Statesmanship for America's future is a very difficult topic to discuss because, as Churchill famously said, "The future, though imminent, is obscure." That is really all that can be said.
It does seem as if the conservative movement, today, is longing for a sort of conservative "Viagra." The movement has known political success in the past. It remembers political success. It enjoyed political success. It even remembers how to obtain political success, but it just cannot bring itself to do it anymore. Some little, blue diamond like Viagra might be useful in restoring vitality to us. Unfortunately, this is a problem that cannot be treated chemically. This is an organic, or really, an intellectual dilemma or difficulty that we are in.
Statesmanship itself is a difficult subject to talk about. There really is no statesmanship, apart from statesmen. We only know the phenomenon of statesmanship through its embodiment in actual statesmen. And we seem to suffer from an acute shortage of statesmen today. Lamenting this condition will, unfortunately, not change it, or certainly, will not necessarily change it.
We can summon statesmen like spirits from the vasty deep all we want, but will they come? That is the question. Talking about statesmanship will not, by itself, depend upon a certain combination or coincidence of high-minded character and high moral or political principle. Still, political principles are a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for great statesmanship. In focusing on the revival of America's Founding principles, The Claremont Institute is making a vital contribution to the formation of future American statesmen.
We find ourselves at a strange moment in American politics and in the history of the conservative movement. American conservatives have always been more confident in what they were against than what they were for. We were always confident that we were against the Soviet Union, against the Evil Empire, Communists, Imperialism, and also, of course, we were against liberalism whatever, exactly, that meant.
At the moment of conservatism's greatest triumph, when its enemy, the Evil Empire, collapsed, we found ourselves in a time of elation, and yet perplexity. In foreign policy, especially after the Persian Gulf War, a sort of paralysis of strategic thinking set in. Conservatives are now trying to find their way forward in the darkness of foreign policy, without a clear enemy to organize their thinking.
In domestic policy, too, we live in a period of conservative anticlimax. Conservatism has always consisted of strange, discordant, and even hostile elements, gathered from the four winds, to use Abraham Lincoln's description of the Republican Party in the late 1850s. What held those religious and economic conservatives together, the pro-life and pro-choice advocates, and so forth, was their subordination of their differences to a more important, common cause.
That cause was opposition to Communism abroad and liberalism at home. Indeed, liberalism was seen, significantly, as a reflection of Communism. In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan could still quote, by heart, these words from Whittaker Chambers' book Witness, which was so important in the formation of the conservative movement in the 1950s:
When I took my little sling and aimed at Communism, I also hit something else. What I hit was the force of that great, Socialist revolution, which, in the name of liberalism, spasmodically, incompletely, somewhat formlessly, but always in the same direction, has been inching its ice cap over the nation for two decades.
A great deal of the galvanism of the conservative movement was in this combination of its opposition to Communism abroad and to liberalism at home, which was seen as a kind of domestic version of Communism abroad. It had the same kind of expansionist tendencies on behalf of government and the same hostility to the private sphere, to private liberty, and to moderate, or self-, government.
After Communism's collapse, beginning in 1989, this link with liberalism this link between Communism and liberalism began to decay. The urgent sense of liberalism's threat began to recede. Some conservatives began to feel that, like Communism, liberalism was doomed to collapse; it was going to be inevitable that it fall. Hence, all that was really needed was sort of a final push, something like the election of 1994.
Taking the House of Representatives and the Senate simultaneously meant the impending end of liberalism as we knew it. The party of liberalism was going to become a decidedly minority party thereafter. This was in the first flush of enthusiasm after the victory of 1994. This spirit took hold of a large number of conservatives, especially in the congressional party, under Newt's leadership.
Other conservatives felt that, absent the Communist inspiration, liberalism did not really need a final, political push to shove it into the grave. Liberalism would be gradually domesticated, or transformed by market forces, at home and internationally, or by the forces of religious and cultural revival at home, or even by the more comprehensive program that some conservatives began to lay out for the rebuilding of neighborhoods and of civil society. Hence, they began to think that it was not really politics at all, but civil society, the private sphere, and state and local government only that was the crucial battleground against liberalism.
Both these sorts of conservatives, in reacting to their great success in defeating Communism, assumed that history was really on the side of conservatism. The Communists had claimed all along that history was on their side, but what we had shown through our victory in the Cold War was that, no, history was on our side, not theirs.
