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American Conservatism, 1945–2017

What it’s like to teach the intellectual history of the movement to students who aren’t old enough to remember Ronald Reagan’s time in the spotlight.

I’ve spent the last two weeks teaching a course on the history of the conservative intellectual movement for the Hertog political studies program. This is the second year Hertog has offered the course, and the first time under President Trump. I like to joke that I offered the students, all of whom were intelligent, well spoken, and impressive, a complete story. There was a beginning, middle, and end. If, as Alfred North Whitehead said, the history of philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato, then the history of intellectual conservatism in America is a series of influences on the mind of William F. Buckley Jr. We spent the first week reading the thinkers behind National Review: classical liberals such as F.A. Hayek and Milton Friedman, traditionalists such as Richard Weaver and Russell Kirk, the majoritarian constitutionalist Willmoore Kendall, and anti-Communists Whittaker Chambers and, perhaps most important of all, James Burnham. All of these strains of thought are visible in Buckley’s statement of principles in the first National Review, published in the autumn of 1955.

The second week of the course surveyed the years since that debut. The conservatism of National Review found allies in Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, and other neoconservative intellectuals who contributed to The Public Interest and Commentary. Conservatism unearthed a mass base of support among the middle-American radicals who opposed the Great Society and counterculture of the late 1960s and the social liberalism of the 1970s. Religious conservatism developed as liberal theologians Richard John Neuhaus and Michael Novak transitioned to the right. Conservative thought gave way to conservative politics beginning with Barry Goldwater’s nomination for president in 1964, continuing with Nixon’s Southern Strategy in 1968 and Ronald Reagan’s primary against Gerald Ford in 1976, and culminating in Reagan’s victory in 1980. We ended our time together by discussing current splits in the right. The differences between foreign-policy neoconservatives and paleoconservatives became acute after victory in the Cold War. In 2017 the spectrum of conservative thought in America runs from libertarians to neos to paleos to traditionalists to nation-state populists all the way to the alt-right fringe. You have Senator Jeff Flake and his Conscience of a Conservative on one hand, and Steve Bannon and Breitbart.com on the other. The various claimants to the conservative throne each have problems.

Post-World War II American conservatism began as an elite intellectual movement with no mass presence. It ends in the post-post-Cold War era as a mass political movement with no elite support. A visitor to my class remarked that the fusion of intellectuals, activists, and elected officials during the Reagan presidency may have been something that occurs only once in a lifetime. It was hard to argue with him.

My students quickly grasped the importance of anti-Communism to the conservative intellectual movement. We read a passage from James Burnham’s Struggle for the World (1947) in which he said that there always is a “key to the situation” in political life. For Burnham, and for conservatives in general between the publication of Hayek’s Road to Serfdom in 1944 and Francis Fukuyama’s End of History and the Last Man in 1992, the key to the situation was the menace of the Soviet Union. All of the factions opposed Soviet tyranny and the forms of collectivism and statist economics associated with it. When the Soviet Union disappeared, so too did conservative unity.

Many conservatives, and I am one of them, see radical Islam as another militant ideology dangerous to American national security and to the principles of a free society. But it also seems to me that attempts to build a conservative coalition around opposition to radical Islam have failed. There are too many intellectual critics of this view. Nor does radical Islam enjoy the support of secular intellectuals as Communism did. The key to the situation today may be that there is no key. The United States faces multiple internal and external threats. The effort to formulate a theory that includes them all is bound to fail.

Another takeaway was just how badly damaged the conservative cause was by its opposition to the civil-rights movement and federal desegregation of schools. The defenses of the South that Buckley wrote throughout the late ’50s and early ’60s persuaded neither the public at large nor some of the editors of his own magazine. For students today, this history is a barrier to adopting or even wanting to understand the other arguments of conservative intellectuals. One day we watched a lecture Russell Kirk delivered at the University Club in 1980. The students were struck by how white and male the crowd was. For them, Kirk’s monochromatic audience obscured his message.

