Will “National Conservatism” Serve Conservatives Well?


Monday, July 29, 2019

In July, the Edmund Burke Foundation hosted the first ever “National Conservatism Conference” designed to create a coherent vision of nationalism post-Trump. Yoram Hazony, the leading organizer of the conference and author of the book The Virtue of Nationalism, opened up the event with what proves to be a useful vision for “national conservatism.” Hazony said, “Today we declare independence from neoliberalism, from libertarianism, from what they call classical liberalism. From the set of ideas that sees the atomic individual, the free and equal individual, as the only thing that matters in politics.” 

The main idea of the conference revolved around what makes up the American nation. The attendees of the conference agreed that “the nation is the most logical vessel for political organization known to man, and supranational entities threaten the social attachments that allow for human flourishing.” In Yuval Levin’s speech at the conference, he expanded on the meaning of the “nation” and attempted to connect four of Edmund Burke’s philosophical beliefs to his view of what a national conservatism would look like: love of country, national character, the nation and the world, and the nation and local attachments. 

Other speakers focused more on what a national conservatism supports and how much of what it would look like is different to what conservatism was once understood to be.  As John Burtka explained, “In short, the aim of this new conservative politics is not more freedom but strong families, resilient faith communities and a thriving middle class.” Burtka’s statement revealed that the new conservative bedrock, in his mind, wouldn’t be the libertarian vision that’s been the mainstay in conservatism for decades.

Other ideas that came out of the conference include: support for a restrictionist immigration policy focused on cultural assimilation, opposition to Big Business and Big Tech, and, perhaps most controversially, a national industrial policy with a focus on manufacturing that screams as New Deal-esque. 

Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO), probably the leading voice of this new national conservatism in government, drew his ire towards what he called the “cosmopolitan consensus” of an “elite class” that favored globalization and building an economy focused only on more consumer goods and the disregarding of borders. Hawley blamed the cosmopolitan elite for the issues facing Middle America: stagnant wages, no jobs, declining investment, declining marriage rates, higher rates of drug addiction, and increasing suicide rates. 

The biggest split that took place at the conference was concerning foreign policy. At a panel discussion, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson and President Trump’s National Security Advisor, John Bolton, debated what a nationalist conservative foreign policy would look like. Carlson supports a more isolationist foreign policy, one where America only involves itself when our interests are at stake. Bolton, on the other hand, supported an active America in the world. As Bolton said, “I’m not building a world order. I’m building a world safe for America.” 

The conference left a lot of questions and no answer was found yet on a coherent governing vision for a national conservatism. However, the underlying philosophical beliefs were there: skepticism of libertarianism, less favorability towards free trade, bigger government involvement in the economy, hostility towards low-skilled immigration, and a preference towards supporting the “nation” rather than the individual raises some questions about how important conservatism is to the “national conservative.” 

The National Conservatism Conference was a strong start towards turning this new version of nationalism into a coherent ideology, and it has the potential to be a staying force on the right for the foreseeable future. However, there are many question marks. 

Conservatives must always stay true to their founding principles, and when many conservatives come together and reject one of its most bedrock values-the preference towards individuals-in the name of the “nation,” red flags are understandably raised. This conference opened the door for the new kind of debates that the conservative movement will be having in the future, and it will be interesting to see the result. 

Jonathan Kirk is a junior Political Science and Public Policy Leadership double major at Ole Miss. He hopes to one day have a career in politics serving his country as an elected official.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.

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About Jonathan Kirk

Jonathan Kirk is a junior Political Science and Public Policy Leadership double major at Ole Miss. He hopes to one day have a career in politics serving his country as an elected official.

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