by Jon Guze
Senior Fellow, Legal Studies, John Locke Foundation
As I’ve pointed out in a couple of recent blogposts, there’s a pretty intense debate going on among American conservatives about the future of their movement. In “How Trump Voters Are Giving the Right Qualms About Capitalism,” Park MacDougald puts that debate in a wider context:
One of the paradoxes of the American right has always been its full-throated embrace of capitalism. In some respects, of course, this embrace makes perfect sense: Capitalism is a pillar of American national identity; markets (at least in theory) promote conservative virtues such as thrift and responsibility; and the Hayekian critique of government planning, according to which economies are too complex for humans to fully understand, is a form of classical conservative skepticism regarding the limits of rational knowledge. Yet if one thinks of “conservatism” in the broad sense as a preference for continuity over change — for history and tradition over novelty and innovation — it fits uncomfortably with an economic system that tends toward a relentless abolition of the old. In Europe, conservatives have tended not only to take a more positive view of the state than Americans do but to regard capitalism as, at best, a necessary evil — something to be defended against left-wing leveling but that has the potential to dissolve the sorts of traditional social bonds that conservatism exists to protect. As the conservative Catholic journalist Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote recently in National Review, “the traditional conservative position on ‘markets’ has always been one of guarded appreciation for private property, mixed with a little suspicion for commerce and wage slavery.”
In Dougherty’s sense, the American right prior to the 2016 election was profoundly nontraditional. It would be only a slight exaggeration to say that before Trump came along, most conservatives saw very little wrong with the United States that couldn’t be fixed by cutting taxes, slashing entitlements, and educating Americans in the virtues of self-reliance. Today a few prominent voices on the right are beginning to reconsider. Tucker Carlson, for instance — a former libertarian who reinvented himself as a fire-breathing populist — has attacked the Republican mainstream for its worship of markets at the expense of “normal Americans.” Journals such as American Affairs and First Things are mounting a slightly more highbrow, often religiously inflected assault on neoliberalism, which they blame for the social collapse now devastating the white working class. Some thinkers, such as the Notre Dame political scientist Patrick Deneen, have gone so far as to claim that liberalism itself — including the American right’s “classical liberalism” — is a failure. These voices, with the partial exception of Carlson, are not totally mainstream, and conservative think tanks and magazines are still filled with defenders of the old religion. But the market triumphalism that has dominated the American right since Reagan seems, for the first time in a generation, to be on the back foot. …
It’s interesting throughout, so read the whole thing!