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Cast Away Illusions and Prepare for Struggle

Cast Away Illusions and Prepare for Struggle
A response to old guard conservatism

Last fall the Claremont Institute’s venerable Charles R. Kesler published a lengthy essay critiquing National Conservatism and the “New Right” for, essentially, departing from the polite constitutionalist rhetoric of Bill Buckley-style American conservatism for a more definitive popular-nationalism. I was among those invited by Claremont to respond as part of a thoughtful symposium published last month. I’ve decided to republish my short contribution here (though I encourage you to go read the original essay and the full symposium). My argument is brief (and “nearly dismissive” according to Kesler, which I suppose is true): for decades old guard conservatives have for the most part completely failed to conserve anything, institutions of the republic included, no matter how frequently they’ve bandied about the Constitution and appealed to American exceptionalism; it will avail us nothing to continue in the same vein. Because of all this context and the intramural nature of the dispute I hesitated to bother posting this here at all. But given the “conservative”-leaning Supreme Court’s tragic decision yesterday to roll over and allow the gutting of the First Amendment (as predicted), the moment now seemed more appropriate to do so. – N.S. Lyons

“Cast away illusions and prepare for struggle.” Perhaps it’s unorthodox for a conservative to quote Mao Zedong, but he did know a thing or two about politics. For one, he understood that politics is not a debate club. Or, as he might as well have put it: there comes a time to know what time it is.

What time is it in America? The hour is already very late. We are ruled by a regime that deeply hates and fears the bulk of its own people, and is demonstrably willing to do whatever it takes to retain power. A regime that characterizes its political opposition as “extremists” and “domestic terrorists,” and uses its security services to surveil and intimidate even the most ordinary dissenting citizens, treating them as enemies of the state. One that wields the law as a weapon, flagrantly showcasing a two-tier legal system as it routinely seeks to arrest, humiliate, and destroy its political enemies while shielding its friends and foot soldiers from accountability. A regime that now holds hundreds of political prisoners. That has turned the tools of its military counterinsurgency apparatus on its own people. That colludes with the world’s most powerful technology and media companies to establish vast systems of mass censorship, propaganda, and reality distortion. That has successfully corrupted nearly every public and private institution with a distinctly totalitarian state ideology. Surely no one should already better understand the situation, and the stakes, than those who follow the work of the Claremont Institute. The affectation of an “extremely untimely” Buckleyan conservativism dedicated to losing with gallantry is doubtless pleasant in the moment, but is ultimately suicidal.

Mao instructed revolutionaries to seize power by struggling to control the “pen,” the “knife,” and the “gun” (that is, the propaganda and administrative institutions, the intelligence and security services, and the army). By this measure the progressive Left has already achieved near total victory. By contrast, old-guard conservatives have—for almost a century now—utterly failed to conserve much of anything, republic included. And none of their habitually muttered invocations of the Constitution’s sacred text have turned the tide in the least. Sadly, theirs is a god that failed—whatever regime we live under now, it is not the U.S. Constitution.

Meanwhile, this struggle is hardly confined to America’s shores. All across the Western world, regimes are converging on the same form of authoritarian managerial technocracy, treating popular sovereignty with disgust and brooking no dissent. New legislation in Canada proposes life in prison for “hate speech.” Britain already arrests hundreds of people per year for holding the wrong opinions. Germany’s interior minister says right-wingers who “mock the state” will be preemptively ejected from the financial system, have their business licenses revoked, and be banned from traveling. At the behest of the E.U., Poland’s new “centrist” government has cast aside the rule of law in order to arrest political enemies and purge the Right from all institutions.

Some of these countries have written constitutions, others don’t—it hardly matters. What they all share, along with the United States, is a near-identical ruling class of transnational managerial elites who believe they alone possess History’s mandate to reengineer society. And what they hate and fear above all else is the nation: the existence—and yes, the very idea—of a distinct and sovereign people that lies beyond the reach of their totalizing hunger for conformity and control. Hence, they hate and fear democracy, too—the self-governance of a nation. This global battle between transnational managerialism and sovereign democratic nationhood now defines 21st-century politics.

When a government deliberately abets an invasion of some 10 million foreigners across its borders, ordinary citizens recognize this isn’t merely a violation of the rule of law. They correctly intuit it as something far graver: it is treason. Against the Constitution? Against rules written on a page? No, it is treason against the nation: an assault on the very body politic, which preexists the government and transcends its form. Ordinary Americans understand this just as the French or Irish do.

The Constitution was a very fine document, successfully codifying the unique character of the young Anglo-American nation. Many of us dearly hope it can yet be restored and re-enforced, in spirit and law. But the time for conservatives’ hubristic habit of quibbling over American exceptionalism or the precise meaning of America’s founding has well and truly passed. Now is the time to cast away illusions and prepare for struggle.

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