Conservatives in the wilderness

The lead essay in the current issue of the Claremont Review of Books is William Voegeli’s “The wilderness years begin.” Does American conservatism need to reinvent itself for a new age? Voegeli addresses the diagnoses of the decline of American conservatism, and various prescriptions for its recovery. In the penultimate paragraph of this long essay, Voegeli renders the case for the conservative opposition to the progressive liberal project:

The danger liberalism poses to the American experiment comes from its disposition to deplete rather than replenish the capital required for self-government. Entitlement programs overextend not only financial but political capital. They proffer new “rights,” goad people to demand and expand those rights aggressively, and disdain truth in advertising about the nature or scope of the new debts and obligations those rights will engender. The experiment in self-government requires the cultivation, against the grain of a democratic age, of the virtues of self-reliance, patience, sacrifice, and restraint. The people who have this moral and social capital understand and accept that there “will be many long periods when you put more into your institutions than you get out,” according to David Brooks. Instead, liberalism promotes snarling but unrugged individualism, combining an absolute right “to the lifestyle of one’s choice (regardless of the social cost) with an equally fundamental right to be supported at state expense,” as the Manhattan Institute’s Fred Siegel once described it. Finally, the capital bestowed by vigilance against all enemies, foreign and domestic, is squandered when liberals insist on approaching street gangs, illegal immigrants, and terrorist regimes in the hopeful belief that, to quote the political scientist Joseph Cropsey, “trust edifies and absolute trust edifies absolutely.”

You will want to read the whole thing.


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