what we believe. Let us, therefore, treat this manifesto as a “straw horse”. While I might argue to defend my own position on the specific issues, it is only for the sake of convincing like-minded conservatives of the correctness of my personal position. But I care nothing for what the leftists think of it–although I look forward to the inevitable condemnation that this is likely to receive.