The arguments of Yoram Hazony’s Conservatism: A Rediscovery reveal both the value and the difficulty of applying a Burkean approach to human social life in a modern, non-Burkean society like our own. Part two of a two-part review.
Author: Daniel E. Burns (Daniel Burns)
Yoram Hazony’s Conservatism: A Rediscovery offers a valuable new take on non-Lockean political theory, grounded in the Biblical tradition and relevant to our current affairs. Part one of a two-part review.
Christians today should participate in efforts to preserve our polity and ensure that our laws, policies, and political actions hew as closely to truth as possible in our time and context. But we need to acknowledge the potential limitations of our time and seek ways to make the case for truth in terms that our fellow citizens might accept. We should also recognize that the society for which are striving is unlikely to be much better than what we have had in America. To the extent we desire more we should seek it in the Church.
The aim of our Constitution is to secure freedom in America by securing rights. The aim of American foreign policy should be to secure freedom at home, with a view to opportunities and threats abroad. We must always ask: what’s the best mix of military might, economic power, diplomacy, and championing of human rights that enables us to secure freedom at home and maintain a free and open international order?
The day you pass pro-life legislation, if you’re trying to win people over, should also be the day that you are passing new spending bills to support adoption, to support pregnant mothers—to support, not just crisis pregnancy centers, but crisis first-two-years-of-life centers! And that doesn’t have to mean bureaucratic welfare-state spending. But it means some kind of spending, in a way that I think many people active in the pro-life movement are comfortable with. Many people in the Republican Party institutionally are obviously not.
"If you look at today’s Republican senators, there are differences among them about the role of government that are very profound, and that are deeper than anything we’ve seen in two generations on the Right. But they take those differences as reasons to be publicly disappointed with each other, rather than as reasons to actually mobilize some bloc of voters (and politicians, and activists, and intellectuals) and try to negotiate about what the party should offer the country."
Should social conservatives embrace large-scale economic programs aimed at subsidizing family formation and childbearing? Is it more effective to focus on long-term economic growth? Are our declining birth rates really cause for concern, anyway? If they are, to what extent can the problem be solved by governmental family subsidies?
Our nation’s morally formative institutions are weak and weakening further, thanks in no small part to the enormously destructive effects of social media. The single type of institution best suited to resist these and other pressures of our times is the mission-driven, tech-skeptical K–12 school. The successes of our best countercultural colleges and universities, viewed in the light of Yuval Levin’s invaluable work on the nature of institutions, show us how the incentive structures of an excellent K–12 school make it the formative institution our time needs most.
Public Discourse offers social conservatives precisely the type of forum that the particular challenges of our time demand. In the face of countless challenges to our familiar assumptions about politics, law, and economics, we need an honest and robust conversation among people who share the same basic moral commitments but defend widely different policies on the basis of those commitments.
In order to alleviate our social crisis, we will need to improve the moral formation that our institutions provide their members. Yet the institutions best suited to lead in this task are those with a religious mission, which in turn are imperiled by the culture war that elite institutions are waging against them. The cause of institutionalism today therefore requires a forceful defense against the aggressions of the cultural Left. Part two of a two-part review essay.
In an important update to Aristotelian political thought, Yuval Levin’s new book shows that the health of a modern society depends on the health of its social institutions, and that our social institutions today are not healthy. Part one of a two-part review essay.
Once we recognize the insufficiency of liberal political theory, we should turn back to classical political philosophy, which offers us a deeper understanding of the American tradition and invaluable guidance in reforming our contemporary politics.
Conservative critics of “liberalism” are right to identify major flaws in liberal theory. But a deeper appreciation of those flaws should prevent us from blaming the American political tradition for them. Liberal theory is so erroneous that neither the Founders nor any other Americans could ever really put it into practice.