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The Next Conservatives?

Edmund Burke

Lots of chatter on the blogosphere about David Brooks’s NY Times column yesterday on “The Conservative Future,” in which he singles out for special recognition several younger writers and thinkers on the right such as Ramesh Ponnuru, Reihan Salam, Jim Manzi, Megan McArdle, and Yuval Levin, among others.  Brooks also gives a partial typology of the various camps on the Right, starting with the “Paleoconservatives” who could be said to champion the Burkean tradition, along with “soft libertarians,” and “lower middle reformists,” a heretofore un-self-identified category.

I agree with Brooks with his enthusiasm for just about everyone on his list, many of whom I know fairly well.  Of course, at column length Brooks couldn’t be comprehensive, and so a lot of folks and slices of conservatism were left out of his inventory.  (I already got my love from Brooks last year, with one of his “Sidney Awards” for my heterodox Breakthrough Journal article.)  There’s no mention of the neoconservatives, for example, or of my Claremonster peeps who generally represent the contrast to Burkean Paleoconservatives.

I’ll have more to say about this general subject in an exclusive Power Line series that will begin to appear here on or around November 30, and you may wish to refresh the topic with a look back at the four-part series I posted here last year on the theoretical differences between Left and Right, which you can find here, here, here, and here.

But suffice a couple of quick observations for now.  First, Brooks couldn’t begin to cover the entire typology of sects and intellectual shadings on the Right, even if he did a five-part series in the Times.  There are at least three or four kinds of libertarians, for example, with sharp divisions that go beyond particular issues.  See what followers of Murray Rothbard have to say about Hayek and Friedman, for example.  Some libertarians are borderline anarchists, and a few are actually over the borderline.  Among the Straussians, supposedly a species of neoconservatism, there are at least three different camps. And we haven’t even reached the different species of “Paleoconservatism.”

I’m not the first to argue that this diversity and intramural argument is a secret to the vitality of the Right.  I think it is notable that it is hard to make out similar shadings of theoretical differences on the Left.  Although there was a short-lived “neo-liberalism” in the 1980s, it really didn’t represent a significant theoretical subspecies of liberalism, which is why it didn’t last.  It was more about marketing and triangulation, like Clintonian/Blairite “third way” slogans.

So the “next conservatives” are likely to represent not something brand new (how conservative would that be anyway?), but more a reshuffling and reconsideration of the arguments conservatives have been having amongst themselves for 50 years or more.

Much more to come on this subject.  Bookmark Power Line for November 30!

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