Back in 2007, Republicans were smarting over a mid-term defeat. Paul Weyrich and Gary S. Lind offered an analysis that sounds like it could have been written today:

The only surprise about the Republican debacle in the 2006 congressional elections was that many conservatives found it surprising. For at least a decade, the conservative movement has been on intellectual cruise control….Most conservatives know that liberalism suffered political eclipse as a consequence of intellectual aridity, of an agenda that had become a museum piece of New Deal-era class warfare.

Why were they surprised when a similar conservative idea deficit led to a similar electoral defeat? Just as you can’t beat something with nothing, the 2006 vote showed that conservatives can’t beat nothing with nothing.

Conservatism has become so weak in ideas that during the presidency of George W. Bush, the word “conservative” could be and was applied with scant objection to policies that were starkly anti-conservative. Americans witnessed “conservative” Wilsonianism, if not Jacobinism, in foreign policy and an unnecessary foreign war; record “conservative” trade and federal budget deficits; major “conservative” expansions of the power of the federal government at the expense of traditional liberties; and nonchalant “conservative” de-industrialization and dispossession of the middle class in the name of Ricardian free trade and Benthamite utilitarianism. No wonder the American people are confused and disillusioned by conservatism if these are its actions when in power. Were Russell Kirk still with us, what would he now call himself?

Sound familiar? The intellectual capital of the Republican party is spent. What passes for “conservatism” is too often bluster and foolishness or at least an incoherent mishmash of impulses, talking points, and sabre rattling. Mind you, the liberals have their own problems, and they are severe, but conservatives need to get their own house in order before they can present a compelling alternative (and, truth be told, the Republican party may not be the place for that to occur).

The rest of the piece outlines some ways conservatism can be revitalized. Many of the suggestions are as relevant today as they were in 2007. Read the entire piece here.

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  1. Mr. Mitchell,

    Your words:

    (and, truth be told, the Republican party may not be the place for that to occur).

    A thorough study of the Republican Party, including its inception, its actions, it core constituency and its historical thrust, should reveal that the Republican Party never was and never can be the place in which conservatives put their house in order. To hold that the Republican Party is a place to put their house in order is to hold that chickens should order their nests in the den of the fox.

  2. When Weyrich and Lind published their expanded analysis and prescription in book form in 2009 (“The Next Conservatism”) I tried in vain to get conservatives that I know to look at it. Part of it may have been the fact that it was a pricey hardcover from a somewhat obscure publisher (I remember wishing that there was an inexpensive paperback version–I would have bought copies and handed them out), but still, I was rather surprised by the lack of interest. Many conservatives unfortunately do not seem much interested in any sort of self-examination that goes deeper than “Why did we lose the last election?”

    (Btw, you can now find the occasional inexpensive copy of the book online from time to time.)

  3. When The Next Conservatism was new, I wrote of it in Booklist,

    You’d think the last testament of a founding father of the Religious Right would be a grand strategy for church conquest of the state. But the late Weyrich and Lind, his longtime associate in the Free Congress Foundation, say conservatives should give less time to electoral politicking and more to other ways of reviving republican government, combatting “cultural Marxism” (ideologies hostile to traditional social institutions and mores, such as those of the panoply of “liberation” movements), and restoring national, economic, and moral security. If that doesn’t sound much different from old conservatives’ stated aims, the means Weyrich and Lind propose include many things current conservatives are supposed to despise, including racial integration, well-paying jobs, election reform favoring new candidates and parties, organic farming and gardening, anti-imperialism, a smaller military, and relying on the exemplary power of living and behaving well—and not on political power—to achieve religious goals. The only slogan they advance is “Think locally, act locally,” though they sometimes bring to mind “Small is beautiful.” Principle may be returning to American conservatism. –Ray Olson

    Let me add that nearly everything St. Augustine’s Press publishes is worthy of FPR colloquists’ attention, and that Bruce Fingerhut, the publisher, is a very fine fellow.

  4. William (or Bill) Lind, not Gary? But the book is published by St. Augustine Press, for those who are interested.

  5. If Russell Kirk were still alive and happened upon a view of the current Republican Party, he’d promptly choke and kick the bucket.

    Simply put, one cannot be an imperialist and a favorer of small government at the same time. Add nannying to the mix and you get a bonafide mongrel who barks incessantly to the point that either nobody listens or they kick the hell out of you for good reason.

    Meanwhile, as the dog barked, somebody cleaned the premises out.

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