By Luca Cacciatore
The following is the first of many future collaborations between the entire Editorial Board at New Conservatives to lay out a concise agenda about how to restore and rejuvenate a society beaten down by secularism, isolation, and unbridled liberalism. On this day commemorating the ratification of the constitution, it’s time we critically analyze the state of our union. It is no question that the American Republic is in deep trouble both domestically and abroad. We see at home with the leftist riots in wake of the death of George Floyd, and the reactionary ones with the defeat of Donald Trump in the 2020 Election, that people are angry at the establishment and their lack of action. Globally, China seriously threatens our way of life with their incessant authoritarianism and assertive imperialism – making aggressive movements into Africa and their Asian neighbors. The 21st Century began with the fall of the World Trade Center and has since only given us further challenges. Still, we are all optimistic with faith in God and country, that we will not fall into the same trap of Rome. We will rise above it, because as Americans we are as strong as we will. With that being said, I want to thank all those on the Board that contributed with me on this fantastic piece: Joseph D. Pitts, and Dominic Panarese.
Towards a Communitarian Republic
It was Michael Oakeshott, an English philosopher and noted conservative, who once said that conservatism was best understood as a disposition rather than an ideology. Edmund Burke, witnessing the horrors of the French Revolution unfold before his eyes, came to a similar conclusion hundreds of years before him. Burke learned, amid the revolutionary fervor of the late 18th century, a simple lesson: it’s easier to destroy than it is to build. In a similar way, it is often easier to ideologize than to use common sense.
Many over the years have attempted to ideologize conservatism. Successful or not, they are inevitably doomed to the same fate; that of no longer being considered “conservative” as their ideas harden. George F. Will described this phenomena as a timeless “sensibility” that can see through the zeitgeist, Russell Kirk called it a “frame of mind”. Both these men are correct on a key theme; that the nature of the conservative tradition is a timeless struggle for Western civilization and not one of timeless policy requisites.
No nation in the history of man has been able to successfully retain their values, identity, and greater way of life unmolested. Even the hunter-gatherer aboriginals of the Northern Sentinel Islands, off of the coast of India, have been dramatically affected by their limited interactions with British explorers. In 2018, American missionary John Allen Chau attempted to make contact and possibly convert the North Sentinel Islands. Tragically, he was killed before even making his way to the island by a barrage of arrow-fire. In an article reflecting on the tragedy, Aletha Adu pointed out that the “perverted” interactions by British explorer Maurice Vidal Portman in the late 19th century with the tribe may have permanently morphed the North Sentinelese view of outsiders to perpetual hostility, thus resulting in the death of Chau. Despite being a world without agriculture and some of the most fundamental Stone Age inventions, the society of the Sentinelese has still experienced substantial change.
But the opposite is true as well. Following Commodore Perry’s expedition from the United States to the mystical domain of Japan in the mid-19th century, the Japanese decided not to revile, as did the North Sentinelese, but rather accepted the invitation. They believed it would only be through change on their own terms that Japanese values could be retained, as technology moved forward. For Japan, it was as much a national security policy (In an effort to resist European Imperialism) as it was a moral decision. The ensuing Meiji Restoration delivered great industrial victories for the Japanese, and within five decades the feudal enchanted land to the east of mainland Asia became one of the world’s most powerful imperial powers. Throughout all of this, the values of the nation adapted but maintained family-oriented, fervently patriotic, and deeply nationalist.
It is because of the hope found in the Japanese, that we view the march of evolution as not inherently negative. Yet, if we are to become too unreflected, like the North Sentinelese, it may surprise one in how quickly order will become totalitarian or decay completely. American conservatives in the 21st century, wrestling for the helm of the most powerful nation on Earth, are now faced with this exact dilemma. Trade, globalization, corporate oligarchies, and the internet may all but render the United States’ unique rendition of conservative philosophy obsolete. Carefully navigating the strait between rigid tradition and unheeded progress is the imperative of this generation.
Before examining how conservatism may save itself, it may be helpful for readers to reach some kind of consensus as to what conservatism is in the first place, and why American conservatism is so dissimilar to other conservative traditions, notably its continental cousins. Unlike liberalism or Marxism, conservatism entails no common values, no prevailing worldview, no shared religion or similar notions of metaphysical reality. This is why to many, it is not even considered an “ideology” as we think of it in the modern sense.
What is Conservatism?