Therefore, many American conservatives were led to believe that the decisive, political contest had already been won, or at least was about to be won, and hence, that conservative statesmanship was really less useful or needful than it had been in the past. There had been a great, political climax in the fall of the Soviet Union and maybe also in the victory of 1994, in our Congressional races at home. After that great, political climax, not much was left but a kind of mopping up: following out the trends either of economic or social life, rebuilding neighborhoods, families, churches, and other institutions of civil society.
It has become clear now that these conservative optimists, of whatever stripe, overestimated conservatism's successes. With the conservative agenda bogged down in the Congress after the victories in 1994 after the "Contract" period and after Bill Clinton won reelection, and when, even in the midst of one of the largest and most distasteful scandals in American history, Clinton's poll ratings continued to climb towards the stratosphere, the conservative optimists were dismayed.
Newt, in one of his incarnations a few years ago, used to talk about the "Third Wave"; this was something he borrowed from Alvin Toffler, a professional futurologist. The "Third Wave" was this third, great, transforming wave of technology and science that was sweeping over the whole world, bringing us personal computers and cellular telephones and instantaneous transfer of capital between countries, through twenty-four-hour-a-day capital markets and financial markets. His argument was that it was really this "Third Wave" that had decisively undermined the Soviet Union and that would decisively undermine liberalism here at home.
The Soviet Union had proved that it could not keep up; it was uncompetitive. It did not have supercomputers and PCs. Therefore, even with its military technology, which at one time had been as good as ours and, in certain respects, better than ours, the Soviets recognized that they were doomed to decline and, eventually, to fall.
This kind of economic determinism was very popular with Newt for a long time. His mind, at that point, was a kind of strange combination of Alvin Toffler and The Federalist Papers. The reading list that he prescribed for conservatives to follow was this odd mixture of management texts, futurology along the Alvin Toffler lines, and American classics sort of. Tocqueville and The Federalist Papers were in there, too. There did not seem to be a theme. There was not any common idea that held all of these things together, except that somehow they were all a continuous expression of conservative victory or of the fact that history was, in fact, ultimately on our side. As it had been in 1787, so it also was in 1989, and in the 1990s.
This sort of optimism, or even historicism using a more fancy term seemed reasonable for a while in the conservative movement. No one had expected the Soviet Union to collapse, after all, or no one, perhaps, except Ronald Reagan had expected the Soviet Union to collapse as quickly and as ignominiously and as bloodlessly as it did. At the same time, no one had really predicted except perhaps Newt Gingrich that the Republicans would be able to carry the House and the Senate in 1994, an off-year election.
The victory had been prepared and, as it were, sealed by the defeat of the Bill and Hillary Health Care Plan which set up the 1994 election. It seemed as though the era of big government truly was over, that an era of conservative governments was about to begin, and that success was ours for the taking. It was about to be handed to us by history itself, or by a sequence of events of which we were only a part.
This optimism has been dispelled now, or shattered. Clinton continues to ride high. Conservatism seems to be confused. Certainly in its congressional expression, there does not seem to be much of an agenda anymore for the conservative movement, not much of a purpose for conservatism.
In many ways, conservatism seems to have regressed to its pre-National Review days, in the early 1950s, before conservatism came together as a movement. In those days, isolationists, libertarians, businessmen, and other sorts of conservative sects pushed their discreet and discordant agendas, but without any overarching theme or purpose. In those days, conservatism could barely have been said to exist, and cranky complaints about the New Deal were the bitter order of the day that is about all that one could say these various groups had in common.
There was also a certain allegiance to the idea of majoritarianism, which one could find in the writings of Willmore Kendall and others at that time. This praise of majorities and of almost limitless, majority rule, this theme that Professor Jaffa has been attacking so well over the last couple of days, this kind of majoritarianism embraced by a movement that did not command a majority that was conservatism in the 1950s, or in the pre-National Review days of the 1950s.
What Bill Buckley and National Review and, through them, Barry Goldwater succeeded in doing was uniting these various conservative factions by dedicating them to a higher, common purpose. That purpose was, in the zealous sense, that Communism had to be resisted, that the isolationist wings of conservatism led by Robert Taft and others who had resisted the New Deal and resisted the foreign policy of FDR had to be purged from the movement. The movement as a whole had to be dedicated, instead, to a vigorous, international policy of resisting the further spread and perhaps pursuing the rollback of Communism.
