Why Conservatism Will Never Succeed

Many years ago, R. L. Dabney penned some wise words about conservatism that I would like to repeat here:

 [Conservatism] never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is today one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will tomorrow be forced upon its timidity and will be succeeded by some third revolution; to be denounced and then adopted in its turn. American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader. This pretended salt hath utterly lost its savor: wherewith shall it be salted? Its impotency is not hard, indeed, to explain. It is worthless because it is the conservatism of expediency only, and not of sturdy principle. It intends to risk nothing serious for the sake of the truth, and has no idea of being guilty of the folly of martyrdom. It always, when about to enter a protest, very blandly informs the wild beast whose path it essays to stop, that its “bark is worse than its bite,” and that it only means to save its manners by enacting its decent role of resistance: The only practical purpose which it now subserves in American politics is to give enough exercise to Radicalism to keep it “in wind,” and to prevent its becoming pursy and lazy, from having nothing to whip.1

His insight into the nature of conservatism is no less than uncanny. He wrote this in the 19th century, long before the current degradation of bi-partisanship. In his day, conservatism looked agressive and robust. But Dabney saw clearly that this “dissent” was a superficial show. Conservatism today doesn’t even bother with the show. It is a watchdog that doesn’t even bark, that openly eats treats from the hands of burglars. If it were worthy of being condemned and thrown out in the 1890s, I can only imagine how rotten and worthless it is now.

Consider this statement from Paul Ryan (in some people’s minds, a true conservative) in reference to the budget deal he foisted on taxpayers: “As a conservative, I deal with the situation as it exists. I deal with the way things are, not necessarily the way I want them to be.”

And that is exactly the problem with conservatism. It may have worked better to try to conserve the status quo in 1788. It certainly doesn’t work to do it now. Conserving, or capitulating to, the status quo now is aiding and abetting evil and wickedness with little admixture of justice and truth. The conservatism of expediency has always been rotten. To the core. This fact is just more obvious now than ever. Yet people still can’t see it. Come next election, Republicans will shove some other convenient big-government shill down our throats, and we’ll swallow our pride and toe the line. Again. And whine about it later. Again.

We must move on from conservatism. We must become visionaries and progressives. We must work to fundamentally transform the hearts of this nation’s people. We cannot be satisfied with conservatism anymore. There is nothing good left to conserve.

  1. Robert L. Dabney. “Women’s Rights Women” in “Discussions,” vol. IV, “Secular,” The Writings of Robert L. Dabney, originally published in 1897; republished by Sprinkle Publications, Harrisonburg, Virginia, 1994. p. 496. []