Aristotle and Otto von Bismarck were both conservatives. The enforcers of the ancient Indian caste system and Margaret Thatcher were as well, yet politically, they bear all but negligible resemblance to one another. If we want to formulate a description of conservatism that includes all these pivotal figures and systems,“a cultural and political tendency to preserve existing laws, cultural norms and spiritual essence of some group or nation” could suffice. The most important of all these, being the cultural aspect. Conservatism derives its very existence from bulwarking societal mores.
Conservatism is also not a philosophy. Because it does not refer to any specific universal perspective, there is no inherent reason to support a concept simply because its conservative – we are not conservative because we believe in conservation, we are conservative because we have certain values that we would like to conserve, It’s important to keep this in mind when discussing modernity and conservatism.
That seems like quite a lot of what conservatism is not and not a lot of what it is. Unlike classical liberalism, conservatism is communitarian in nature. It is foremost institutional and familial. G.K. Chesterton describes this in a very simple, yet thoughtful way; “The Family not only an institution, but a foundation, the foundation of nearly all institutions.” This is how conservatives view reality – through the historical tribes that the natural order has made timeless. Yoram Hazony in his recently published The Virtue of Nationalism, divides this order into the family, clan, tribe, and ultimately – nation. This is distinct from, say, a communist perspective – in which unnatural and stringently ideological tribes are concocted to attempt utopos. This type of thinking is impossible in the conservative mind. The utopia exists only in the afterlife, and cannot be replicable. The obvious and pragmatic, therefore, must reign in the present. The conservative mind deals in the world as it is, but disciplines his mind to seek higher things. As President Theodore Roosevelt said, one must “Keep [their] eyes on the stars, and [their] feet on the ground.”
But as stated earlier, there are plenty of peculiarities in the American conservative tradition. No other conservatives have been so quick and eager to embrace ideas like liberalism, federalism and modernism.Historically speaking, there are two underlying currents of thought behind the movement, Hamiltonianism and Jeffersonianism, the latter entering conservative thought (to its detriment) later than the former. Alexander Hamilton embodied a deep classical conservatism. Yet, it was still distinct from Edmund Burke, who was more open to defending the continental tradition and organic hierarchy. Rather than a landed aristocracy, Hamilton supported the same natural puritancial democracy Tocqueville so aptly observed in Democracy in America.
But Hamilton did not agree with Tocqueville on everything. He thought the bottom-up system of the North hurt the efforts of centralizing the state. Without fully compromising the puritanical system, he advocated for a third way: strengthening the federalism of the new continental government, while still encouraging the localism of the state and municipality. Many have described this as top-down federalism, but this is not how Hamilton viewed it. This was simply how natural, modern states operated. His movement, beginning with the Federalist Party, and culminating with the Republican Party, synthesized the classical conservatism and unique Yankee statism of the continent.
In dissent is Jefferson, the agrarian idealist who would have never identified himself with conservatism in his own lifetime. Jeffersonianism is, in many ways, the antithesis of Hamiltonian politics; it is unapologetically liberal, anti-federalist, and populist. Support for commerce and trade is replaced with a raw, unyielding frontier spirit under the helm of a universal American ethos. Jefferson’s ideals were distinctly liberal, though not necessarily progressive, and the Democratic party which inherited his ideas remained so until the advent of the New Deal.
Jefferson’s spiritual successor was Andrew Jackson, and he arguably embodied Jeffersonianism as president better than Jefferson himself. Jackson was the pinnacle of Jefferson’s influence, and although there were glimpses of its revival before Franklin D. Roosevelt, it was inarguably on the decline. Roosevelt’s New Deal, truly only served as a nail in the coffin. Roosevelt began to inflate the nation’s bureaucracy and further centralize national authority; even greater than Hamilton could have ever dreamed. Here we see the real advent of top-down federalism attributed often to Hamilton, and a similar caricature prescribed to Roosevelt of a European despot.
With these old Democrats forced out of their party, many migrated over to the Republican column, bringing with them positives such as localism – but also the negatives like stringent anti-federalism. These negatives, mostly influenced by classical liberalism, have permeated to the present in the American conservative movement in the most mutated of forms. For example, Locke and Jefferson are now seen as conservative icons by many detractors. While we can learn from these men, and from all liberal ideas, they do not define conservatism.