At the same time, domestically, Buckley and the leaders of the nation's conservative movement in the 1950s and 1960s took great pains to weed out of the domestic side of conservatism the true cranks, the anti-Semites, the nativists, and others who had gathered around the movement in its earliest days. This included, of course, the John Birch Society and the famous confrontation between Bill Buckley and the National Review, on the one hand, and the John Birchers on the other.
Today, to some extent, we seem to be suffering a similar kind of confusion and disaggregation of the conservative movement. There are some differences, of course. There is, today, a network of conservative think tanks and an impressive record of conservative scholarship that tends, in a certain way, to be the intellectual and spiritual focus of conservatism at a time when, politically, conservatism seems pretty dead. Institutions like The Claremont Institute do succeed in keeping the tablets at a time when statesmanship in the genuine sense of the term by our political leaders, our elected officials seems sorely lacking. The fires are still kept burning somewhere, particularly in the conservative think tanks, and particularly at The Claremont Institute.
To return to a description of our current doldrums, the conservative optimists had overestimated conservatism's successes. But they also had underestimated liberalism. They had underestimated its vitality, its depth, and its resilience one might say, its "evil" genius. Liberalism has built an Evil Empire of its own in America, over the past century.
Conservative statesmanship, if it is going to be successful in the future, is going to have to come to grips with the fantastic changes that liberalism has made in our politics over the past century. It is not just since the New Deal that liberalism has begun to institutionalize itself. It really goes back much farther.
Three waves of liberalism have swept over the United States in the last century: political liberalism, economic liberalism, and finally, cultural liberalism.
Political liberalism is the most fundamental of these three waves of liberalism. The later developments were implicit in it and, in some cases, already explicit in it. It brought with it as a theme the politics of progress. Each one of these waves has sort of a characteristic mode of politics. The first is the politics of progress, which is political liberalism's mode. The second is the politics of entitlements, which is economic liberalism's mode. The third is the politics of meaning, which is cultural liberalism's particular agenda, its particular mode of operation.
Political liberalism is the most fundamental wave, and it goes back over one hundred years. In its origins, modern liberalism was progressivism, or, at least, it was the most radical, intellectual aspect of the progressive movement. Progressivism believed in progress. This was the core idea, at its heart.
Progress meant, intellectually or morally speaking, that one could assume a direction in human events. History was not just "one damn thing after another," as Carl Becker once put it, but it had a meaning and a direction and a destination, it was going someplace. There was going to be an end of history, a culmination of intellectual and political development, a peak that we would reach from which, looking down, the centuries of political development up to that time would suddenly make sense, in a way that they had never made sense when we were going up the mountain and could not see the whole road.
Then, it seemed like history was just "one damn thing after another": there was a switch back, you were going this way and that way; you could not tell where you were going. Sometimes, you had to go down; then, you went up again. But when you reach the top of the peak, you can look down at history and see why you had to make every hairpin turn, why you had to take every unpaved road that you took in order to get to the top. Every previous part of history was necessary to reach the peak of history, when it all makes sense.
Therefore, in terms of morality, political liberalism substituted for the notion of unchanging rights or natural rights or divine rights which had fixed standards of right and wrong a new kind of progressive morality, in which the terms past and future substituted for bad and good. Things that were less developed, that were reactionary, as it were, became a synonym for bad.
Political liberalism here at home took the form of a critique of the American Constitution. Woodrow Wilson was one of the great authors of this critique; he was the first President ever to criticize the Constitution, or, at least, to criticize it fundamentally. The criticism would sound, perhaps, hackneyed to us; but, at the time, it was fresh and powerful and still, in certain ways, continues to be very powerful.
The Constitution was an 18th century document, but America faced 19th century and, eventually, 20th century problems that the Founders could not have anticipated. Therefore, a government that was adequate for meeting the exigencies of the 18th century was not going to be adequate for meeting the exigencies of the 20th century.
This is implicit in Bill Clinton's rhetoric about "building a bridge to the 21st century." The notion is that we need new technologies, new political modes, in order to get there. Once we get there, of course, we are not quite sure what we will find, but whatever it is, it will be better than the present, or the past. That is the planted assumption of progressivism the future is going to be better.
The Constitution was an 18th century document, but, more than that, it was a document that attempted to freeze American politics in the 18th century. It had in it things like the separation of powers, three branches of government, and, moreover, a legislative branch with two houses. The result of this was to vastly increase the possibilities of stalemate in the government. The two houses of Congress may be in favor of something, but if the President will not sign the bill, you do not get a bill.
