The Corner

Whithering Heights

Hey Jim:  We’re going to be getting a lot of “whither conservatism” articles this next few months. I’m looking to give my 2003 “Metrocons” piece a good airing.

I think David Frum got it dead right back in 1994, though, with that fine book he wrote … what was the title? Can’t recall.

Has anything conservative actually happened in American life since the end of the Cold War? Nothing comes to mind. If I’m honest with myself (which of course I am not very often) my own conservatism is just nostalgia. I want the U.S.A. to be like it was when I first knew it in the early 1970s. But of course that can’t be. I read David’s latest book. At least I started it. Health-insurance reform … consumption taxes … population policy … war on obesity … Uh-huh. I put the book aside & still haven’t picked it up again. None of that stuff will happen.

It’s much harder to build a coalition on the right than on the left. The difference in outlook between a metro-con and his guns’n’Bible country cousin is far wider than anything on the left, where the working- and middle-class liberals who just want stuff from the gummint are much more at ease with the metropolitan liberals with Big Ideological Agendas. They often even admire them, which is not much the case with red-state-cons and metro-cons.

Religion? Since I have David’s 1994 book to hand, here’s a passage (p. 172):

[T]he conservative movement is secular to its toes. Even those conservatives, like [Irving] Kristol and Pat Buchanan, who believe that excessive secularism is a genuine problem, believe it for secular reasons. They expect that a more devout America would be a better-behaved America … But … American churchgoers will almost certainly disappoint the intellectuals who trust in them … Fundamentalists will go on giving conservative Republicans their votes, but it is not from them that the conservative movement of the future will draw its ideas.

The religious picture isn’t any more encouraging today. The Barna Group surveys are showing, as they always do, that the generality of believers are not particularly conservative. Even born-agains (43 percent of the adult population) went only 57-42 for McCain; though the Evangelical subgroup (7 percent of the population) was 88-11 for McCain. Of non-born-again believers, Protestants went for McCain 53-46, Catholics for Obama 56-43. Unbelievers — about one in ten adults — went 76-23 for Obama.

So … whither conservatism? To the catacombs, that’s whither.

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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