Ideas Have Consequences is the title of a 1948 book by conservative thinker Richard Weaver that in recent years has become a kind of slogan for movement conservatives trying to convince themselves and their financial angels that their beliefs have triumphed at last.
The lesson we learn from a recent New York Times article on the "post-Buckley" right is that Professor Weaver was quite wrong: Ideas—his, at least—have no consequences.
That has to be the conclusion of anyone familiar with the ideas Weaver and similar conservative heavies emitted in the years after World War II down through the 1970s. The survival of these thinkers' and writers' legacy has been open to doubt ever since the neoconservatives arrived to share the benefits of their wisdom with real conservatives, but today, when even the elder neocons are fading, the situation is bleaker still.
"Conservative is a word that is almost meaningless these days," one young rightist, Caleb Stegall, interviewed by the Times, announces. He's entirely correct, but to judge from the article, he and his comrades are helping to keep it that way. Mr. Stegall is part of a new web site called newpantagruel.com, which the Times describes as "conservative but irreverent" (I guess the two don't usually mix) and "about religion and politics." Later we learn from Mr. Stegall that "If I could sum up what we stand for in one word, it would be sustainability." [Young Right Tries to Define Post-Buckley Future, By David D. Kirkpatrick, July 17, 2004]
The Times feels the need to clarify that "he meant theologically conservative views on sustaining family life, as well as typically liberal views on sustaining the environment and local communities and helping the poor."
Noble causes all, no doubt, but exactly why they are conservative is never clear.
Yet another post-Buckleyite pops up at the Weekly Standard, the official voice of Bill Kristol and the neocons. Eric Cohen, at the hoary age of 26, is not only a Standard contributor but, among other achievements, also "director of the biotechnology and American democracy program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington," an establishment neocon outfit that has been around for years.
Mr. Cohen's deathless contribution to post-Buckleyism is that "conservatives needed to accept an active role for government in dealing with advancing technology, whether in the form of terrorists' weapons abroad [we tried that, if you recall] or attempts to change the nature of life at home."
One idea of real conservatism is that post-New Deal government was far too big and needed to be reduced. That idea seems to have been dropped into File 13 by the post-Buckley geniuses. No consequences there.
The article continues, discovering unsung young post-Buckleyites thither and yon, and virtually nowhere does a single one offer any idea that bears much resemblance to what has been called "conservatism" in this country for the last 50 years.
Only Daniel McCarthy of the American Conservative utters anything like such a brainstorm.
Calling for a return to the "so-called isolationist and noninterventionist right," Mr. McCarthy affirms forthrightly, "America is a nation state. It is not meant to be a sort of world government in embryo, not meant to be a last provider of justice or security for the entire world."
As for the war in Iraq, only Mr. McCarthy openly expresses opposition to it. Mr. Cohen, as you might for some reason guess, is all for the war and is among those who "argue that the United States may need to become more active, not less."
Nor do the post-Buckleyites seem to have much to say about the "culture war," nor most any other real problem that confronts the real world today and which most pre-Buckley conservatives have traced to liberalism and pseudo-conservatism: cultural collapse, mass immigration, racial revolution, the war on the middle class, the future of the nation state, and the emergence of democratic totalitarianism in our own societies.
The Times of course is delighted to uncover a crowd of "conservatives" who offer no threat whatsoever to the dominant liberalism it regurgitates in its pages every day, but if it wanted to find them, there's a real post-Buckley—we might even say a post-conservative—right out there.
What the real new right is talking about is not making government bigger or cryptic catchwords like "sustainability" but the problems the Times' favorite conservatives won't mention.
Not all their writers and editors agree with each other, and neither the Times nor the post-Buckley kids it's pushing would care for them, but the ideas you find there might actually some day have some consequences.
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Sam Francis [email him] is a nationally syndicated columnist. A selection of his columns, America Extinguished: Mass Immigration And The Disintegration Of American Culture, is now available from Americans For Immigration Control. Click here for Sam Francis' website. Click here to order his monograph, Ethnopolitics: Immigration, Race, and the American Political Future. His review essay on Who Are We appears in the current issue of Chronicles Magazine.