Still, they were enraptured when Ronald Reagan took the stage in his 1978 Firing Line debate with William F. Buckley Jr. over the Panama Canal Treaties. It was not only Reagan’s commanding presence and voice that got their attention, but also his mastery of detail, his simple language, and his wry jokes. I found it both heartening and depressing that Reagan was as alive to them as he was to that audience 40 years ago. Heartening, because there is still an audience for champions of freedom. Depressing, because Reagan left office more than half a decade before these students were born.

I was happy to dispel some myths about conservatives. During an afternoon session on theocons, we watched an interview with Robert George. A few of the students were surprised. When they heard the phrase “religious conservative,” they thought of Sarah Palin. But here they were watching a soft spoken, earnest, civil Princeton professor quoting moral philosophers and name-checking Cornel West while arguing forcefully against abortion and same-sex marriage. The other day I asked the class if they’d had any idea that so many disputatious conservative intellectual journals are published on a regular basis. The students said no.

What’s the future of conservatism? I abjure speculation. But it is important to remember that American conservatism has gone through several cycles of diffusion and consolidation. In the beginning when Buckley founded National Review, the conservative world was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep. After the landslide defeat of Goldwater, and then Nixon’s resignation, conservatism and the Republican party were both thought to be finished. But then came 1980. Later, after Reagan, figures as different as R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. and John B. Judis heralded the arrival of the “conservative crackup.” A few years later, Newt Gingrich rallied the movement to win Congress. The obituaries of conservatism were written once more after Barack Obama’s victory in 2008. They were followed by the Tea Party.

Social conditions and individual personalities seem to matter just as much, if not more than, the ideas of intellectuals. Infighting, dogmatism, cliché, conspiracy theories, animosity, confusion, and the absence of authority may characterize the present moment, but one of the lessons of studying conservatism is that the present moment will change. This change will arrive suddenly. Rapidly. And from a direction no one expects.

From National Review: American Conservatism

2017 Third-Quarter Forecast

Tempering Trump Policy: Ongoing federal investigations and intensifying budget battles with Congress will make for another distracting quarter for U.S. President Donald Trump. But these disruptions won’t mitigate the rhetoric of White House ideologues, or broader speculation that the United States is retreating from the global stage. The reality of the superpower’s role in global governance, of course, is far more complicated. Meanwhile, the administration’s more extreme policy initiatives, particularly on matters of trade and climate, will be tempered at the federal, corporate, state and local levels. And though the United States will maintain its security alliances abroad, it will also generate enough uncertainty to drive its partners toward unilateral action in managing their own neighborhoods.

Sparks Fly in the Middle East: Qatar’s standoff with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will persist throughout the quarter amid intensifying battles among regional powers’ proxies across the region. More visible competition within the Gulf Cooperation Council and growing distrust between Turkey and its Gulf neighbors will reveal the weaknesses of the White House’s strategy to conform to Riyadh’s increasingly assertive foreign policy in an attempt to manage the region. The risk of clashes among great powers is also on the rise in eastern Syria: As Iran works to create a land bridge from Tehran to Damascus and the Mediterranean coast, Syrian loyalists and U.S.-backed rebels are racing toward the Iraqi border, all while Russia uses the Syrian battlefield to jockey with the United States for influence.

A Stressed but Stable Oil Market: As Saudi Arabia’s young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman continues to amass power, much of his focus will stay fixed on preparing for the initial public offering of Saudi Aramco in 2018. Part of that plan entails preserving a deal on production cuts among major oil producers in hopes of keeping prices stable amid climbing output in the United States, Libya, Nigeria and Kazakhstan. Compliance with the agreement will hold through the quarter, but it will slip toward the end of the year as signatories begin to craft their exit strategies.

Dancing Around the North Korean Crisis: The limits to China’s cooperation in sanctions against North Korea will become clearer as trade talks between Beijing and Washington head for a rough patch. Pyongyang’s nuclear and weapons tests will continue to fuel friction in the region, though they will not increase the chances of U.S. military action this quarter unless the North Korean regime can demonstrate a credible long-range missile capability — an achievement that is probably still at least a year away.

