George H. Nash has chronicled the goals and ideals of the American Right for nearly 50 years.
Conservative Rationalism Has Failed
In recent decades, American and European elites have devoted themselves to the project of rethinking society from scratch.
What were once linchpin concepts such as family and nation, man and woman, God and Scripture, the honorable and the sacred, have been found wanting and severely damaged, if not overthrown. The resulting void has been filled by new doctrines, until now mostly neo-Marxist or libertarian in character. But a racialist “white identity” politics in a Darwinian key is gathering momentum as well.
All three of these approaches to political and moral questions are, in a sense, creatures of the Enlightenment, claiming to be founded on a universally accessible reason and to play by its rules. This is another way of saying that none of them have much regard for inherited tradition, seeing it as contributing little to our understanding of politics and morals.
Because contemporary political doctrines claim to play by Enlightenment rules, conservatives seeking to stem the tide of the revolution have often felt that they would be on the strongest possible ground if they appealed to universal reason themselves: Catholic scholars, for example, have led the effort to develop an updated political theory based on natural law. Whereas Straussians, to cite another prominent school, have sought to elaborate the theory of Lockean natural right, fortifying it with the assertion that the American Declaration of Independence commits the United States to such a view as a kind of official ideology of the state.
These efforts have generally been conducted by individuals who are personally sympathetic to political conservatism—that is, to the preservation of the inherited political and moral traditions of Western nations. And yet it is striking that these attempts to revive natural law and natural right defend a conservative political understanding that is itself created in the image of their opponents . . .