Politics & Policy

The Rise of the “Civ-Cons”

Among the varieties of conservatism, the ties of civic conservatism run deep.

The standard conservative taxonomy appears to cover the universe. There are economic conservatives, social conservatives, national-defense conservatives, neoconservatives, paleoconservatives, and even “crunchy” conservatives or “crunchy cons.”

But I suspect that many of us would not choose any of these labels as our primary affiliation. True, most conservatives are fusionists, supporting limited government, traditional values, and strong national defense. But what stirs the blood?

If I had to choose from the labels above, national-defense conservative would come the closest. But it doesn’t quite fit. So let me try a new label. I am a civic conservative, a “civ-con.”

At the level of highest principle civic conservatism emphasizes the Unum in E Pluribus Unum and puts American national cohesion over any group interest. The intellectual origins of civic conservatism can be traced to George Washington’s Farewell Address.

Citizens by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name American, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations.

As Washington scholar Matthew Spalding of the Heritage Foundation puts it: “Above all, the Farewell Address directs the American regime toward Union, or unity, rather than diversity. America must be something more than a league of states or regions, a collection of various groups and interests.”

In terms of contemporary policy, civic conservatism emphasizes the following principles: the equality of American citizenship; the learning of America’s history and values, properly understood; the imperative of assimilating immigrants patriotically into the American way of life (what we proudly used to call Americanization); and the indivisibility of American sovereignty.

The leaders of a serious civic conservatism would not simply rely upon “feel-good” personal stories or platitudes about “common values” and “living the American dream” as substitutes for policy. Instead, they would directly challenge the anti-assimilationist agenda of the past thirty years with the ultimate objective of “roll-back,” to borrow from the successful Jim Burnham-Bill Buckley-Ronald Reagan Cold War strategy. Like the old evil empire, the multicultural-“diversity”-PC machine is based on lies and riddled with “internal contradictions.” It, too, might crumble when confronted with real resistance.

Thus, in terms of specific issues civic conservatives put emphasis on:

‐the promotion of serious civic education, particularly an understanding of America’s foundations and history;

‐the patriotic assimilation of immigrants without apology (the melting pot over the “salad bowl” and “mosaic”);

‐the clear legal imperative that, in America, international law is subordinate to American constitutional law;

‐the rejection of extra-territorial sovereignty for Native Hawaiians and American Indians (e.g., no exemption from state gambling laws) on the basis of race;

‐the elimination of ethnic, racial, and gender group preferences in employment and education;

‐the phasing out of bilingual education and bilingual ballots;

‐the phasing out of American dual allegiance voting and holding office in foreign countries;

‐the repeal of President Clinton’s Executive Order 13166 (enforced by the Bush administration) requiring multilingualism in all government documents;

‐the end of so-called multicultural education.

The above issues resonate strongly with many Americans who are objectively “civic conservatives,” even if they would not necessarily think of themselves as such. Who are they? Among the broad population, many so-called Reagan Democrats, as well as most average Republican voters, possess instinctive civ-con tendencies.

Within the conservative intelligentsia civ-cons are particularly plentiful among right of center academics. The National Association of Scholars (NAS) is a stronghold of civic conservatism (and some civic liberals, “civ-libs,” as well). Members of the NAS have been on the front lines in the fight against ethnic and gender group preferences.

Straussians and Burkians, believers and agnostics, pro-lifers and pro-choicers have all, at various times, promoted civ-con policies. Charles Kesler, Tom West, Ward Connerly, Jim Ceaser, Stanley Kurtz, Abigail Thernstrom, and Heather MacDonald to name a few. The civ-con category is not mutually exclusive with other strains of conservatism: Robert P. George is a leading social conservative thinker; at the same time, his James Madison Program in American Ideas and Institutions at Princeton is a bipartisan civic enterprise of the highest order. Bill Bennett is an original “neo-con,” but he is also clearly a quintessential “civ-con.”

Civ-cons do not necessarily agree on the best immigration policy. For example, Linda Chavez favors the Senate-White House approach; many of us, myself included, are more sympathetic to the majority congressional Republican position. Nevertheless all civ-cons place an overwhelming emphasis on patriotic assimilation.

Civ-cons would endorse George Washington’s letter to John Adams in 1794. Washington worried about immigrants separated from the American mainstream and called for assimilation:

…[w]hile the policy or advantage of its [immigration] taking place in a body (I mean the settling of them in a body) may be questioned; for, by so doing, they retain the Language, habits and principles (good and bad) which they bring with them. Whereas, by an intermixture with our people, they, or their descendants, get assimilated to our customs, measures and laws: in a word, soon become one people.

Despite the Republican “thumping” in the ’06 elections, civic conservative issues triumphed. Michigan passed Ward Connerly’s referendum outlawing racial, ethnic, and gender preferences by 58 percent in the face of strong establishment resistance. It was foolishly opposed by the Republican candidates for senator and governor, both of whom lost their elections. Arizona rejected official bilingualism by making English the state’s language with a majority of 74 percent. About half the state’s Latinos supported the referendum.

Civic conservative issues are strongly supported by the general public, although often resisted by elites and special interests. They are an untapped source of strength for an articulate candidate who would internalize them and make them his own. Today, any of the ’08 presidential candidates could give his early campaign a strong dose of adrenalin by incorporating a serious civ-con message into his vision for America.

— John Fonte is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

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