Europe Buys Time While Russia Airs Its Dirty Laundry:  A likely electoral win for Germany’s moderate forces and early reform successes in France will reinvigorate calls to take advantage of the prevailing calm on the Continent to revamp the European Union. Doing so, however, will expose the many fault lines festering in Europe as each camp proposes a different vision for integration. And with a wary West on guard against Russian cyber-warfare and propaganda campaigns, there will be little room for substantive negotiation between Washington and Moscow this quarter. At the same time, a burgeoning protest movement will keep the Kremlin’s hands full at home.

From Stratfor: 2017 Third Quarter Forecast

2017 Annual Forecast

The convulsions to come in 2017 are the political manifestations of much deeper forces in play. In much of the developed world, the trend of aging demographics and declining productivity is layered with technological innovation and the labor displacement that comes with it. China’s economic slowdown and its ongoing evolution compound this dynamic. At the same time the world is trying to cope with reduced Chinese demand after decades of record growth, China is also slowly but surely moving its own economy up the value chain to produce and assemble many of the inputs it once imported, with the intent of increasingly selling to itself. All these forces combined will have a dramatic and enduring impact on the global economy and ultimately on the shape of the international system for decades to come.

These long-arching trends tend to quietly build over decades and then noisily surface as the politics catch up. The longer economic pain persists, the stronger the political response. That loud banging at the door is the force of nationalism greeting the world’s powers, particularly Europe and the United States, still the only superpower.

Only, the global superpower is not feeling all that super. In fact, it’s tired. It was roused in 2001 by a devastating attack on its soil, it overextended itself in wars in the Islamic world, and it now wants to get back to repairing things at home. Indeed, the main theme of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign was retrenchment, the idea that the United States will pull back from overseas obligations, get others to carry more of the weight of their own defense, and let the United States focus on boosting economic competitiveness.

Barack Obama already set this trend in motion, of course. Under his presidency, the United States exercised extreme restraint in the Middle East while trying to focus on longer-term challenges — a strategy that, at times, worked to Obama’s detriment, as evidenced by the rise of the Islamic State. The main difference between the Obama doctrine and the beginnings of the Trump doctrine is that Obama still believed in collective security and trade as mechanisms to maintain global order; Trump believes the institutions that govern international relations are at best flawed and at worst constrictive of U.S. interests.

No matter the approach, retrenchment is easier said than done for a global superpower. As Woodrow Wilson said, “Americans are participants, like it or not, in the life of the world.” The words of America’s icon of idealism ring true even as realism is tightening its embrace on the world.

Revising trade relationships the way Washington intends to, for example, may have been feasible a couple decades ago. But that is no longer tenable in the current and evolving global order where technological advancements in manufacturing are proceeding apace and where economies, large and small, have been tightly interlocked in global supply chains. This means that the United States is not going to be able to make sweeping and sudden changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement. In fact, even if the trade deal is renegotiated, North America will still have tighter trade relations in the long term.

The United States will, however, have more space to selectively impose trade barriers with China, particularly in the metals sector. And the risk of a rising trade spat with Beijing will reverberate far and wide. Washington’s willingness to question the “One China” policy – something it did to extract trade concessions from China – will come at a cost: Beijing will pull its own trade and security levers that will inevitably draw the United States into the Pacific theater.

But the timing isn’t right for a trade dispute. Trump would rather focus on matters at home, and Chinese President Xi Jinping would rather focus on consolidating political power ahead of the 19th Party Congress. And so economic stability will take priority over reform and restructuring. This means Beijing will expand credit and state-led investment, even if those tools are growing duller and raising China’s corporate debt levels to dangerous heights.

This will be a critical year for Europe. Elections in the pillars of the European Union — France and Germany — as well as potential elections in the third largest eurozone economy — Italy — will affect one another and threaten the very existence of the eurozone. As we have been writing for years, the European Union will eventually dissolve. The question for 2017 is to what degree these elections expedite its dissolution. Whether moderates or extremists claim victory in 2017, Europe will still be hurtling toward a breakup into regional blocs.

European divisions will present a golden opportunity for the Russians. Russia will be able to crack European unity on sanctions in 2017 and will have more room to consolidate influence in its borderlands. The Trump administration may also be more amenable to easing sanctions and to some cooperation in Syria as it tries to de-escalate the conflict with Moscow. But there will be limits to the reconciliation. Russia will continue to bolster its defenses and create leverage in multiple theaters, from cyberspace to the Middle East. The United States, for its part, will continue to try to contain Russian expansion.

