It’s Complicated

Dear Reader (including Pablo Escobar’s hippos because hippos are now people too), 

A few times a year, someone tells me I should write a book on conservatism. I like the idea, but not enough—at least not yet—to actually do it. For starters, until fairly recently, I never really saw the need. The basic outlines of what conservatism is were largely settled on the right. Sure, there were arguments about what conservatives should prioritize—politically, philosophically, and even metaphysically. But these arguments were for the most part well within some fairly clear borders. Think about this way: I think there’s a broad and identifiable consensus about what it means to be a Christian, but that hardly means Christians of different stripes don’t argue about what Christians should do all the time.

The free market guys largely owned the definition of economic conservatism. Everyone agreed to some version of limited government. Religion was more contested in the realms of theology and theory, but as a practical matter most folks read from the same hymnal, as it were (this is the beauty of classically liberal theories of religious freedom). Foreign policy was more contested, to be sure. But I’ve never believed that conservatism has a lot to say about foreign policy to begin with.

Now, that consensus is over (for the time being at least). This is one of the few things I agree with the “New Right” about these days. Of course, it’s axiomatic; if a bunch of people say the consensus is over, the consensus is over. Those of us in the remnant of the old consensus can lament the breakdown, but there’s not much to be gained by denying it.

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