American politics was going around and around in 18th century circles, in nice, Newtonian ellipses. But it was never getting anywhere; it was not moving ahead. We were not "building that bridge" to the future that we should have been building at the end of the 19th century. Therefore, the Constitution had to be transformed.
As a young man, Woodrow Wilson thought the way to do this was to amend it in such a way as to get rid of the separation of powers, to have a more parliamentary system like Great Britain where the executive and the legislative branches are combined in many respects, and legislation can shoot through the system much more quickly.
Socialism could come to Great Britain in the course of one Parliament. You could not bring Socialism to America in the course of one Congress, or two Congresses, or many Congresses. It took a long time to achieve the level of socialization that America has achieved in the 20th century. As a more mature man, Woodrow Wilson changed his mind. He did not think that it was necessary to amend the Constitution formally. He thought you could, in fact, change it from within, informally, by re-understanding the nature of executive power.
In place of the old executive power a President who had powers coming from the Constitution and who operated under the Constitution Wilson did all he could do to free the executive power from the Constitution, to try to rebuild a new Presidency that would be, to the extent possible, outside the text of the old Constitution. He did this in two steps, or in two ways.
One way was his patronage of the idea of administration and the other was the idea of leadership. Woodrow Wilson did not succeed in greatly enlarging the federal bureaucracy, but he set the agenda to greatly enlarge it. He made the intellectual case that generations of Democrats and liberals after him would follow. He explained why you needed experts in un-elected, permanent civil service jobs within executive branch agencies to administer the affairs of a large, complicated country from the center.
Previously, the state's localities in civil society had done most of its regulation or most of its administering. Wilson made the case that in a nation-state that was firmly one nation and not just an alliance of states, especially after the Civil War, one needed more regulation and control from the center. This was a very complicated and difficult thing: to run the affairs of Laguna Beach, CA from Washington D.C.
You could do it through experts. You had to have people who were trained in the social sciences in order to administer the affairs of so large and complicated a country. In this sense, Wilson and many of the people in his generation looked to Prussia, to modern Germany, and, to some extent, to modern France and England to much more unitary states for their model. Indeed, although Wilson himself did not do so, many of his teachers in college and graduate school had gone to Germany to get their Ph.D. degrees, because the Germans were the world's experts at bureaucracy and administering from the top down. Therefore, you had to go study with them to learn how to do it over here.
From this point of view, Abraham Lincoln became a kind of Bismarck, the Bismarck of America. His importance was not in reviving natural rights and identifying the moral case against slavery. Those were merely instruments, means in his hands, because they were what he had to work with. From the point of view of Wilson and, to a lesser extent, Teddy Roosevelt, Lincoln had simply been the American Bismarck, the one who imposed national unity upon a fractious, and therefore reactionary, country. Once the nation was in place, you could now have, finally, a nation-state, built along modern lines, along one might say Prussian lines. The building of the modern state was the enterprise of Wilson and the other progressives. That is what political liberalism meant: building the modern state, with centralized administrative power and with huge social welfare functions added to it.
The modern state was, in part, administration of the kind I have just mentioned, but the other part of it was a change in the notion of executive power, a movement towards leadership.
Leadership is different from statesmanship. One of the things that is essential for the statesmanship of the future conservative statesmanship is to be reminded of the difference between mere leadership and statesmanship.
Leadership is a term taken from the military side of politics, and all it requires is that you be in the lead, that you be out in front. It arises out of the sense of progressivism that Wilson and others, in the first stage of liberalism, imparted to our politics. If history has a direction, if history is moving towards the ever-more rational, administrative state the modern state and building that state is the destiny of the nation, then you need leaders to get out in front to lead you in the direction where you know you are going. The function of leaders is not exactly to pick the direction toward which history itself, or progress itself, is pointing.
A leader needs two qualities which statesmen, in a way, do not need. The first quality the leader needs is vision; this is a term that Woodrow Wilson introduced into our politics. Abraham Lincoln managed to get through his entire career, probably, without using the term vision to describe his virtues, or his program. In the 20th century, you cannot run for dogcatcher without having a vision.
