Fundamental Transformation…Can it Still be Rightward?

by Brad Nelson9/7/16

Glenn the Greater forwarded me this article. Here’s a bit of it:

Whatever the reason for the contradiction, there can be no doubt that there is a contradiction. To simultaneously hold conservative cultural, economic, and political beliefs—to insist that our liberal-left present reality and future direction is incompatible with human nature and must undermine society—and yet also believe that things can go on more or less the way they are going, ideally but not necessarily with some conservative tinkering here and there, is logically impossible.

Let’s be very blunt here: if you genuinely think things can go on with no fundamental change needed, then you have implicitly admitted that conservatism is wrong. Wrong philosophically, wrong on human nature, wrong on the nature of politics, and wrong in its policy prescriptions. Because, first, few of those prescriptions are in force today. Second, of the ones that are, the left is busy undoing them, often with conservative assistance. And, third, the whole trend of the West is ever-leftward, ever further away from what we all understand as conservatism.

If your answer—Continetti’s, Douthat’s, Salam’s, and so many others’—is for conservatism to keep doing what it’s been doing—another policy journal, another article about welfare reform, another half-day seminar on limited government, another tax credit proposal—even though we’ve been losing ground for at least a century, then you’ve implicitly accepted that your supposed political philosophy doesn’t matter and that civilization will carry on just fine under leftist tenets. Indeed, that leftism is truer than conservatism and superior to it.

They will say, in words reminiscent of dorm-room Marxism—but our proposals have not been tried! Here our ideas sit, waiting to be implemented! To which I reply: eh, not really. Many conservative solutions—above all welfare reform and crime control—have been tried, and proved effective, but have nonetheless failed to stem the tide. Crime, for instance, is down from its mid-’70s and early ’90s peak—but way, way up from the historic American norm that ended when liberals took over criminal justice in the mid-’60s. And it’s rising fast today, in the teeth of ineffectual conservative complaints. And what has this temporary crime (or welfare, for that matter) decline done to stem the greater tide? The tsunami of leftism that still engulfs our every—literal and figurative—shore has receded not a bit but indeed has grown. All your (our) victories are short-lived.

More to the point, what has conservatism achieved lately? In the last 20 years? The answer—which appears to be “nothing”—might seem to lend credence to the plea that “our ideas haven’t been tried.” Except that the same conservatives who generate those ideas are in charge of selling them to the broader public. If their ideas “haven’t been tried,” who is ultimately at fault? The whole enterprise of Conservatism, Inc., reeks of failure. Its sole recent and ongoing success is its own self-preservation. Conservative intellectuals never tire of praising “entrepreneurs” and “creative destruction.” Dare to fail! they exhort businessmen. Let the market decide! Except, um, not with respect to us. Or is their true market not the political arena, but the fundraising circuit?

All that is quite consistent with my idea that conservatism has become but a book club (or lecture club) amongst the supposed movers-and-shakers and a mere identity (per someone else’s formulation…I forget who) for the rank-and-file. Whatever it is, it is no longer an activist platform meant to forward an agenda. It’s mostly now mere rhetoric or a perhaps well-meaning conceit.

I haven’t read the rest of that article. Perhaps Glenn and others can dig a bit deeper. I’m tired of word salads myself. Here’s my assessment, almost certainly correct:

1) You can’t have conservatism in any meaningful way when over two-thirds of Federal expenditures go towards entitlements (as opposed to core functions of government).

2) You can’t have conservative values be realized whilst feminism (and the feminine) is the reigning paradigm for how people should be and should act. Male traits such as hard work, perseverance, sticks-and-stones, rationality over emotionalism, self-responsibility, risk-taking, competition, excellence, and just sucking it up, buttercup (instead of seeking a “safe space”) are now socially ostracized traits.

3) You can’t have conservatism (in which a large part is based upon individual virtue, many marked by the denial of some thing or act) when we live in a consumer culture where the main virtue is simply a form of market hedonism called “choice.”

Your thoughts?

