The Conservative Responsibility in 1996: A Symposium: Honor Buchanan

Robert C. Jeffrey

June 1, 1996

This year conservatives are obliged to rethink fundamentally the shape of post-cold war conservatism. In this respect, many erred in besmirching Pat Buchanan. In standing against everything bad that has happened since the 60s, it was wrong to portray him as the enemy, and it is a scandal that so many conservatives piled on, whatever the reason.

Buchanan rightly makes the restoration of American culture to at least its early 1960s basis to be the strategic objective of contemporary conservatism. To serve this end, he enlists the passion of nationalism and love of our history and laws. We need to consider that the Republican oligarchs are hostile to social conservatism and will never support it. So Pat went to the demos, to the same people who revolted in disgust with the neo-conservatives in the late 60s at the anti-Americanism of the anti-war, anti-morality counterculture.

The appeal to nationalism does not make Pat a big government man, as many critics suggested. This lacked all credibility, as he was the only candidate who was completely trustworthy on closing down government departments and reducing the administrative state. Rather, Buchanan understands that it is important now to assert the priority of politics over economics, of law (the rule of reason) over the moral neutrality of the marketplace.

We needed the socially disruptive fire of techne to win the war against the
Nazis and the Communists. Now, it is quite proper, as Thucydides teaches, to tame the fire in our country that has changed it morally and spiritually–to turn toward ourselves to restore republican virtue. Neither a new economic order nor a new American imperialism will accomplish this. In fact, in the present context, they would likely exacerbate it. Thoughtful conservatism needs a discussion of these issues. It is a pity that The Weekly Standard, for example, foreclosed this discussion by castigating Buchanan in terms not even reserved for Alger Hiss. The icing on the cake was George Will on the David Brinkley interview show, attempting to humiliate Buchanan by making him renounce the non-teleological, nihilistic, anti-common sense theory of evolution as the origin of the species. But it was George who was humiliated, as were many conservatives this primary season, when Pat just spoke the truth–that man is created in the image of God, and not in the image of an animal, not
even a monkey.

Pat needs to be counseled by friends to speak more prominently of economic growth, to embrace the natural rights doctrine of the Declaration as the foundation of limited government, and to take the initiative in making peace with Jewish fellow citizens. With these amendments, Pat’s strategy would be closer to the heart of “the virtuous people” than it already is. And even as it is, it is the key to the social conservative party of the 21st century.

Robert Jeffrey, who teaches politics at Dalton College, in Georgia, reviewed Newt Gingrich’s latest book for the October OP.