Anti-Imperialism/Foreign Policy

American exceptionalism fans imperial designs. We must reject it.

By Claes G. Ryn, The American Conservative

Reactions to globalization, the Trump presidency, and the coronavirus pandemic have turned discussions of American conservatism increasingly into discussions of “nationalism.” Regrettably, terminological confusion is rampant. Both “conservatism” and “nationalism” are words of many and even contradictory meanings.

The strengths of post-World War II American intellectual conservatism have been widely heralded. As for its weaknesses, one trait stands out that has greatly impeded intellectual stringency: a deep-seated impatience with the supposedly “finer points” of philosophy. Making do with loosely defined terms has made conservatism susceptible to intellectual flabbiness, contradiction, and manipulation.

This deficiency is connected to a virtual obsession with electoral politics. William F. Buckley’s path-breaking National Review was an intellectual magazine, but its primary purpose was to prepare the ground for political victories, most of all for capturing the presidency. The desire to forge a political alliance among diverse groups pushed deep intellectual fissures into the background. Having a rather narrowly political understanding of what shapes the future, most conservatives thought that the election and presidency of Ronald Reagan signified the “triumph” of conservatism; but the triumph was hollow. The reason is that in the long run politicians have less power than those who shape our view of reality, our innermost hopes and fears, and our deeper sensibilities. A crucial role is here played by “the culture”—universities, schools, churches, the arts, media, book publishing, advertising, Hollywood, and the rest of the entertainment industry—which is why America kept moving leftward.

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