I grew up in the conservative resurgence of the 1980s, and have long admired so many of the thought leaders associated with the movement. By that I don't just mean the theorists and scholars who gave rise to conservatism, like Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk. I also mean the modern voices who shaped what I came to know as the American right: William F. Buckley, Phyllis Schlafly, Thomas Sowell, Charles Krauthammer, and Jonah Goldberg to name a few.
I've been told on more than one occasion when bringing up this pantheon of American conservative minds, that any such list is incomplete without including the founder of the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol. To be sure, I certainly appreciate the value the Weekly Standard offered to public dialogue up until the moment Kristol shuddered it, replacing it with his newest and far less consequential venture, The Bulwark.
That said, I'm disinclined to include on any list of significant conservative minds a man who has, by all discernible accounts, abandoned conservatism.
I get that some might question the fairness of such a conclusion given the myriad of definitions one could give to conservatism. Though Ronald Reagan often spoke of a three-legged stool – fiscal sanity, social morality, robust defense – in articulating the strength of the movement, his philosophy has been anything but universally embraced on the right.
But even if we can't decide on a perfectly agreeable set of non-negotiable principles for what defines a conservative these days, surely we can come to consensus on what it's not. And it's not this:
Let's be very careful to note that this is not Bill Kristol urging voters to deny Donald Trump their vote. This is a man actively urging his followers to vote for the Democrat Party. There is a monumental philosophical difference between the two positions. The former can be made as a matter of principle:
- "I don't think Trump has the temperament or the character to hold this office, so I will vote for one who does."
- "I fear the conflating of conservatism and Trumpism will damage the long-term appeal of our movement, so I will write in a third-party conservative."
- "Donald Trump is a populist, not a conservative. I don't trust or agree with populist ideology or policy and I won't support it."
Even if other conservatives deem those perspectives unwise or misguided, it is clear that they are coming from individuals who are committed to vote and support only those candidates representing the progress and expansion of conservative thought.
Meanwhile, consider the nonsensical position utterly void of principle being made by Kristol:
- "We shall protect the sanctity of conservative thought by actively supporting those who are publicly pledging their devotion to destroy it."
While playing the part of a distinguished Conservative Thinker®, Kristol has beclowned himself because of his inability to maintain an intellectual equilibrium in the face of a guy, Trump, he personally despises. But make no mistake, there's absolutely nothing principled about what Kristol is advocating, and the fact that he's smart enough to know that tells me he just doesn't care.
Abandoning your country and your values to "own the Trumpists" isn't noble, Bill. It's childish.
After all, it's not as though the sorry spectacle of Democrat presidential candidates has done anything to mask their intent:
[T]heirs is fundamentally a negative platform. What they hate and wish to liquidate is the system of markets, trade, law, regulation, and taxes that we call, for lack of a better term, "capitalism," and their reasons are as much tribal (they resent the social status conferred by wealth as least as much as the political power attending it), moral, and aesthetic as they are economic. But their policy proposals are almost always the same: "Pillage the rich and create a lot of new public-sector jobs for me and my friends."
To actively support that – to support with your voice and your vote the advance of petulant identity politics, sexual anarchy, socialist economics, abortion even in the moments of labor, and a brazen war on First Amendment speech, religious, and association rights of individuals – doesn't make you a defender of conservatism.
It makes you a sworn enemy of it.