It is no secret that the conservative movement is facing a time of upheaval. Ben Sasse’s announcement that he would be leaving the Senate to take a position at the University of Florida as president is just the latest sign of this. Conservatives of his mold are a dying breed as a new, populist-driven ideology takes control of the party. The conservatism of Ronald Reagan—one of free markets, free individuals, and a strong American presence across the globe—is being driven into exile and replaced. As my fellow contributor William Benson detailed the other day, the momentum stands behind a new breed of national conservatism, one replete with appeals to a national community, a retreat from the global order, and a remaking of society into a God-oriented nation. As a Reaganite myself, I would be foolish not to recognize that the ideas I espouse are no longer the driving factors behind today’s movement. As I noted above, the ideas I believe in have been driven to the fringes. How long they remain there, I couldn’t say, but those ideas will be out of power for the foreseeable future.
While I’m here, though, it’s worth discussing what comes next. Somewhere along the line, the traditional conservative movement lost its way. Where it goes from here—how it regains its prominence—has been the topic of many discussions among those of us who still believe Reagan’s vision. I’ve got some ideas.
Resurrection of Congress
The future of the conservative movement begins and ends with a simple proposition; the imperial presidency, and the advent of the all-encompassing administrative state, have both been mistakes. Most of what goes on in Washington these days is unconstitutional, and that is a direct result of Congress abdicating its responsibilities. As I have written before, the root of institutional capture in DC is in the design of the institutions themselves. If conservatives (of all stripes) want to fix this, we must return Congress back to its rightful role as the pre-eminent branch of government. Delegating so much power to one branch of government, an executive bureaucracy full of unelected men and women we have never met has had disastrous effects. Fixing this should be priority number one.
Freedom at Home
America was built on the premise that each person has the capacity to seek their own destiny. The rugged individual is the core of the American identity, and conservatism should embrace that. Community, whether it be familial, religious, or the like, is best protected when the individual is given the freedom to flourish. Virtue cannot be imposed from above, and a community cannot be built in the halls of government. Much of the focus of the New Right has been on sparking a religious revival. Government intrusion in all aspects of society, and especially religion, is a poison, as has been proven in Europe. The conservative future would be wise to remember and embrace that promise.
The world is in a state of flux. The liberal world order that the US built and protected in the aftermath of WWII is in danger of falling apart. A revanchist Russia looks determined to rebuild its former empire at the expense of her weaker neighbors, and in the East, an ascending China threatens American hegemony. The world needs American leadership now more than any time since the fall of the Soviet Union, and it comes at a time when American conservatism seems ready to retreat into America’s shell and leave the world to fend for itself. An isolationist approach will not be able to handle the challenges of the 21st Century, however. The free world runs through Washington for good reason; conservatives should remember that.
A Commitment to Virtue
Politics is often more about setting an example than minute policy changes. In 2022, the conservative movement in America has set a terrible example. If we want positive change, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard than we expect from our opponents. We cannot allow another man like Donald Trump to take hold of the movement; and even if we cannot impose virtue from DC, we can certainly send virtuous men and women there. It is simply not enough to say that policy is everything; character needs to matter, and the conservative movement of the future needs to make that a pillar.
Where conservatism ends up in 50 years is anyone’s guess, but if it chooses to embrace the new punish-our-enemies approach that so many are now espousing it will have already lost. If American conservatism simply becomes progressivism’s mirror image, it will only hasten our race to the bottom. Instead, conservatives should reject that impulse and strive to be better. Rediscovering the ideas of Reagan and returning them to the forefront of our movement is the way to do so.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.