The Corner

On Conservative Despair

Charles Cooke’s “Why I Despair” rings true. The pessimist take on this election rightly points to demographic, cultural, and newly entrenched policy changes that place the continued existence of America as we’ve known it in doubt. Optimists are correct that it was a close election that might have been winnable under slightly altered circumstances. Pessimists rightly reply that the closeness itself is the problem.

While the pessimists are honest and accurate as far as they go, they don’t go far enough. Although Thatcher could only roll back the British welfare state to a point, the unfolding demographic-economic crisis of the West may soon do what even Margaret Thatcher could not. The deep cultural, political, and demographic changes set in motion by the Sixties are driving America’s political shift. Yet the Sixties generation is only just now retiring, and that is the true test of the social model they’ve established. What lessons for family life and the welfare state will be drawn by a society of isolated and impoverished oldsters supported by shrunken generations of overtaxed young workers?

I’m not saying the coming demographic-economic crisis is a good thing, or that it will necessarily make society more conservative. Yet that is certainly one possible effect. The point is that the unprecedented social alterations brought on by the Sixties have radically shuffled the societal deck, creating an unsustainable system in the process. The changes sure to emerge from the coming crisis will probably cut in multiple directions.

Obama is taking us toward the European way at the very moment that model is collapsing. This may mean total decline, but it may also mean a painful process of cultural reconstitution. (I play out some scenarios here.)

The West was already headed for demographic-economic Armageddon. Even a Romney victory wouldn’t have changed that. The real test will be what happens when the crisis truly hits, sometime in the next decade. Fighting for conservative/classically-liberal solutions until that moment will make all the difference in how America weathers the storm. The Western welfare state as currently constituted cannot survive. It will shortly move from inevitable to impossible.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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