Brad is editor and chief disorganizer of StubbornThings.
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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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33 Responses to Fundamental Transformation…Can it Still be Rightward?

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    It’s also likely that the Trump phenomenon exposed the nonviability of conservatism as an effective and widespread political/social movement — something many people in their heart of hearts were probably already aware of. People either weren’t as conservative as they said they were, conservatism was a mere fashion statement, and/or many were willing to trade their conservative values (already confined to banishment for all practical purposes) for a victory, maintaining a useful willful blindness in regards to who Trump really is (and perhaps who they really are, or are becoming).

  2. pst4usa says:

    Well I am glad to see you are all sunshine and rainbows there Brad. Can’t say that I disagree, but you should stop sugar coating it so much.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Pat, I think few can or are willing to get down to brass tacks and identify the problem. For those who are not on the Left, the difficulty can be the cacophony of chaos out there (as exemplified by Trump, in my opinion). Name one prominent person with a clarity of vision who isn’t just bouncing all over the place? I’m not talking, of course, about “ideological purity,” but a boat that uses truth rather than packing peanuts as ballast.

  3. ladykrystyna says:

    Caught this on my Facebook feed. Spoke to me. I agree with all of it. Conservatism means something, or it means nothing. And yes, the rise of Trump proves something that perhaps many of us didn’t want to believe – that not even a plurality of Americans are really “conservative” in any meaningful way anymore. They are populists. I would say “right wing”, but not even that really. They are not free market (few of them understand the concept). They don’t care even about social issues. They just want their own free stuff that the Democrats have been handing out to their “clients”.

    But then the question becomes – what do we do to turn this around?

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Hey, LadyK. Good to see you again. I thought I read a post by you at NRO recently that had your real name as a screen name. Whatever the case may be, Howdy! And I pretty much agree with what you’re saying.

      I have three (things always work best in threes) recommendations for conservatives and traditionalists, and they are all substantive:

      1) Pray
      2) Do something (other than just talk or write)
      3) Live well, graciously, and with gratitude (living well is the best revenge and don’t let the Left poison one’s life)

      It will be difficult to turn things around. Too much water has gone under the bridge. What I suggest is that good-hearted people (but by no means perfect people) get together and support one another. No, I don’t mean a clique or cult. There should be vibrant disagreements in any group if that group is to be more than a mindless cult.

      But I operate on the basis that individual people are good, approachable, and can be worked with for just day-to-day stuff (business, friendships, etc.) but vast numbers are ideologically lost. They wouldn’t know a narrow gate if it bit them on the ass. A man or woman of depth and integrity is now like Edward Woodward from 1973’s “The Wicker Man” walking amongst the dangerous kooks of Summerisle.

      Fine, we should work to change things. But I personally think the culture is irrevocably lost to a merging of “Progressivism” (read: a supposedly benevolent nanny statism) with a consumer culture of evermore sated and atomized desires.

      My prescription: Read Moby Dick. Their prescription: Get another stupid tattoo. And never the twain shall meet (including Mark Twain).

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      But then the question becomes-what do we do to turn this around?

      A similar question was asked here a week or so back. I will repeat my reply.

      Stop being so damn polite about the immorality and stupidity of those around you. For example, if some friend or family member is thinking about getting a tattoo let them know it is STUPID and permanent.

      I have no silver bullet, no magic wand. Most of us can only do small things to bring about change, but does that mean we shouldn’t try?

      As Burke apparently said, “The only thing necesary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

      Well, it’s a God Damn cinch that “good men” have been doing nothing for a long time now. And maybe they should get up and try to do something. I am giving no guarantees other than the guarantee that if you don’t try something, evil will prevail.

      Make a racket!!!

  4. Timothy Lane says:

    The problem is partly that what we mean by “conservative” isn’t necessarily what most people who consider themselves conservative mean by it. It can mean caution about making major changes in society — but that means keeping the status quo, which in America today involves a lot of entitlements and an activist government (which doesn’t work all that well, at least in terms of its nominal purpose, but never mind).

