I begin with an aphorism: “Moral ideas without institutional sanctions are impotent. Institutional sanctions without moral ideas are tyrannical.”
Every civilization attempts to deal with this aphorism. So does every political movement. There is never universal agreement on either the content of morality or the efficiency of the sanctions. This is a battle for the minds of men. It never ceases.
I have been active in the conservative movement ever since 1956. By 1960, I had come to this realization: American conservatism after World War II has lacked anything remotely resembling a consistent philosophical defense. This has made it impossible to create a coherent conservative political movement.
Think of the great books expounding conservative political philosophy — books that are quoted, defended, and developed by articulate political leaders. You can’t. There aren’t any such books.
How consistent is political conservatism? Consider these two examples.
Ronald Reagan in 1982 expressed his admiration for Franklin Roosevelt’s leadership. He did so at a luncheon honoring FDR.
Newt Gingrich, in his 1995 inaugural address as Speaker of the House, waxed eloquent: ” . . . I think the greatest Democratic President of the 20th century, and in my judgment the greatest President of the 20th century, said it right.” He then quoted Roosevelt’s inaugural address: “We have nothing to fear but . . . fear itself.” He passed over the rest of that ethically monstrous speech, including Roosevelt’s rhetorical invocation of the politics of envy:
. . . the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and have abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.
The conservative moment has no map, no rudder, and not much common sense. It never has.
At the heart of the conservative movement there is a philosophical and moral void. It is a movement whose leaders do not take seriously either political philosophy or ethics. Its intellectuals have been unable to develop a systematic yet compelling case for a conservative political agenda. There is no conservative agenda, other than this: “Throw the rascals out!”
This lack of coherence can be seen in a single book: Richard Weaver’s, Ideas Have Consequences. The title has had consequences. The book has not. There is no coherence linking the title and the content of the book. Conservative intellectuals have long referred to the book as a classic. It is not a classic book. It is a classic title.
Let me provide some background.
(For the rest of my article, click the link.)