“Karl Marx was a mighty prophet.”

—George Bernard Shaw

Following the failure of the neo-con-laden Bush administration and the neo-con-led McCain campaign, it is clear that whatever the American right is doing is not working.  A variety of authors have offered a variety of explanations to bewildered American conservatives of what went wrong and where to go from here.  The best of these efforts is The Next Conservatism, authored by Paul Weyrich (who died before the book was published) and his long-time colleague, William Lind.  Weyrich and Lind write from a traditionalist conservative perspective—they cite Russell Kirk more than they cite any other thinker—and they offer a lucid and concise summary of ideas that, while familiar to readers of Chronicles, will seem new and even strange to those whose idea of conservatism has been shaped by the official conservative movement and its mouthpieces: National Review, The Weekly Standard, and Commentary, each of which cheered as George W. Bush, in the memorable phrase of Pat Buchanan, “got a hold of the keys, got high on neocon hooch, and crashed and rolled the family SUV.”

Although the failure of Bush is the cause of much conservative soul-searching, Weyrich and Lind recognize that the rot goes much deeper.  They argue that “the conservative movement must now be spoken of in the past tense.  It no longer exists.”  One reason for its failure is that “most Washington Republicans do not have any core beliefs, beyond believing in themselves and their right to remain members of the New Class,” and most Republicans outside Washington want nothing more than to become Republicans inside Washington, a city “controlled by powerful, monied interests that feed off our nation’s decay.”  Indeed, you can virtually count on one hand the number of men who have remained recognizably conservative after spending their lives in Babylon on the Potomac.  (Although William Lind works in Washington, he manages to spend the summer in his native Cleveland, where I have had the pleasure of hearing him address local conservatives several times.)

Weyrich and Lind also argue that conservatism became “stagnant and inert” because “the collapse of Communism and the world-wide triumph of free market economics realized much that conservatives had worked for from the 1950s onward.”  That’s the full half of the glass.  The authors also recognize the empty half.  By focusing so much of their energy on politics, conservatives allowed the left to gain control of American culture, a calamitous failure with far-reaching consequences:

All we have to do is look around us and compare what we see with the America of the 1950s to understand how vast the left’s victory has been.  The old sins have become virtues and the old virtues have become sins.

As a result, “Reversing the decline, decay, and seemingly bottomless degradation of America’s culture must be recognized as conservatism’s most urgent and difficult challenge.”

Weyrich and Lind place much of the blame for our cultural decline on what they term “cultural Marxism,” a Marxist variant shaped by Antonio Gramsci, Georg Lukacs, and the Frankfurt School.  That brand of Marxism held that

Western culture and the Christian religion had so blinded the working class to its “true,” Marxist class interests that Communism was impossible in the West until both could be destroyed.

As Lukacs asked, “Who will save us from Western civilization?”  The answer, it turned out, was the cultural Marxists themselves.  Lukacs helped show the way by introducing compulsory sex education in Hungary’s schools during the first incarnation of communist Hungary, under Béla Kun.  Lukacs’s successors have busied themselves like termites ever since, eating away at the West’s confidence in itself and its heritage, with special attention to undermining traditional Christian morality: “The most powerful cause of the West’s moral dissolution is its loss of faith in the Christian religion.  Culture, as Kirk said, comes from the cult.”  Cultural Marxists are now ensconced in most of the institutions that used to guard and pass on the heritage of the West, including most institutions of higher learning, most public schools, and, saddest of all, even many religious institutions.  The end is in sight: “A people cut off from its past, largely unable to reason and guided primarily by emotion, [who] will be easy to manipulate.”  David Axelrod could not have put it any better.

Given the success of cultural Marxism, Weyrich and Lind argue that conservatives need to focus on preserving what remains of traditional culture and morality.

It is too much to call for returning society to its old moral foundations.  God may accomplish that, or events, but at present it is beyond conservatives’ powers.  Rather the next conservatism must seek to create a space where those of us who live according to the old rules may do so safely . . . without facing constant assault.