    Conservative is also used as a synonym for “right wing”. This is perhaps more specific — but again our standards aren’t everyone else’s. Besides, there are very few people who are rightist on every single issue. I’m a moderate on abortion, to some extent, for example. There is no conservative consensus on foreign/defense policy. And among all who call themselves conservative, economic conservatism is probably the weakest leg of the triad.

    And, thus, we find many conservatives who consider Donald Trump a good candidate (if he can be trusted to do as he says, which of course is a problem with every candidate). And others who consider him a liberal even aside from his past history. And we have some who simply can’t stand him regardless of his views (though it’s not clear to me why they would consider the Fire Witch an improvement).

  5. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    The whole enterprise of Conservatism, Inc., reeks of failure. Its sole recent and ongoing success is its own self-preservation. Conservative intellectuals never tire of praising “entrepreneurs” and “creative destruction.” Dare to fail! they exhort businessmen. Let the market decide! Except, um, not with respect to us. Or is their true market not the political arena, but the fundraising circuit?

    I don’t know who wrote this, but it sure sounds like what some of us a ST have been saying for a long time.

    Continetti (Bill Kristol’s son-in-law), Douthat, Salam, et. al., have been cashing in on the naivite’/laziness of “conservatives.” They churn out the same old thing, year-in, year-out and too many “conservatives” sooth their souls believing that by reading this pablum, they are actually doing something. (It’s similar to many/most people who feel sorry for the handicapped when they see a movie such as “Awakenings”. The fact that they feel bad makes them good people in their own minds, but they do nothing once the TV is turned off.)

    I have no doubt that most of these so-called “conservative” pundits are card-carrying members of the Cheese-and-Wine Club which runs D.C. and much of NYC. The only difference between them and the Dowds, Robinsons, is they make their money off “conservative” suckers as opposed to “liberal” suckers.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      It’s the difference between superficial and substantial. I believe exactly as you do, Mr. Kung, that we are living in a particularly superficial age governed by marketing, where perception is reality, where even self-congratulations is interpreted as effective action.

      As a mere pin-headed web site owner who sits behind this keyboard, I do not pretend that our blather here is changing the world. It might provide a resource for those souls looking for something outside of the Progressive swamp. That’s a good thing.

      But the main reason this site is non-profit, and will remain that way, is because I don’t remember George Washington making a lot of money from his service to this country (a service that was badly need and was absolutely crucial).

      Sorry, but I don’t have any problem calling out 95% of the conservative media as doing nothing more than profiting from the decadence of the Left. Far and few between do any of these guys offer a call to action or lead a call to action. There are rarities such as Mark Levin who actually leads legal action against some of the abuses of the Left. But people such as him are few and far between.

      I also think Andy McCarthy at NRO (because of his past work as a prosecutor) is on the side of the angels. He has actually done something. Some others certainly have as well. But most have merely made a profession out of tapping into popular discontent without offering a remedy other than their word salads.

      The persnickety Editor of StubbornThings has, in fact, enacted a recent editorial policy concerning political articles whose purpose is to deal with this fact head-on and not try to pretend we are something we are not. I’ve had enough. I’d rather lead with an audience of one than be just another purposeless and feckless echo-chamber that makes a lot of money (Rush Limbaugh certainty comes to mind in that regard).

      I cannot inspire the masses to withstand a cold winter at Valley Forge. But that should be our goal. In terms of politics, we should want to inspire people to right and good action, if not actually lead that action. Analyzing things to death does no good. This is what I call mere “descriptive conservatism.” And it and twenty-five cents still won’t buy you a cup of coffee.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        What conservatism needs may not be the next Ronald Reagan, or even the next Bill Buckley, but the next Phyllis Schlafly. She was a pundit and an author — but also an activist who was successful at least part of the time, and against remarkable odds.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          Conservatives need the equivalent of the Left’s Alinsky, i.e. community organizers. But it is hard to get people who are very comfortable and averse to trouble, to get out and protest.

          The Tea Party seemed to come close to this, but to be effective it will take decades of organized pressure.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          You had a post about the problematic definition of “conservatism.” You wrote “There is no conservative consensus on foreign/defense policy.”

