Conservatism: a philosophy with no home

Photo courtesy of Micah Veillon, Student Publications

In the mid 19th century, our country would witness what could very well be described as one of our most important political moments: the splitting of America’s Whig Party. The party split over the issue of slavery, with northern anti-slavery whigs going on to create the Republican Party. Abraham Lincoln would soon join the party and help dispel with the practice of slavery in America.

In similar fashion to the split of the Whig Party, the Republican Party may soon witness its own split as well, with its divisive factor being populism and loyalty to Donald Trump. I would like to explore why I think this will happen, as well as why 2016 left conservatism with no party to call home.

In the Summer of 2016, in Cleveland, Ohio, the Republican Party would nominate Donald Trump as their party’s candidate in the race for the White House. At that convention, there would be words spoken to the crowd reflecting the subsequent Trump presidency. Trump would establish a narrative that would culminate at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021: America is broken, the government is against you, and only I can fix it. At this moment, the Republican Party abandoned conservatism and embraced its antithesis: populism.

It entirely disregarded the wise words of one of its former Presidents, Calvin Coolidge, when he remarked that “When a man begins to feel that he is the only one who can lead in this republic, he is guilty of treason to the spirit of our institutions.”

It was James Madison’s greatest fear for our republic: a candidate playing to the emotions of the people, telling them the solutions to their problems reside in one man, and one man alone. As I have stated in my previous two articles, this is a nation of laws, and not of men.

Populism and conservatism are incommensurate for one main reason: namely, that populism infuses the majority opinion into government, while conservatism holds that although majority opinions ought to rule, there should be mitigated democracy, so that by the time majority opinion is written into law, it has been reviewed and refined.

Conservatism maintains that the majority opinion, if left to its devices, naturally decays into tyrannical mob rule, threatening the freedoms our institutions grant us. Conservatives hold that man is not a rational animal, but rather a passionate animal; and if bantered to, will regress to his primitive state. Populists flirt with and pander to this passion, while conservatives seek to censure it and keep it at bay.

Moreover, as it stands, the Republican Party is no conservative party, leaving the philosophy without a political home. Honestly, conservatism was diminished once people began to view it simply as a capitalist ideology with tax cuts. Sadly, many Americans believe conservatism can be summed up by the mantra “Pro Trump, Pro Gun, Pro Life.” This couldn’t be further from the truth, for the conservative philosophy is far too profound to be summed up by a campaign slogan. The Republican Party also seems to care very little about the environment, which is not a conservative sensibility by any means.

Although, many of the top down solutions proposed by the left are not the correct way to handle such a complex dilemma. Perhaps the issue is with the libertarian view on the free market, however, I’m not quite sure yet. Conservatism stands for free markets, of course; however, the consumer culture can be quite dangerous, thus, conservatives stand for a tempered free market. I could continue pointing to the flaws of the republican party, but I’ll digress here.

While I worry about the fact that conservatism is homeless, I think within the next eight years the Republican Party very well could split, resulting in the possibility for a genuine conservative party to emerge. I fully expect Donald Trump to run for office again in 2024, which will ultimately be the cause of the split. There will be many Republicans who will see him as a martyr and fully support his campaign. There will also be people who oppose him, as in any primary, and ultimately it will come down to (I believe) Trump against someone who is more conservative like Dan Crenshaw (who has not professed to be ruining anytime soon). Ultimately, I feel the party will choose Trump, who will in turn lose to Biden again.

The Republican Party will then enter a state of turmoil (if it hasn’t yet) and ultimately split over Trump and populism. Although, I don’t want it to split solely because Trump can’t win, but rather because populism is remarkably dangerous. In the near future, I plan to see direct action from conservatives in the party in an attempt to denounce this populist spring.

Finally, I would like to explain what I wish will happen, because thus far I’ve only explained what I feel will happen. Fundamentally, I hope to see the party split. I have a few qualms with American conservatism in general and personally prefer the British conservatism of Edmund Burke, rejuvenated by Sir Roger Scruton.

I wish to see a party come forth that is worthy of articulating the conservative philosophy, because I truly regard it as a marvelous philosophy, and believe that it is integral to preserving the wonderful freedoms we enjoy in this nation.