However, many on the right have disagreed with this sentiment that we share. The detractors we refer to above, have serious roots in their own “fusionist” strain of conservatism. Combining the aforementioned likenesses of Jefferson with Hamilton. One of these men was William F. Buckley, who was propelled by the Goldwaterites, and later even more-so by the Reaganites onto the national electoral stage. His unique form of conservatism attempted to accomplish the impossible – reconciling two ideologically opposite men, and create a formidable political coalition. This coalition was successful for quite some time, but ultimately volatile and unbalanced. They relied upon the idea that the interests of both the laissez-faire business class and traditionalists would remain the same; that neither side would attempt to dominate the other.
When large multinational corporations (a key source of funding for the movement), realized they could influence conservative policy to increase their profit margins, they passionately began lobbying politicians and think tanks to ensure that one leg was much larger than the other.
Today, many fusionists complain about an increasingly bloated federal government. They make a Jeffersonian argument, in that the absence of government is the only way to remedy the situation. It’s difficult to comprehend what they aim to conserve politically or societally, other than perhaps some vague form of “individual freedom”. More often than not, the only differentiating factor between a fusionist conservative and a classical liberal is that the former is a churchgoer. While the electoral element of working with fusionists is a complicated matter, it is clear that we cannot return to their ways in these coming years without dealing the death blow to American conservatism forever. Fusionism has lost its utility in conservatism and became ideology, the exact entity we are meant to avoid. This aversion is precisely what makes us post-liberals and not “liberal”. We look beyond the ideology of fusionism, because conservatism can never be an ideology. If reformation is our inherent destiny, then what kind of reforms can we undertake while still conserving our uniquely American conservatism?
Community, as discussed before, is integral to the American spirit and threatened by our modern, often isolating liberalism. By replacing rugged individualism with a focus on improving our communities, we can try to re-discover the positive tendencies of our Puritan forefathers. Combining a Protestant work ethic with a type of Catholic social teaching can also make for a strong Christian bulwark against the threat of secularism and state atheism. Luca Cacciatore explored the matter in several of his pieces.
Furthermore, there is little more virtuous for a nation than for her people to love labor, and to selflessly toil to bring glory to the name of their communities, and of course, to God. Our publication’s Dominic Panarese has written about this as well. One area in which we can borrow from Jeffersonianism is the frontier spirit. The quest to manifest our own destiny as a people drives innovation and adventurism, without which our nation would never exist to start. It is unfortunate that this unbridled masculinity is looked down upon so immensely by the current regime – probably because it threatens their permanent regimental rule. However, we must not mistake masculinity for chauvinism – this line of thought has led to the destruction of both.
Lastly, we must preserve our Republic. The unique combination of forms of government our system has to offer, borrowing from the ideas of Plato, Aristotle, Rome, Machiavelli, and beyond to Hobbes and Montesquieu – has made us exceptionally resilient to tyranny and anarchy alike. Current pushes by the left to introduce a new era of mobocracy have threatened our Republic since the progressive era, and it is our duty to ensure this system continues to be balanced and dynamic. It would be futile to list specific editors that have discussed this on the blog – as it is our central focus and constantly brought up in every piece written – however a few pieces by Luca Cacciatore, Anthony Daoud, and Joe Pitts, convey the case for the Republic most eloquently.
As national conservatives, we believe in the preservation of our national values as necessary for the realistic flourishing of society. The national values of the community and republic are embedded in the Anglo-puritan culture that settled these shores so long ago – and that same spirit is relevant to the continuation of our Republic today. It is embodied in the enterprising spirit of those settlers from across the world who risk their lives to find opportunity and community in this City Upon A Shining Hill.
While we learn from liberalism, we are not beholden to it. While ideology has its place, it does not have sanctuary from the insights of thoughtful minds and rational discourse. We say onward to a society ordered towards human flourishing and moral institutions. In the words of James Fenimore Cooper, from The Last of the Mohicans, “Every trail has its end, and every calamity brings its lesson!” If this be true, then let the trail of liberalism end – and let us keep its lessons.
The painting which appears in the header is from N.C. Wyeth’s Pilgrims
2 thoughts on “Towards a Communitarian Republic”
Interesting project. Thought you might like our Classic Kirk essays section: https://kirkcenter.org/kirk-essays/
The first time I have come across this website. A communitarian republic is an exciting prospect – one that I have co-authored a book on, as well as dozens of articles such as this one.
I think you would be interested in thelocalists.org (website currently under maintenance but you can see their social media @s).