Vision used to be something that a prophet would get; God would send a vision into the head of a prophet. From the point of view of modern liberalism, vision is something that history sends you, something the future sends you. The leader becomes a kind of prophet, a secular prophet, predicting where history is going to take the country and trying to marshal the people so that they will get there more efficiently and sooner than they otherwise would.
Of course, visions are not just something that prophets have they are also something that drunks have. If you are hit on the head, you could have a vision; you could see stars. Therefore, telling the difference between a true vision of the future, which accurately predicts where you are going to end up five years from now or ten years from now, and a false vision, which is just a personal fantasy, is very hard to do.
Thus, the rhetoric of American politics has become increasingly less rational because one person cannot argue with another about the future. I cannot prove that your vision of the future is false because we do not know until we get there. When politics is organized around competing visions of the future, it is not based on rational premises, which one finds in the Lincoln-Douglas debates. It is an appeal to the imagination and to passion. The result is a kind of spiraling upward of visions.
Bill Safire, the New York Times critic, has pointed out long ago that every modern, Presidential speech has a section in it which he calls the "I see" section. The "I see" section always goes something like this: "I see an America in which every man who wants a job will be able to have a job. I see an America in which every woman who wants an abortion will be able to obtain an abortion," or "I see an America in which the scourge of drug use has ended."
The latter was actually said by George Bush in 1988: not "reduced," or "marginally diminished," but "ended." The result is spiraling promises, and each party has to out-promise the other. When you have candidates for the Presidency who are not good at "the vision thing," like George Bush or Bob Dole, you tend to lose these kinds of Presidential races, because you cannot out-vision the other party when you cannot out-promise the other party.
The other quality that a leader needs, which a statesman, strictly speaking, does not need, is what Wilson called sympathy. Statesmen of the kind we have been talking about Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill, for example are exceptional individuals. These are great men. We can say this in an unembarrassed sense; that is, they have a surpassing excellence in the virtues. Their courage, their sense of justice, their magnanimity, and their prudence are much greater; they have them in surpassing quantity and quality than ordinary people posses. That is why we are lucky to have them when they come to us, as a kind of dispensation of Providence.
The leader is a much more ordinary character, a much more common dog. The leader has to be out in front. He has to be able to portray a vision of where the front is heading, where the march is going to lead. In order to project this vision, in order to claim his title as a leader, the leader does not need excellent virtues. He does not need excessive pride, or excessive courage, or unusual amounts of prudence. What he needs is sympathy. He needs to feel with the passions of the people, because it is through the passions of the people that history is coursing. It is through the common people that history is moving.
Therefore, today, when Bill Clinton says, "I feel your pain," he is, in fact, expressing the progressive view of sympathy, as the ultimate quality of the leader. He is just like us; in fact, he is us because he feels our pain. This, of course, is a lie or, perhaps, an understatement, to be kind. He does not, in fact, feel our pain. If you prick your finger, only you feel your pain. I may sympathize with you, but I do not, actually, feel the pain that you feel. Progressive leadership assumes that that is real, that the leader can be the sum of the passions, the needs, the desires of his whole people and help them to achieve them, whatever they might happen to be.
That makes all modern leadership extremely democratic with a small 'd.' It makes it increasingly difficult to take a stand against majority opinion, to take a stand against the people, if you think the people have gone wrong on some important moral or political question. To put it differently, it makes it harder to be Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill, to stand up to a majority and say, "No, what you wish to do is immoral." Sympathy and vision mean that you really are taking your moral bearings by the movements of history, or the movements of most people, most of the time, towards the future. You really cut out from under yourself any moral ground on which to stand that is different from the direction of the mudslide of popular opinion, cascading towards the future. That is political liberalism.
The second form of liberalism is economic liberalism, the second wave that swept over us. If political liberalism was born in progressivism, economic liberalism reaches its culmination in the New Deal. As the politics of liberalism was one of progress, so the politics of economic liberalism is one of entitlements. What is most characteristic about the second wave of liberalism is the doctrine of social and economic rights. These are peculiarly associated with F.D.R. and his triumphs in the New Deal.
At several times in his Presidency, F.D.R. called for the addition of a second Bill of Rights to the Constitution. It was not clear that he actually wanted to add them formally, but he meant, informally, that we ought to think of them as a second Bill of Rights. These were rights to things like a job, a paid vacation from the job, health care, education, decent housing, and many of the other social and economic goods that have come to be commonly guaranteed by the government in American politics.
