Principalities & Powersnby Samuel FrancisnUespite last summer’s brassy pronouncementsnthat the owl had sung hernwatchsong on the towers of CapitolnHill, the oligarchs of Congress bit thenreins in their teeth and lashed theirnmounts full into the maelstrom of constituentsndisgusted with pay-raises, privileges,nperversion, and pretension. Somen96 percent of the incumbents managednto ride out of the electoral cyclone ofn1990 still tall in the stirrups, and onlynthe most foppish fell off. But no one,nleast of all the oligarchs themselves,nshould think that their victory meansnthat the storm is over. The high mysteriesnof public opinion research show thatnAmericans are more distrustful of Congressnthan ever before, and only bynexploiting every sinister trick known tonpolitical science were the congressmennable to wheedle and whine their waynback to Washington. You can fool somenof the people some of the time — andnthat’s enough.nMost voters — and only about 35npercent even bothered to show up at thenhustings — may imagine that their ownnrepresentative is somehow magically exemptnfrom the inexorable laws’ thatngovern the degeneration of moral tissuenonce it hits the toxic atmosphere ofnpolitical power. Hence, in the delusionnthat only their congressperson is a rocknof rectitude in an ocean of sinful vacillation,ncitizens often were happy to sendnhim back to the salons of Georgetownnand the obscure pleasures of the congressionalngymnasium. Then again,nmaybe they just didn’t want him backnhome at all and took the view thatnemploying him in Washington is thenmodern equivalent of a request from annemperor of ancient Rome that a courtierninflict his presence on the eternalncity no more and betake himself tonThither Bithynia.nYet the Middle American Revolutionnis not so easily thwarted. Despite thenvictory of the oligarchy last year, thenfrustrations of the shrinking Americannmiddle class remain deep and obviousneven to the victors. The success ofnDavid Duke’s underdog candidacy innLouisiana, the victory of Senator JessenHelms in North Carolina, the defeat ofna proposition for a holiday honoringnMartin Luther King in Arizona, thenrenaming of “The Rev. Dr. MartinnLuther King Jr. Boulevard” in Harrisburg,nPennsylvania, and the popularitynof tax and term limitation measures innseveral states showed that in some cornersnof the land the wheels of revolutionnare beginning to churn and that thennatural fear of economic and culturalndispossession is the oil that greasesnthem.nBut those wheels will never get out ofnthe ditch if mainstream conservativesnare in the driver’s seat. Never in recentnhistory has the now largely defunctn”conservative movement” produced anserious national political leader or accomplishednmuch of anything on thennational political scene. The most electrifyingnleaders of the American right—nJoe McCarthy, George Wallace, andnRonald Reagan — emerged into prominencennot because of the Latinate magazinesnand recondite philosophizing ofnorganized American conservatism, butndue to their own innate ability to capturenand express the aspirations of anrepressed political class. Moreover,nwhile the Middle American Revolutionnin some respects harbors sentimentsnthat conservatives share, in others it isnhostile or indifferent to much of whatnconservatives in the United States havenrepresented.nThroughout American history, thenmainstream of conservative thought,nfrom the anti-Federalists through thenConfederacy to the resistance againstnthe New Deal and the Great Society,nhas centered on the defense of liberty:nstates’ rights, individual freedom, socialnand private as opposed to governmentalnresponsibility, local as opposed to centralizednpolicies. This was the theme ofnSouth Carolina’s Senator Robert YoungnHayne’s reply to Daniel Webster, whennthe Southerner articulated one of thenclassic refutations of the northern Federalist-Whignvision of a united nationnexpanding economically under federalnsupervision. This also, as Shelby Footenargues in his three-volume Civil Warnseries, was the rationale of JeffersonnDavis in his inaugural address, declaimingnthat “all we ask is to be let alone,”nand it was the basis of the defensivenmilitary strategy of the Confederacy,nwhich ultimately led to its defeat.nThis too has been the approach ofnnnAmerican conservatism in the 20thncentury, which, despite the various philosophicalncostumes in which it hasngarbed itself, has taken its stand withnstrict constitutionalism, laissez-faire economics,ntraditional social morality, andnthe freedom of individuals to pursuenhappiness in their own way. The centralnproject of 20th-century conservatismnhas been to resist the aggressive imperialismnof Washington and its sisters innthe bureaucratized corporate and unionneconomy and cultural regime, all ofnwhich fused together in the New Dealnand its later derivatives; and the core ofnthe conservative resistance has been thenpreservation or restoration of republicannliberty.nBut the only means of resistancenconservatives’ ideology permitted themnwas to engage in formal political contestsnwithin the framework of the constitutionalnsystem. The most popular andncommon path of conservative resistancenhas thus been purely and narrowlynpolitical; conservatives sought merely tonhold up or reverse the leviathan’s marchnby winning elections to Congress andnthe White House and by weaving bureaucraticnintrigues within the leviathan’snentrails. Eventually many ofnthem became so enamored of politics,npolicy-cooking, and political responsesnthat they evolved into the “Big Governmentnconservatives” of today, centerednexclusively in Washington, where theyncarefully plan how to arrange the decknchairs on the S.S. Titanic.nBecause political conservatives havendecided to play by their rivals’ rules inntheir rivals’ game, it shouldn’t be surprisingnthat conservatives wound upnwith pretty much their rivals’ thoughtsnand values. In recent years, conservativenpolitical leaders have increasingly regurgitatednthe basic premises of the liberalnideology they claim to be opposing andnhave quietly ceased to resist the left onnmuch of anything except means. Thengovernment ought to promote equality,nthey say, but affirmative action just isn’tnthe way to achieve it. Civil liberties arenwhat we want too, and the only thingnwrong with pornography and drugs isnthat they might hurt children under 12.nFraternity is terrific, and global democraticncapitalism, spreading humannrights and democracy, and presidentialnsupremacy in foreign affairs are thenMARCH 1991/11n