          You could extend that to say “There is no conservative consensus on A, B, C, D, and X, Y, Z. And if there *is* a conservative consensus on some item, it’s not generally a consensus to actually do anything. The consensus seems to be “Tsk tsk, those baddies on the Left. Shame on them.”

          Conservatism has devolved into handing out virtual Scarlet Letters, but not much more.

          And as I’ve intimated (perhaps more than made explicit) before is that I think the reason for this mere “Tsk tsk” factor — taking mainly a “What we are against” approach — is because conservatives generally cannot (or do not) articulate their opposing societal vision to the Leftist Kumbaya utopia. And if they do, it’s not often clear or particularly compelling.

          And it’s actually okay for it not to be as compelling…which is a large part of the problem. Few like the idea of the reality of the analogous “blood, toil, tears, and sweat” of a self-made society not comprised of delicate little snowflakes.

      • Anniel says:


        I’m going to stand up for Rush on this one. His children’s books on American history are a step in the right direction, putting his money where his mouth is and educating the children who seem to love them. Maybe he makes a mint, and maybe you hear him as an “echo chamber,” but he seems to be on the side of the Yutes on the book front.

        The full article on this can be googled on “The Flight 93 Election”, along with all the hyperventilating on both sides.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I agree with you regarding the children’s book, Annie. But I also wonder how many people he could have helped with a million dollars instead of giving it to Elton John to perform at this wedding.

          I love that Mother Teresa, for example, asked the Nobel committee to not have the traditional banquet for her but to donate the money to the poor.

          Rush is an entertainer. He’s never shied away from that fact. But it’s pretty clear to me now that the conservative media acts as a catalyst for little more than venting.

          I would rather people honestly admit, “We have lost the culture war. Now it’s time to adapt, fight back, or rope ourselves off in a protective bubble.” This would be better than continuing the uselessness of most of the conservative media, including Rush Limbaugh. It simply is a medium for self-deceit. Energy that could have gone into doing something useful is instead placated and mollified by listening to someone else bitch about things.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Well, I continue to listen to Rush. He makes no bones about it; he always supports the GOP nominee, but doesn’t make endorsements during the primaries. He was probably more favorable about Cruz than Trump — as when Trump first began to smear Cruz, and received criticism from a number of sympathizers, including Rush.

  6. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Speaking of drama (which is certainly one thing the conservative media is good for), Jonah Goldberg and Sean Trumpkin Hannity have an ongoing conflict…over support of Trump, of course. Ramesh Ponnuru (surely overpaid for this somewhat rhetorical question) sums it up by pondering:

    While disagreement about Trump, whom Goldberg opposes, is the occasion of this dispute, it is only secondarily about the candidate. What it is mainly about is what the conservative media is for.

    The conservative media is about employment opportunities, selling books, paid lectures, speech writing (if you can connect to a successful candidate), and swank cocktail parties. People who actually do something look more like this.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      People who actually do something look more like this.

      I read the article and early on this paragraph stood out.

      We know that the American values of free markets and limited government are amazing ideas that have made us who we are. But if all the conservative movement is doing is talking about ideas without a systematic approach on how to implement those ideas, all we’re doing is having really good conversations without accomplishing anything.

      Someone who understands what is happening and what needs to be done.

      He also gets it that “conservatives” by nature are not types who generally get overly involved in governance as there are many other facets to life. It comes down to the fact that they don’t make a religion of government as the Left does. That is one reason conservatives are always behind. I am sure we have pointed this out before.

  7. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Which begs the question: What do I want out of this website? Let me count the ways:

    1) Face time on Fox News…my ultimate goal…the rest of you are just a means to that end…hahahahha

    But seriously. And I can joke about the above only because I wouldn’t know what to do with some Fox face time if it bit me in the ass. I’d probably try to sell a book about how conservatism is about little more than selling books…and then see if this Captain Kirk-like paradox causes any computer systems to smoke and burn.

    2) Creative writing.