The old, traditionalist American constitutionalism and the old American statesmanship assumed that the most important category of rights was "natural" rights that we had by virtue of being human beings, rights that were given to us by "nature or nature's God." We had these rights from the beginning. The social contract that enabled us to form a political society did not confer on us any new rights. It was, in fact, our pre-existing right that enabled us to make our contract.
The purpose of that contract was to preserve those rights, to secure those rights to us. In the terms of the Declaration of Independence: "To secure these rights…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" that is the job of the government, not to give us new rights. Economic rights turns that around and makes the primary or more important kinds of rights that government is designed to secure rights that government itself gives to us, that we and government bargain for. These rights include all of the entitlement programs that we know today: Social Security, SSI, Medicare, and the many other kinds of federal entitlements that represent redistributions of wealth or income from some to others, from one generation to another generation.
The theory of these social and economic rights is quite radical. Explicitly, these rights do not replace the old rights life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, or the civil rights based on natural rights but, in effect, they really do. They begin to replace them because, today, Social Security is as integral a part of the American Constitution as the First Amendment. One would be as loathe attempting to repeal Social Security as one would be to attempt to repeal free speech or free assembly. In fact, one would probably be more loathe to speak out against entitlements than one would be to speak out against certain kinds of speech or assembly or religious rights.
The theory of the new rights is that the old rights do not make sense and that they are not worth anything until you have a certain economic and social equality granted to everyone and guaranteed by the government. It is all very well for you to have a right to property, but if you are too poor to own property, what use is that right to you? Therefore, the government must make sure that everyone has a sort of minimum of property or minimum of income in order for that right to be meaningful to people.
This is a very bad argument, but it turned out to be a very successful argument. It is somewhat analogous to saying, "What use is the right to worship if no one will build me a church? If the government would provide me with a church, then my right to worship might mean something. But until I get something like that a guarantee, a recognition from government of my right I do not really have a right that is worth anything." These kinds of rights really have transformed American politics. They have tended to drive other kinds of questions of justice out of our politics and to reduce a lot of it to a kind of lowest common denominator bargaining about what level of benefits or entitlements will be available in any given electoral cycle.
The other effect of these rights is peculiarly on the character of legislative power. The new rights drive the government to exercise more and more authority over private life and over civil society. Through the expansion of the commerce power and the various other constitutional impediments to excessive federal activity, national government becomes almost omnipresent, capable of regulating almost any aspect of private life or even of local and state governments.
At the same time, as the extent of legislative power has been vastly increased, in order to carry out these rights, the character of law has been degraded. Law has become increasingly regulatory or turned into mere regulations. It is left to the experts to determine the actual meaning of these vaguer and vaguer statutes that the Congress is satisfied with passing.
This is underpinned with an argument which says that just as the old rights are less important than the new social and economic rights, so the old kinds of elected representation are less important than representation through bureaucracy. What use is it to a poor person to have a right to vote? He is only one of 25 million Americans. It is more difficult for him to get to the polls; it is more difficult for him to read the newspaper, and so forth.
What really counts in representing the needs of the needy and the needy is all of us, but particularly, those of us who are not Republican are un-elected officials. You can go and complain in the Social Security office, or you can complain to your caseworker in the welfare office. You will get more action and be more effectively represented in that way than by writing 10 letters to your Congressman, if you are nobody and a needy person.
Thus, real representation does not any longer depend so much on elections. Real representation depends upon the bureaucrats. There has to be a lot of them; they have to be available and they have to be fair fair, that is, to the needy.
The final form of liberalism that has swept over us and changed our politics came to the fore in the 1960s. This is cultural liberalism or "lifestyle" liberalism. It preaches the politics of "meaning," to use Bill Clinton's term. There are two aspects to this form, to this wave of liberalism. The first was personal and sexual liberation, and the second was cultural or group empowerment. These two things which seem at odds actually end up working together.
One phase of cultural liberalism was the sexual revolution the emancipation of sex from love, from marriage, from responsibility, in the name of "doing your own thing," in the name of "victimless pleasures." This freed up everyone to pursue passion, without the restraints of reason or sense.
It turns out that freeing up everyone equally turns out to be bad for women, or to be disadvantageous for women. There is a kind of group reaction to this new liberation that goes along with it. Left to ourselves, individually, we turn out to be fairly weak creators of new lifestyles. We are stronger when we can feel ourselves to be a member of a group.
