Grumbles Left and Right: Two Books on the Past and Future of Conservatism

The American right once again finds itself in the position of trying to remember what it wants. We’ve seen versions of this before: one kind of conservative blames another kind for what appears to be the unchecked advance of the left. Things are much more confusing this time. The current discord was not born out of a punitive election defeat, like in 1964 or 2008, but out of the Republican victory in 2016. Nor have the conservatives squabbling today primarily squabbled over a low-key set of political differences. 2020s conservatives disagree on what they are trying to conserve.

A prevalent line of thought runs something like this. The post-WWII conservative coalition’s emphasis on the free market and individual freedom made sense during the Cold War, when Soviet totalitarianism threatened the West and tempted its intellectuals to embrace Marxist centralization. , but what we need now is cultural and economic solidarity. This criticism, popular among some self-proclaimed “national conservatives,” overstates the good and understates the harm that government planning can bring. Yet this is not an unreasonable argument. “Return of the Strong Gods” (2019) by RR Reno is an eloquent expression of this.

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