    3) A Grand Sifter — via pooling our time and talents, we can bring forth and talk about the best books and movies (and plays, music, what-not). This is a tough one because good taste is required and everyone thinks they have good taste. Few people nowadays want to try to improve themselves and hold themselves to a higher standard. Schlepping out whatever occurs to them is what substitutes for this betterment process.

    4) Education. I want to read things that teach me things I didn’t know before. And such articles should be clear, concise (but no more than they need to be), and somewhat entertaining. Sometimes learning things you need to know is eating your spinach. Not everything can, or should, be especially entertaining.

    5) News about current events (but not endless analysis and hand-wringing).

    6) Fellowship of the Ping. I think friendships over the internet are overrated and I am cautious of them. Few people are who they seem to be. But we can have some shits-and-giggles fun and perhaps develop some cyber fellowship and camaraderie. Just don’t ever let it substitute for the real thing.

    7) Venting, bitching, complaining, and just overall drama. And I hope whenever we do so it can contain a healthy dose of humor.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Well, as far as (4) goes, this is one reason why I like to make cultural or historical links in my articles and responses.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Links are good. Some sites have all these silly pedantic rules…including regarding links. I don’t. But I will cajole and ask and try to set a good example. For instance, I’d prefer that links be wrapped in the code to make them prettier. Also, pulling a relevant quote (a teaser, if you will) from a good link helps everyone to save time by giving us an idea what one might find at the end of the link.

  8. Timothy Lane says:

    There have been some interesting examples of good news today. At Occidental, YAF put up flags to memorialize the 9/11/01 dead. Naturally, some leftist hate-mongers trashed the memorial (multiple times), but each time the YAF repaired it (and in one case drove the vandals off). Second, there’s a bill sponsored by James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) in Congress to get rid of federal criminal convictions that don’t involve criminal intent (which usually involves arcane regulations that no one knows about).

    And finally Kevin Williamson in his article at NRO today noted some of the GOP’s recent accomplishments — such as reducing the budget deficit, and passing right-to-work legislation in states such as Michigan and West Virginia. Those are nothing to sneeze at, and the Democrats would never do them.

  9. Tom Riehl Tom Riehl says:

    I read the excerpt again, but substituted GOP for conservative, and it works! Conservatism is a topic for study and an ideological guide for navigating the necessarily shifting shoals of governance. It is not an entity that does anything.

    The GOP on the other hand, is an entity that is supposed to be actually accomplishing something. For over six decades, it has been a total failure except for the eight year interregnum of Reagan. Even his accomplishments were tossed aside by the GOP.

    My take on this is that it’s time for a new party, one that actually makes use of conservative concepts, one that has a drive to win, and one that makes positive long-term improvements in our commonweal. Trump had to hijack the GOP to make a start, but he’s emblematic of the new vision, however you interpret his human failings and his brilliance.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Tom, the GOP is a failure from my perspective. Alas, with the elevation of Trump, it’s made me realize just how liberal this culture has become. On second thought, I can’t blame the GOP establishment for figuring out before I did that conservatism isn’t a power to be reckoned with. It’s a small constituency to be bought off and placated with a little red-meat rhetoric here and there. And that has worked well for them.

      • Tom Riehl Tom Riehl says:

        Brad, at least you have the prize for participation. Trump isn’t from or for the GOP. He’s a hijacker, although in my opinion about this case it’s a good crime.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I think Trump can easily win simply by standing (literally) on his own two feet. Hillary has got some major major health problems. I’m not sure how long the media can keep the Cone of Silence around that fact. Maybe if she starts foaming at the mouth during one of the debates, that could turn off Michael Medved’s all-important “centrists” and “independents.” One can hope.

  10. Timothy Lane says:

    There’s an amusing situation in the Pennsylvania 9th CD according to an article on HotAir. It seems that incumbent Republican almost lost the primary to Tea Partier Art Halvorson — and the latter then somehow got the Democratic nomination. Many local Republican officials are backing him, in some cases resigning party positions. This could be one “Democrat” I’d vote for. The link is:

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