The Next Conservatism
By Paul M. Weyrich and William S. Lind
St. Augustine’s Press, $24, 160 pages
REVIEWED BY WES VERNON
During the heyday of Reagan conservatism, Paul M. Weyrich would say that while his fellow conservatives had won the political war, the liberals were gaining the upper hand in the culture battle. The longtime conservative icon, now deceased, did not see that as an even trade. He predicted that if conservatives lose the cultural war, they ultimately would lose the political war as well.
There is no shortage of theories on how conservatism can regain its political bearings. In this book, however, Mr. Weyrich and his associate, William S. Lind (both of the Free Congress Foundation that Mr. Weyrich founded and headed until his death in December) have offered us anything but boilerplate. This is a prescription for a conservatism that advocates what its authors call “retroculture.”
This is a call forpush back against cultural Marxism at home (largely a product of the ‘60s counterculture, in addition to the economic Marxism of an earlier era) and Wilsonian adventurism in foreign affairs.
Domestically, the authors advocate a return to the American way of life largely as it existed prior to World War II - before the interstate highway system, violent video games, “political correctness,” the culturally intrusive aspects of television and later the Internet, as well as cell phones, which - the book laments - “have infringed on what little remains of private space [with those loud half-conversations to which we are subjected in public places].”
“The Next Conservatism” argues that much of what has been called conservatism in recent years, in fact, is not that at all - not as understood at the time of this nation’s founding. This book calls upon conservatives “to separate themselves to some extent from those elements in our society which promote decadence.” Home-schoolers are cited as a model of what Mr. Weyrich and Mr. Lind recommend on a larger scale.
That can lead to a dual society, but the authors say we have a two-track cultural society already, with conservative America playing defense against an onslaught of a Marxist-like, anti-God, anti-family moral decadence. The book - a slim volume, but jam-packed with ideas on nearly every issue - emphasizes that such a separation is not intended to be permanent.
The ultimate goal is to “re-take the culture by the power of example,” and, secondly, to provide a shield against “political correctness,” which the authors see as part of a move toward making the mere expression of conservative ideas illegal. This is a call to peaceful revolution, not an effort to ram a way of life down the throats of an unwilling public.
Modern conservatism, the authors believe, has descended into “just another ideology” embracing an American empire abroad and free markets in morals - as well as everything else - here at home. Conservatism, according to this treatise, should be a way of life.
Not surprisingly, “The Next Conservatism” makes a case for smaller government, but Mr. Weyrich and Mr. Lind are no less suspicious of big business, especially those elements that have encouraged illegal immigration for cheap labor and “free” trade at the expense of American jobs.
Among the reforms proposed here are term limits; allowing electoral challengers to spend more than incumbents; removing barriers to new political parties; expanding the ballot initiative; and preventing judges from overturning referendums expressing the will of the people.
“Think locally, act locally” is the theme of “The Next Conservatism.” “Globalism,” the authors warn, reflects the “One World” mantra started by the Jacobins of the French Revolution. Television is faulted for homogenizing the populace, at the expense of unique local cultures, which “are to be prized.”
Mr. Weyrich and Mr. Lind believe our automobile-dependent culture has effectively dictated this country’s transportation habits. “Subsidized highways drove unsubsidized railways out of business.” Their remedy is a “National Defense Public Transportation Act” to correct the imbalance.
The authors proclaim, “Our dependence on cars running on imported oil” from nations that hate us leaves us vulnerable. More trains, along with their local cousins, streetcars, meet two key conservative criteria: national security and prudence. An extra benefit is a more pleasant, walkable and people-friendly alternative. Suburban sprawl would be available to those who want it.
In foreign affairs, Mr. Weyrich and Mr. Lind reject the “nation-building” adventurism famously symbolized by Woodrow Wilsons vow to “make the world safe for democracy.” Neither World War I nor America’s involvement in it made democracy safer, but instead left the world with Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin and, ultimately, Adolf Hitler.
The authors approve of our having fought the Cold War because our very nation then was under threat. But they also contend that, after the Soviet empire was defeated, we should have returned to our traditional policy of maintaining a strong military while engaging other nations by private means and “fair” trade.
The book sees the conservative movement as a casualty of the Bush administration, mainly because of the latter’s overly adventurous foreign policy and permissive views on big spending, as well as its stance on illegal immigration (which it calls an “invasion”).
Conservatives looking for a political “quick fix” for a turnaround in 2010 will have to look elsewhere. This ambitious plan to “re-take the culture” deals with problems that have taken root over decades. “The Next Conservatism” offers long-haul solutions, but argues the time to start is now.
Wes Vernon is a Washington-based writer and veteran broadcast journalist.