As part of that strategy, Russia will continue to play spoiler and peacemaker in the Middle East to bargain with the West. While a Syrian peace settlement will remain elusive, Russia will keep close to Tehran as U.S.-Iran relations deteriorate. The Iran nuclear deal will be challenged on a number of fronts as Iran enters an election year and as the incoming U.S. government takes a much more hard-line approach on Iran. Still, mutual interests will keep the framework of the deal in place and will discourage either side from clashing in places such as the Strait of Hormuz.

The competition between Iran and Turkey will meanwhile escalate in northern Syria and in northern Iraq. Turkey will focus on establishing its sphere of influence and containing Kurdish separatism while Iran tries to defend its own sphere of influence. As military operations degrade the Islamic State in 2017, the ensuing scramble for territory, resources and influence will intensify among the local and regional stakeholders. But as the Islamic State weakens militarily, it will employ insurgent and terrorist tactics and encourage resourceful grassroots attacks abroad.

The Islamic State is not the only jihadist group to be concerned about. With the spotlight on Islamic State, al Qaeda has also been quietly rebuilding itself in places such as North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and the group is likely to be more active in 2017.

Crude oil prices will recover modestly in 2017, thanks in part to the deal struck by most of the world’s oil producers. (Notably, no country will fully abide by the reduction requirements.) The pace of recovery for North American shale production will be the primary factor influencing Saudi Arabia’s policy on extending and increasing production cuts next year. And though it will take time for North American producers to respond to the price recovery and to raise production, Saudi Arabia knows that a substantial rise in oil prices is unlikely. This means Saudi Arabia will actively intervene in the markets in 2017 to keep the economy on course for a rebalance in supply, especially in light of its plan to sell 5 percent of Saudi Aramco shares in 2018.

Higher oil prices will be a welcome relief to the world’s producers, but it may be too little, too late for a country as troubled as Venezuela. The threat of default looms, and severe cuts to imports of basic goods to make debt payments will drive social unrest and expose already deep fault lines among the ruling party and armed forces.

Developed markets will also see a marked shift in 2017, a year in which inflation returns. This will cause central banks to abandon unconventional policies and employ measures of monetary tightening. The days of central banks flooding the markets with cash are coming to an end. The burden will now fall to officials who craft fiscal policy, and government spending will replace printing money as the primary engine of economic growth.

Tightening monetary policy in the United States and a strong U.S. dollar will shake the global economy in the early part of 2017. The countries most affected will be those in the emerging markets with high dollar-denominated debt exposure. That list includes Venezuela, Turkey, South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Chile, Brazil, Colombia and Indonesia. Downward pressure on the yuan and steadily declining foreign exchange reserves will meanwhile compel China to increase controls over capital outflows.

Calm as markets have been recently, steadied as they were by ample liquidity and by muted responses to political upheaval, they will be much more volatile in 2017. With all the tumult in 2017, from the threats to the eurozone to escalating trade disputes, investors could react dramatically. Asset prices swung noticeably, albeit quickly, in the first two months of 2016. 2017 could easily see multiple such episodes.

The United States is pulling away from its global trade initiatives while the United Kingdom, a major free trade advocate, is losing influence in an increasingly protectionist Europe. Global trade growth will likely remain strained overall, but export-dependent countries such as China and Mexico will also be more motivated to protect their relationships with suppliers and seek out additional markets. Larger trade deals will continue to be replaced by smaller, less ambitious deals negotiated between countries and blocs. After all, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trans-Pacific Partnership were themselves fragments spun from the breakdown of the Doha Round of the World Trade Organization.

Economic frustration can manifest in many ways, not all of which are foreboding. In Japan, the government will be in a strong position in 2017 to try to implement critical reforms and adapt its aging population to shifting global conditions. In Brazil and India, efforts to expose and combat corruption will maintain their momentum. India has even taken the ambitious step of setting its economy down a path of demonetization. The path will be bumpy in 2017, but India will be a critical case study for other countries, developed and developing alike, enticed by the efficiencies and decriminalized benefits of a cashless economy and who increasingly have the technology at their disposal to entertain the possibility.

