What is National Conservatism? At an Inaugural Conference, a New Brand of Conservatives Are Beginning to Define Themselves.

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Posted: Jul 16, 2019 2:05 PM
What is National Conservatism? At an Inaugural Conference, a New Brand of Conservatives Are Beginning to Define Themselves.

“Today is our Independence Day!” declared Yoram Hazony, the chairman of the Edmund Burke Foundation. “Today we declare independence from neoconservatism! From neoliberalism! From libertarianism! From what they call classical liberalism!”

And thus, in one breath, Hazony rejected nearly the entirety of the post-Cold War American political consensus. In its place Hazony, and the rest of the idealogues at Edmund Burke Foundation, hopes to erect an unabashedly nationalist variant of American conservatism — national conservatism.

The term “national conservatism” is still new. But think-tankers, journalists, and academics began to create a more precise definition for the new ideology as they spoke at the inaugural National Conservatism Conference on Monday.

Hazony emphasized that national conservatism will reorient post-Cold War conservatism from what in his view was its unjustified obsession with two ideas: the “free and equal individual … [who] can set out and rule the world,” and the “New World Order” governed by the United States.

“In the 1990s, the conservative movement was drunk with the feeling of power as a result of the victory over communism,” he said. “And those who are drunk with power lose touch with reality.”

Hazony described that his movement intends to return American conservatism to three principles — national independence, national coherence, and national tradition. National independence centers around maintaining strong borders and a policy of non-interference into other countries. National coherence is a country’s ability to keep itself together despite centrifugal forces and is derived from mutual loyalty between citizens. Both of these characters need to be underwritten by national tradition — a common set of values, history, and culture that a citizenry shares, according to Hazony. 

Meanwhile, Chris DeMuth, former president of American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank, was quick to stress that his nationalist movement “has nothing whatever to do with suppressing minorities or invading foreign lands,” but a “defensive” move by a country that seeks to shield itself from internal and external influences.

“The new nationalism is a revolt against the failures and weaknesses of modern nation-states,” DeMuth said. “It is not intolerant or triumphalist, but rather it is defensive, grounded in well-justified apprehensions of political and institutional decline.”

DeMuth positioned national conservatism as a “revivalist” movement that seeks to resurrect a “new sense of collective purpose” that can unite the people.

“All we need is a serviceable consensus on the essential of American identity and character, sufficiently broad and representative for the tasks of cultural and political reform,” he said.

David Brog, president of the Edmund Burke Foundation, also grappled with a fundamental question for any sort of nationalist movement — who is a national citizen? He drew on the thoughts of Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt to argue that “anyone can become an American, but to do so they must undergo a transformation through which they acquire an American spirit.”

To prove his point, Brog drew on a personal example. His ideal “nationalist hero” is actually the “ideal immigrant” — his grandfather, who learned English, read about America’s history and culture, and worked in a windowless sweatshop to buy opportunities for his children.

“My grandfather loved America. His driving goal throughout his life was as noble as it was simple — to be an American,” Brog said. “The fact that his English had a thick accent made his insights no less profound and his lessons no less penetrating. My grandfather was fiercely loyal to America.”