We are much more confident that our homosexuality is not deviant or problematic if there is a publicly recognizable, respectable organization of homosexuals out there that we can join and with whom we can become one. The personal liberation of the sixties feeds into the group consciousness that also comes out of the sixties. It turns out that, left to ourselves, our identities this thing we are supposed to be liberating is not complete. So, we have to join groups, identity groups. To use the lingo of today, identity rights now become very important in politics.
Identity rights mean everything from feminism and gay rights to the politics of affirmative action. Electorally, you really only count as a human being when you feel that you are part of your group, only when you identify with a legitimate group that will give you recognition. Hence, the watchwords of this new politics is not as with political liberalism the past versus the future, nor as with economic liberalism the poor versus the rich or the old rights versus the new rights.
In cultural liberalism the polarity is between values and morality. Values now becomes the great term of art and another new term has to be added to American politics. Personal freedom no longer means living up to the responsibilities found in making a living, raising a family, and protecting your property. Freedom now becomes the liberation of your inner self, the pursuit and the shaping of yourself by the choice of your values. Your values are relative, and they are completely open. You can make yourself into anything you want to be, because you get to choose your own values. You could even change your sex, if it does not correspond to the real you, the self that has been stuck with this body that does not correspond to what you are. You can change your body, in order to make it reflect your values.
It is this liberation of the will to make yourself whatever you want to be, arbitrarily and without any moral restraints, that turns out to be the consequence of the third kind of liberalism, the third wave of liberalism.
This is, perhaps, a more coherent account of this last wave than might be justified because its elements are somewhat discordant. Bill Clinton is sort of caught between them. On the one hand, he is the nation's greatest, living representative of the sexual revolution, but he is worried about offending women because sexual harassment is another achievement of this cultural liberation of the 1960s. As women have become more equal nominally it turns out that they still need protection from men, because their equality was not as complete as it had been perceived to be. Bill is caught between two aspects of the sexual revolution: "Do your own thing" and the feminist agenda.
There are great obstacles facing a revival of conservative statesmanship today. These are obstacles that affect conservatism in many ways, as deeply as they do liberalism. The libertarian side of the conservative movement has certainly drunk deep from the cultural liberalism of the 1960s, although it is opposed to the first two waves, or at least the second wave, of liberalism.
The traditionalist conservatives today, although they have certainly made many strides in opposing cultural liberalism, find themselves driven back, not to a defense of genuine, conservative morality, but to a kind of crude majoritarianism of the kind that flourished in this sort of primordial conservatism of the 1950s that has never disappeared from the conservative movement. In Ronald Reagan and Goldwater its last representatives this sort of simple-minded majoritarianism has never prevailed. They have always stood for a much more rounded and complete and healthy version of traditional, American constitutionalism.
The agenda that faces us is the restoration of conservative morality. One must take the measure of liberalism as an enemy before one can devise strategies to defeat it finally and fully if such a victory is possible. One of the great failures of conservative statesmanship today is to underestimate our enemy, to not see how deeply American politics and society have already been transformed by a century of liberalism, by three, powerful waves of liberalism that have not shattered the old Constitution but have submerged it and have broken off bits of it.
We need to recover our principles. And if we do that, we can use those principles to help shape the character of ourselves, of our children, and their children, and so lift up America's political soul.
We cannot make or cultivate, with any reliability, a Lincoln or a Churchill, but we can, at least, help to make the emergence of such a statesman more probable by recovering these principles, by teaching these principles, and by raising people in the light of these principles. These principles are not just intellectual things. In other words, they also have consequences for our character when we properly embrace them. On the most practical level, I would say only that conservatives Republicans need to remind themselves of just how important statesmanship is.
Strangely enough, the Democrats still do this. They still, at least in some quarters of the country, celebrate Jackson Day with political rallies. Republicans need to begin to celebrate Reagan Day and to remind themselves of the great achievements that Reagan managed and also of the virtues and the principles that he brought to the Presidency. Lincoln Day itself ought to be a much larger holiday, and by that I mean a kind of holy day for conservatives and for the Republican party. One can speak of Calvin Coolidge and of other Republicans who are worthy of remembrance, and from whom we can learn very much, indeed.
These things, in a way, are extremely mundane. These are very small suggestions, but they are emblematic of the rediscovery of the whole dimension the whole world of statesmanship and, hence, of the serious, conservative, and moral politics that conservatives need to embark on.