A Manifesto for National Conservatism

A Manifesto for National Conservatism August 12, 2022

A group of conservative luminaries has put together a document entitled National Conservatism:  A Statement of Principles.  Sponsored by the Edmund Burke Foundation and published in The American Conservative, the manifesto is a statement clarifying what National Conservatism stands for.  And it isn’t exactly what I thought it was.

“National Conservatism” is a label associated with the followers of Donald Trump and the intense patriotism of those who advocate “America First” and “Make America Great Again.”  The media has made it synonymous with right wing extremism.

According to this formulation, drawn up by conservative intellectuals including R. R. Reno, editor of First Things and Rod Dreher, author of The Benedict Option, national conservatism has to do with all nations, not just the USA, maintaining that the nation-state in general is the best political organization of society.  As opposed to globalism, whether that of international organizations like the UN or the European Union, multi-national corporations, or “imperialism,” in which one nation imposes its will on other nations.

This particular statement, the drafters explain, focuses on Western nations and particularly the United States, but it welcomes similar initiatives from non-Western nations.

Read the statement for yourself.  Here are its 10 principles.  The statement goes into much more detail with each of them, but I give you here a brief sampling:

(1)  National Independence.  “We wish to see a world of independent nations. Each nation capable of self-government should chart its own course in accordance with its own particular constitutional, linguistic, and religious inheritance. Each has a right to maintain its own borders and conduct policies that will benefit its own people.”

(2)  Rejection of Imperialism and Globalism.  “We condemn the imperialism of China, Russia, and other authoritarian powers. But we also oppose the liberal imperialism of the last generation, which sought to gain power, influence, and wealth by dominating other nations and trying to remake them in its own image.”  Note the rebuke of the “neo-conservatives” who seek to spread American democracy at the point of a gun, if need be, an ideology that gave us the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(3) National Government.  “We believe in a strong but limited state, subject to constitutional restraints and a division of powers. We recommend a drastic reduction in the scope of the administrative state and the policy-making judiciary that displace legislatures representing the full range of a nation’s interests and values.”  Thus, no authoritarianism, despite the accusations against this movement.

(4) God and Public Religion.  Nations should hold to and affirm their religious traditions.  This article is the most controversial, including among other conservatives.  I want to discuss this one in detail, so I’ll save it for Monday’s post.

(5) The Rule of Law. “We believe in the rule of law. By this we mean that citizens and foreigners alike, and both the government and the people, must accept and abide by the laws of the nation. In America, this means accepting and living in accordance with the Constitution of 1787, the amendments to it, duly enacted statutory law, and the great common law inheritance.”

(6) Free Enterprise.   This article affirms that free markets make for the best economic conditions, as opposed to socialism.  “But the free market cannot be absolute. Economic policy must serve the general welfare of the nation.”

A prudent national economic policy should promote free enterprise, but it must also mitigate threats to the national interest, aggressively pursue economic independence from hostile powers, nurture industries crucial for national defense, and restore and upgrade manufacturing capabilities critical to the public welfare. Crony capitalism, the selective promotion of corporate profit-making by organs of state power, should be energetically exposed and opposed.

(7) Public Research.  This article calls for “moon-shot” type research–presumably publicly funded– in science and technology, with emphasis on military and manufacturing applications, plus education in the physical sciences and engineering.  I have never heard that as a conservative priority.  This article also takes a shot at the state of higher education:  “We recognize that most universities are at this point partisan and globalist in orientation and vehemently opposed to nationalist and conservative ideas. Such institutions do not deserve taxpayer support unless they rededicate themselves to the national interest.”

(8) Family and Children. “We believe the traditional family is the source of society’s virtues and deserves greater support from public policy. The traditional family, built around a lifelong bond between a man and a woman, and on a lifelong bond between parents and children, is the foundation of all other achievements of our civilization.”  The statement decries the decline in the  marriage and birth rate.   “Among the causes are an unconstrained individualism that regards children as a burden, while encouraging ever more radical forms of sexual license and experimentation as an alternative to the responsibilities of family and congregational life.”

(9) Immigration.  This article agrees that immigration has contributed to the strength and prosperity of Western nations.  “But today’s penchant for uncontrolled and unassimilated immigration has become a source of weakness and instability, not strength and dynamism, threatening internal dissension and ultimately dissolution of the political community.”

(10) Race.  This article affirms that all human beings are created equal and in the image of God, so it condemns all racism.  “We condemn the use of state and private institutions to discriminate and divide us against one another on the basis of race.”  Furthermore, it maintains that nationalism and a common culture can bring different races together:  “The cultural sympathies encouraged by a decent nationalism offer a sound basis for conciliation and unity among diverse communities.”

So what do you think of this?  Does it sound like right wing extremism?  White supremacy?

To be sure, it is different from conventional Republican conservatism with its brakes on laissez faire capitalism and big business, its dovish aversion to foreign wars, and its openness to at least some government initiatives.

Where would you disagree with it?  Do you think it makes for an effective political ideology moving forward?


Illustration:  The World Flag, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

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