The Corner

The Wilderness

At a low point in the fortunes of the Tory party, Disraeli said, “The pendulum swings.” It does indeed, but it is not going to swing back to limited-government republicanism any time soon; in fact such republicanism has for some time been effectively dead in California, New York, and the other arrantly blue states. Nor, to judge from yesterday’s election, is such republicanism especially vibrant in middle-of-the-road states like Florida, Virginia, Ohio, and Colorado. Put it another way: only once since the 1980s has a Republican candidate won a greater number of votes in a presidential election than the Democratic candidate (Bush in 2004).

Defeat offers clarity. If we had any doubts as to our position, yesterday’s election put an end to them. Those of us who continue to oppose the fiscal and constitutional overreach of the modern social state now find ourselves in the wilderness.

Insofar as politics are concerned, the best the center-right in America can do, in the foreseeable future, is to act as a check on folly in the political arena, and in doing so hope to prove Macaulay wrong when he said that the American Republic would fail because the poor would plunder the rich and increase the country’s distress by devouring the “seed-corn” of future growth.

At the same time, conservatives ought to recognize that our deeper problems – as I tried to show in the summer issue of the Claremont Review of Books – are cultural, not political, and are therefore not susceptible of a political solution. The social state was intended to be such a solution: but even were its ever-expanding programs fiscally sustainable, its ideal of social welfare would still be paltry substitute for the older, better approach to the good life it was meant to replace.

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