From Stratfor: 2017 Annual Forecast

Health Care: A Universal Problem Without a Universal Solution

A hush fell over the floor as Sen. John McCain stepped to the center of the room and paused. Gasps and scattered applause soon broke the silence when McCain gave the thumbs down, dooming the latest Republican proposal to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act. McCain’s vote, along with those of Sen. Susan Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, stopped the initiative to overturn the legislation — one of President Donald Trump’s campaign promises — in its tracks early July 28. But it didn’t stop the debate in the United States over health care. The issue has become such a fixture in U.S. politics over the past few decades that it seems like a distinctly American problem.

But the debate over health care is a global one. Throughout recent history, nations have grappled with the costs and benefits of developing their health care sectors. It stands to reason, after all, that healthy people are more productive people, so better health care should yield a healthier economy. On the other hand, the more money a country spends on the health of its people, the less it has to devote to other budget items such as defense or infrastructure. Each nation approaches the matter with its own set of priorities and constraints in mind. Demographics, economics, history and, of course, politics all help determine the shape of a country’s health care system, from who pays for medical services to what services are available and what training is required to perform them. Though maintaining a robust health care system is a universal problem, it lacks a universal solution.

Reaching the Goal

The United Nations set a goal for its members to achieve universal health care coverage by 2030. As with most priorities articulated through multinational bodies, however, the resolution was light on details. Universal health care, by definition, refers merely to access: Countries agree to ensure that health services are available to all citizens at an affordable rate. The services included, and their financing, are left to the discretion of individual governments.

In much of the developing world, universal health care seems a lofty aspiration, regardless of the details. Governments in populous countries such as Nigeria and Indonesia struggle to guarantee their citizens consistent access to dietary staples, much less to health care services and facilities. What’s more, the operating budgets of these nations often are too tight to prioritize the health care sector, leaving nongovernmental or international aid organizations to fill the gaps. Such groups generally focus on controlling diseases such as Ebola, polio or malaria, rather than on providing preventive care, and patients wind up shouldering most of the financial burden for treatment.

Continued…

From Stratfor: Problems with Universal Health Care

 

This is a great article from the ever predictive Stratfor Group.

Wifeplay: Finance Wisely

Sexy Ebony Swimmer

More marriages dissolve over money than any other reason.

A man is called to be the provider of the family. Now, you can do things the way the world believes you should do things, or you can do things the smart way.

Provide:

For your wife, your family, your children, your neighbors, and strangers.

Be a blessing to everyone radiating out from your marriage.

Let your beautiful wife stay home, or work, or whatever she wishes — that is your gift to her.

But do not let worry and strife over money enter in.

Finance wisely.

The West: Too Tired to Defend Freedom?

After the recent terror attacks in Britain, The Spectator wrote: “After five centuries, religious war has returned to England”. The reference is to 1535, when Thomas More was executed for his Catholic beliefs. Tim Farron, a British MP and party leader of the Liberal Democrats who, after refusing for several days to state whether he considers homosexual sex a sin, and gave ambiguous answers on abortion, was not brought to the Tower of London for a public execution. However, almost 500 years after More, Farron saw his political career sacrificed on an almost identical ideological altar as More.

Farron resigned his position as party leader with a dramatic speech. The Daily Mail condemned the “liberal fascism” of the “moral pygmies”. The progressive New Statesman headlined its story on Farron’s resignation as the “decline of liberalism”. Farron said: “We are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society”.

It does not matter that Farron had, on gay rights, a 90.4% “positive score”, according to the Public Whip. Or that he repeatedly defended the right to abortion. What was intolerable was that Farron could have nourished, in his Christian conscience, even a minimal doubt.

Western liberalism seems to have eliminated the so-called “corridor” that had guaranteed a right to existence to those ideas that did not conform to relativism. It is bizarre that this demonization has been consumed in the Liberal Democrats, the party that has borne the torch of classic liberalism.

Perhaps Farron thought that his progressive ideas on climate change, the protection of minorities and the European Union would protect him from such vicious attacks. He was wrong. His inquisitors in the media wanted to talk about his personal social ideas, not Brexit.

