The Intercollege Review recently featured a symposium on the topic “What Is Wrong with Conservatism and How Can We Make It Right?”
From the intro:
The American conservative movement is facing a crisis. While a strong plurality of voting Americans identify as conservative, it’s apparent to anyone who’s watching that college students are more liberal than ever, and even those who may have identified as conservatives ten years ago are now identifying as libertarians, “pro-liberty,” or, in many cases, not identifying at all.
At the same time, the content of conservatism has become more ambiguous, to the point where people with radically different philosophies can all identity as conservative. Some self-styled conservatives would like to grow the size of the federal government to promote American interests and ideals abroad, while others plant their roots in the soil of community, decentralization, anti-interventionism. Some conservatives oppose almost any restrictions on the free market, while others see meaningful regulations as part of a prudent, conservative economic order. The list of disputes goes on and on.
It is becoming increasingly popular to speak of a “conservative movement.” This is a questionable term because it denotes not some deep paradoxical truth but a shallow oxymoronic contradiction. Being conservative means having a disposition to conserve the familiar; movement means making a departure from it.
Some argue that “movement conservatism” is a necessary phrase to describe the non-partisan activities of conservatives. But in fact, adopting the language of change, innovation, movement, progress, and revolution contradicts the conservative disposition.
Principles are characterized by their rootedness. Movements are characterized by their rootlessness. Of revolutionary movements Eric Voegelin says, “A movement lives in that it moves. The radical revolutionary must make the revolution into a permanent condition; there can be no compromise or stabilization of the achievements at a definite point.” A movement thrives on unrest, which is directly opposite to the conservative disposition to appreciate familiar elements of the present.