This involves opposing hate-crimes legislation, which attempts to criminalize dissent from political correctness.  It includes focusing on the local; over and over, Weyrich and Lind repeat the mantra, “Think locally, act locally.”  It means what Weyrich and Lind term “Retro-culture,” an attempt to strengthen the old rules by restoring old ways of life, from the railroad trains both men love to local agriculture to the New Urbanism, which calls for neighborhoods to be zoned as they used to be, allowing people to live within walking distance of the things they need, neighbors to get to know one another, and “the peer pressure to do the right thing instead of the wrong . . . ”  It encompasses supporting homeschooling and turning our backs on popular culture, which poses a greater threat than government to traditional morality as it spews forth filth “in a Niagara-like torrent.”  It means looking critically at “video screen technologies,” from television (“the Devil’s baby-sitter”) to video games to computers tied to the internet, which threaten to turn us into a “post-literate culture” and to replace the word—the Logos of both the Gospel of John and of Greek philosophy—with the image as the focal point of our culture.  What Weyrich and Lind hope to do is eventually to restore a

common culture . . . based on middle-class values that begin with delayed gratification and include the merit of hard work, education, saving, life-time marriage, and working your way up in the world.

Much of the book is devoted to cultural matters not only because Weyrich and Lind recognize their central importance, but because they see the tasks of republican government as limited to “providing infrastructure . . . without which trade is not possible” and “national security,” a security that encompasses “moral security” and “economic security” as well as protection from our enemies abroad.  With respect to national security, the authors recommend a return to the traditional American policy of nonintervention and the abolition of the Department of Homeland Security.  They note that “we may need to profile on a variety of bases, including religious belief and ethnic origins,” and argue that the great division in the 21st century will be not between democracies and nondemocracies but between societies that are ordered and those that are disordered, including much of the Islamic world.  In that regard,

we would leave centers and sources of disorder alone, militarily and in other ways, unless they attacked us.  But if they attacked us, our response would be Roman, which is to say annihilating.

Such a policy would be much less expensive than our current attempt at Pax Americana, which causes us to spend “as much on defense as the rest of the world put together.”  The push for empire is not the result of a sober assessment of American interests but because

The huge defense and foreign policy bureaucracies the Cold War created took on a life of their own.  A return to our traditional, non-interventionist foreign policy threatened to dry up their money.  So they mobilized all their power to promote the idea of an American world empire.  They care not at all about our liberties.  Their only concern is their own jobs, power and budgets.

Mass immigration also threatens “traditional American culture.”  As Weyrich and Lind bluntly state, “If we do not halt the flow of Third World immigrants into our country, all aspects of national security will be irrelevant, because soon enough we will have no nation to secure.”  The need to resist mass immigration is implied also by the authors’ conception of “economic security,” which is not a call for the welfare state but a desire to “defend traditional ways of life from Benthamite efficiency.”  Libertarian ideologues are hostile to such concerns, but Weyrich and Lind correctly note that much libertarian ideology is “utilitarian, and conservative thought has rightly rejected utilitarianism since the days of poor, unhinged Jeremy Bentham.”

Blind devotion to Benthamite efficiency also threatens our manufacturing base, as outsourcing and free trade continue to shift production offshore, leaving devastated American communities in their wake.  The authors oppose this trend, noting that “Most of the people who work in manufacturing are cultural conservatives” and that manufacturing is vital to the well-being of “the blue-collar middle class, a class whose existence ought to be one of our proudest national achievements.”  The decline of American manufacturing portends the loss of America’s “full economic independence,” which is important for national security and which, in fact, was part of what the Founding Fathers sought to achieve by separating us from Britain.  To preserve American manufacturing, Weyrich and Lind are open to levying export duties on outsourcing and tariffs on imports; their goals might also be achieved by the border-adjusted VAT advocated in Chronicles by David Hartman.  The authors are highly critical of the way our economy has become dependent on consumer spending and debt, observing that “A society’s real strength comes from production, saving and investment, not consumption” and that an economy based on consumer spending “is not sustainable, and it points toward a crash.”  Washington’s unlimited support for the financial sector further threatens the economy, as William Quirk has repeatedly argued in these pages.  Weyrich and Lind agree: “If carried far enough, privatizing profits and socializing losses make risk and debt the only sound investments.”

There is room to debate the wisdom of the policy prescriptions found in The Next Conservatism, though I find myself in agreement with most of them.  But the book’s central point is close to incontestable: The state of the culture is more important to America’s future than the state of the economy or who sits in the White House, and the task conservatives face is therefore more daunting than the task conservatives faced in the past, when American culture was essentially healthy and the institutions that were supposed to preserve and pass along its traditions generally did.  We now face the task of redeeming or replacing the institutions that have been subverted by cultural Marxism.  We should continue to be engaged in the political arena and support the candidates most likely to assist in the preservation of the American nation and the gradual restoration of American culture.  But the main work must be done outside the political arena, in our homes, churches, schools, neighborhoods, and communities, as The Next Conservatism insists. 


[The Next Conservatism, by Paul M. Weyrich and William S. Lind (South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press) 160 pp., $24.00]