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20 March 2017

Veritas et Sapientia-What Do Conservatives Want?

Mandeville, LA – “[A] final observation. I am a historian of American conservatism, and I can happily report that sophisticated discourse is thriving on the American Right—in journals like Modern Age, the Intercollegiate Review, the New Criterion, the University Bookman, the Claremont Review of Books, and Humanitas, to name a few. But it also appears to me that conservatives spend much of their time (in current parlance) “cocooning” with one another and that, in this Age of the Internet, too much conservative advocacy has been reduced to soundbite certitudes and sterile clichés. What do conservatives want? Limited government, they answer; free enterprise; strict construction of the Constitution; fiscal responsibility; traditional values and respect for the sanctity of human life. No doubt, but I wonder: how much are these traditional catchphrases and abstractions persuading people anymore? How much are they inspiring the rising generation? How much are they resonating with America’s dominant professional classes, particularly those in the more secularized and urbanized regions of this country? It is not a new problem. In fact, it is a perennial problem, the essence of which Whittaker Chambers captured long ago. “Each age,” he wrote, “finds its own language for an eternal meaning.”

What do conservatives want? To put it in elementary terms, we want to be free, we want to live virtuous and productive lives, and we want to be secure from threats beyond and within our borders. We want to live in a society that sustains and encourages these aspirations. Freedom, virtue, safety: goals reflected in the libertarian, traditionalist, and national security dimensions of the conservative movement. But to achieve these perennial goals, we must communicate in language that connects not only with our own coterie but with the great majority of the American people.” – George Nash, excerpted from a speech Nash gave in receiving an award named for Philosopher Richard Weaver.

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