The Wall Street Journal told the whole story. After taking over the leadership of the party in 2015, Farron was asked whether, as a Christian, thought that homosexuality is a sin. “We are all sinners”, he said. That was not enough. During a television interview on April 18, 2017, Farron was pressed four times to respond again and four times he refused. Silence was not enough. The next day, at the House of Commons, Farron said that homosexuality is not a sin. That, too, was not enough. The media had to be sure that Farron believed it in his heart as well. So a BBC interviewer asked him again a few days later. It was a campaign to smear Farron, an easy scapegoat for a phony concept of liberalism.

Journalist Nick Cohen, writing in The Guardian noted a further paradox. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn worked for state-owned Iranian television and spoke at the Khomeinist rally in London. Wherever he went, Corbyn seemed as if he were a voluntary collaborator with a regime that executes gays. But Corbyn was never questioned about this affiliation the way the media obsessively questioned Farron.

At a time when Islamic supremacists attack the symbols of Western liberalism, liberalism shows a dangerous emptiness. Liberalism has been turned into a caricature made of mandatory gender ideology, blind multiculturalism, defeatist pacifism, anti-Zionism, feminism and critical studies. “An orgy of liberal sex and liberal guilt“.

The result is what Douglas Murray called a “tiredness” of the civilization, a cultural chaos which turned into an apathy. In one month, Western Europe has been hit by four major terror attacks: ManchesterLondonParis and Brussels. Sholton Byrnes wrote in an article published by The National:

“…the definition of the West consists of far more than the security alliance that underpins it. Does it not also mean Shakespeare and Schopenhauer, liberal democracy, a progressive interpretation of human rights, all springing from the soil of centuries of Roman-Judaeo-Christian tradition? The West was once the inheritor of Christendom. Today, it is not entirely sure what it is, with many voices violently clashing over their views of what it should be. It lacks the certainty in its own civilisation that Russia and China, for instance, possess. If it is too tired or unwilling to defend itself, the US will survive for sure; but the concept of ‘the West’ will have dissolved through the apathy of societies who will have shown they have no courage – and not many convictions either”.

That is why, if we, the West, do not take our culture more seriously, Islamic terrorists will easily be able to destroy it. Every time Western symbols come under attack, the Western relativists rapidly accommodate the attackers.

Salman Rushdie is threatened with death and a $6 million Islamic bounty on his head, or Muslims supremacists attack because of cartoons of the Islamic Prophet Mohammed? Instead of defending freedom of expression, our liberals submit to Islamic blasphemy laws. Two years and a half after the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, not a single European newspaper has again drawn Mohammed.

Muslim supremacists slaughter French Jews? Instead of defending them as a post-Holocaust treasure, our liberals scapegoat Israel’s security policies, as did the European Union’s former foreign minister, Catherine Ashton.

Muslims supremacists submit their own women to burqas and niqabs and home-confinement? Instead of protecting equality, our liberals defend the veils as symbols of “cultural diversity”.

Muslim supremacists murder gays in Orlando? Instead of being proud of an open society, defending it from Islamic jihadists, and accepting the freedom to be homosexual as a positive difference between the West and Islam, our liberals make it a case for “Love wins” and “Hate will not divide us”.

A year after the massacre at the Pulse gay nightclub, the mainstream media constructed a new narrative, as if murdering 49 gay people were not the product of ISIS, but of “hate”. That is why the question is repeatedly asked: “Why did this happen?”

Contemporary liberalism is exhausted and irritated by the very idea of a common civilization to be defended. In a weak conception of “liberalism”, the supreme goal for liberals seems to be “peace”, whatever it costs — in other words, surrender. This is how Western liberalism has become fragile, like a tree corroded by a lethal fungus.

Fifty years ago, James Burnham understood that liberalism had become “an ideology of suicide” of Westerners “who hate their own civilization, readily excuse or even praise blows struck against it, and themselves lend a willing hand, frequently enough, to pulling it down”.

Civilization is not a gift; it is a breakable achievement that needs to be defended from inside and out from the many who would destroy it. Let us take the freedoms we value more seriously; they are being taken from us as we speak.

Original article: Is The West Too Tired to Defend Itself