Notes on National Conservatism: A Rethink or Rehash?
Last week’s National Conservatism conference was billed by its organizer, Yoram Hazony, as a “big tent” event for conservatives to coalesce around a new vision of American nationalism. But after two days of vigorous discussion, the only thing that clearly united attendees was their general contempt for the left.
If anything, the conference underscored the irreconcilable divisions in the modern conservative movement. Depending on who was speaking, “national conservatism” entailed either transcending U.S. imperialism (Tucker Carlson) or reasserting our national interests abroad (John Bolton); rejecting libertarian economics (J.D. Vance) or embracing Calvin Coolidge-style laissez-faire (Amity Shlaes); pluralism with respect to traditionalist communities (Rusty Reno) or assimilation to the national culture (Amy Wax).
It’s said that the conservative coalition is a three-legged stool supported by war hawks, business elites, and the Christian right. If so, the National Conservatism conference represented each leg taking turns proclaiming itself the true spokesman of American nationalism while attempting to sweep a different leg away. Little was said about what would support the stool should any leg be removed. Entreaties to national solidarity hold no weight on their own.
Yet this may be a case where diversity is our strength. At the very least, the conference provided a useful venue for frank and open ideological reassessment of many conservative sacred cows. From my vantage point, a few patterns emerged that point to a viable vision of national conservatism in the areas of economics, federalism, and culture (and foreign policy, which is not my wheelhouse). The only question is whether it can gain traction.