Monday, December 12, 2005

Is the Conservative movement at a dead end?

Michael Barone:Conservative Movement at a Dead End?

Has the American conservative movement reached a dead end? That is the impression you might have gotten if you attended the panel discussions sponsored by the James Madison program at Princeton University earlier this month.

Speakers hailed past beginnings and triumphs -- the founding of National Review by William F. Buckley Jr. 50 years ago, the Goldwater candidacy of 1964, the Reagan administration in the 1980s, the rise of religious conservatives and the vindication of market economics over the last 25 years.

But speakers were much gloomier about the present. Voters have installed Republican majorities in Congress and a Republican president widely regarded as a conservative. Yet federal spending has risen sharply, and a new federal entitlement, for prescription drugs, has been added.

Our borders are not secure, and the venturesome, allegedly neoconservative foreign policy of the administration is under harsh attack at home and abroad. Mainstream media are more shamelessly liberal than ever in their orientation and bias. Moreover, the Bush administration seems to have run out of new ideas.

Comment: As Barone points out, government is part of "society", and as a whole, "society" has progressed in the areas of individual choice. Thus, Conservatism, which is based upon the ideal of the individual over the collective, is in the ascendant in today's America, whereas 50 years ago it was collectivism (still promoted by the political left) that was advancing. Hence the feeling of reaching a dead end, with nowhere further to go.

But where Conservatism runs into problems is when it abandons respect for the individual and stops viewing government as a necessary evil to be kept to a minimum. This is a major failing of the Bush administration in its domestic politics. As Barone says, conservatives, of all people, should know that their goals cannot be achieved by the Federal Government alone. In fact, the role of the government should be merely to preserve the rights of the individual so that they can achieve their goals for themselves. When conservatives forget this and embrace collectivism in the form of "big government Conservatism", they stray onto the path to serfdom and lose their position as promoters of freedom.

The role of Conservatism, then, never truly reaches a dead end. It is an ongoing process of increasing the choices of the individual and conserving the freedom already achieved.

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