Symposium: The Conservative Coalition: Is That All We Are? - Intercollegiate Studies Institute: Think. Live Free.

Symposium: The Conservative Coalition: Is That All We Are?

Samuel Gregg’s recent IR article “Politics, Ideas, and the West” is right about the right. Conservatism devoid of faith in its own righteousness is not conservatism at all. Any Western conservatism that lacks the courage to stand up for what we can perceive as Western ideas is really just a hollow man, a stuffed man. And as we stand on the edge of the abyss, staring out into the thick blackness of a progressivist future, conservatives are doing right by themselves to remember the words of George Grant: “In such a situation of uncertainty, it would be lacking in courage to turn one’s face to the wall.”

But Gregg is also wrong. He’s wrong to portray conservatism as nothing more than an alliance of convenience, as a Sixth Coalition of sorts. It is true that different brands of “conservatism” become strange bedfellows out of a need to oppose a common foe. Barry Goldwater and Russell Kirk are both claimed by modern conservatives, yet the two men are an Arizona apple and a Michigan orange. But that does not mean that that is how conservatism must be defined. Admitting that we are nothing more than political opportunists deprives conservatism of any real force. How can we defeat progressivism if we define ourselves as “enemies of progressivism” and nothing more? Even if we succeeded and somehow toppled liberal hegemony, disagreement would set in, the definition would need to shift, and the libertarians might break out the guillotine (again).

Gregg is also wrong in the virtues he calls for conservatives to uphold. Life had meaning before Christianity, ancient conceptions of time and history imbued existence through cyclic, and symbolic, action. Anti-utopianism, while championed by conservatives today, can be argued to spring from Christianity’s concept of an end time, of an earthly Kingdom of Heaven. Not to sound biased, but I have my doubts about libertarians and moral absolutes. And do me a favor and ask Pope Gregory VII, saint and fuser of temporal and religious authority, about separation of powers.

What is conservatism? Well, that’s the question isn’t it. For now, Gregg’s definition can suffice. John McCain and Ron Paul can remain in the same party, but cohesiveness must come. We must consciously redefine ourselves and never say that we’re nothing more than an alliance of convenience.

This article is in response to Politics, Ideas, and the West and is part of the symposium on “What’s Wrong with Conservatism?

Get the Collegiate Experience You Hunger For

Your time at college is too important to get a shallow education in which viewpoints are shut out and rigorous discussion is shut down.

Explore intellectual conservatism
Join a vibrant community of students and scholars
Defend your principles

Join the ISI community. Membership is free.

You might also like