By definition, conservatism prefers the past to the present – in William F. Buckley’s famous formulation, history was something to be stood athwart and sternly told to stop – but over the past half year, the present has been particularly trying for American conservatives. Politically, they’re in the wilderness, with Barack Obama’s popularity stubbornly high, and wide Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. But there’s also a deeper sense of crisis: a worry within the movement that the Republican Party has lost its identity as the party of ideas. Like all political movements, modern conservatism was driven by demographic shifts and economic changes, but it was also an intellectual insurgency. It gave pride of place to thinkers like Milton Friedman, the towering free-market economist; Russell Kirk, the cultural critic who mapped conservatism’s currents back through centuries of Anglo-American philosophy and literature; and Whittaker Chambers, who eloquently warned of communism’s dangerous seductions. In postwar America, this powerful intellectual bedrock helped the Republican Party unite cultural conservatives, economic libertarians, and military hawks into an effective and cohesive political alliance.
more from Drake Bennett at The Boston Globe here.