Issues analysis
The fault lines of conservatism: finding a new unity
A brief history of conservatism, Part 18
Fred Hutchison, RenewAmerica analyst
April 23, 2009

We have traveled a long way through the history of conservatism and are nearing the end of the story. It is 2009, and I am doing post mortems of the disastrous election year of 2008.

After my post mortems, we shall consider the present crisis in conservatism. I hope to find some remedies from what we have learned from our study of the five kinds of conservatism in history. The old conservative fusionist movement has shattered. We must now seek new grounds for conservative unity.

We shall consider the fault lines and rifts between the five historic kinds of conservatism. We shall also consider the natural harmonies that have historically tended to unite the five kinds of conservatism.

Toward the end of the essay, I shall discuss potential new combinations of conservatives for a fresh new conservative political alliance. I shall also discuss the two new kinds of leaders that the conservative movement will need.

I anticipate that this essay will be the last in the series titled A Brief History of Conservatism. The 18 essays are being converted to 18 chapters for a new book.

Post mortems

From a conservative's point of view, there were three disastrous elections in the past century. The first was the election of 1932, resulting in Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal" programs. The second was 1964, leading to Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" programs. The third and most disastrous election was 2008, quickly followed by Barack Obama's "great leap forward" toward socialism and national bankruptcy.

Obama's election mandate and the domination of Congress by liberal Democrats seem to betoken that the triumph of a morally and intellectually bankrupt postmodernism is near. Historically, the sudden advance of a depraved evil sometimes is soon followed by its own precipitous collapse. On the other hand, the ascent of evil sometimes opens the door to new evils. Let us hope and pray for the first and prepare for the second.

As is obvious from the last essay, modernism, hyper-modernism, and postmodernism embody everything that a principled conservative abhors. The only good news here is that ascendant modernism might provide a rallying point to unite the five camps of conservatism in a common battle. The conservative movement is now seriously divided, and such a unification is badly needed

'More conservative than thou'

Going back to 2007, it appeared that 2008 was going to be a good year for conservatives. The 2007 Iowa Straw Poll was a beauty contest for conservatives. Amazingly, eleven conservative Republican candidates came to the straw poll!

None of the moderate Republican candidates showed up! I don't blame them. It would have been embarrassing for them to appear at this festival of conservatism.

The straw poll was a contest to see who was the most conservative. "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most conservative one of all?" During the speeches each candidate tried to convince the crowd that he was more conservative all than the other candidates. In essence, each candidate said to the other candidates, "I am more conservative than thou."

During the straw poll, I thought I was in a paradise for conservatives. As I strolled the grounds of the straw poll event, the carnival of happy conservative hoopla spread out before me as far as the eye could see.

My feeling of being in conservative paradise took another leap upwards when I became a Policy Advisor to the presidential campaign of Alan Keyes, who seemed to be the ultimate conservative. Keyes told TV reporters. "I am the only complete conservative in the race." He would have fit in perfectly at the "more conservative than thou" straw poll, but was not yet a candidate at the time.

Civil war among conservatives

After the presidential primaries started in 2008, the tide turned and gradually began to look like a hell for conservatives. I felt I was going from a 2007 paradise for conservatives to a 2008 hell for conservatives. 2008 was the annus terribilis (the dreadful year). The annus terribilis is the story of a tragic division among conservatives. Let us consider a few of the causes of this division.

Conservative energy, zeal, finances, and organizational skills were scattered and dissipated by being spread among too many Republican primary candidates.

As conservatives fought hard against other conservatives, many painful divisions opened up in the conservative movement. Dirty tricks were used to keep media-labeled "minor" candidates out of the debates and off television. Competing factions formed within particular campaigns.

It was a civil war for conservatives! The good guys were fighting the good guys! Fine conservatives were stabbed in the back. What fifty years of the conservative fusion movement had built was now in ruins and ashes!

There is no escape from the depravity of man in this fallen world! Such escape is not to be found even in the company of the best of men. This perishing world is not, and cannot be a paradise, not even a paradise for conservatives. I should have known better.

The conservatives killed each other off. As the ground was littered with conservative bodies, there was one man left standing. It was John McCain, a moderate, whom we had all left for dead — that is to say, politically dead. I dubbed McCain the man with nine lives.

One reason why McCain lost the general election in November was that his team was divided, while Obama's team was united. The man with nine lives could not survive the fatal divisions within his own team.

The denouement

The denouement of the annus terribilitis finally came around. The proud "I am more conservative than thou" syndrome, which I was as much caught up in as anyone, led to the election of the most liberal president in American history.

The moral of the story is that when conservatives are divided, moderates will dominate the Republican Party, and Democrats will win the general elections. However, judging from the legions of enthusiastic conservatives at the Iowa Straw Poll, if conservatives could be united once more and all of them could get behind one candidate, that candidate would be hard to beat by a Republican moderate in the primaries or by a Democrat in the general election.

Causes of conservative division

There were four causes of conservative division this last election:

1) There was now no natural national leader of American conservatives. Reagan and Buckley were dead. Some of the second tier of leaders were weak. Second-tier conservative leaders of the 80's and 90's had died or retired without being replaced with men of commensurate maturity, talent, competence, or moral authority.

2) The internecine divisions among conservatives were caused by a disturbing lack of grown-ups in the conservative movement. A quotation from the Apostle Paul illuminates the problem:

"I appeal to you brothers...that there might be no divisions among you....there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this, one of you says, 'I follow Paul,' another 'I follow Apollos,' another 'I follow Cephas,' still another, 'I follow Christ'....Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual, but as worldly — as infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it....You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?" (excerpts: 1 Corinthians chapters 1-3)

An emotionally immature and unprincipled man with inordinate personal ambition might be politically motivated to become someone great — instead being driven by a desire to serve his country and be a blessing to the commonweal. The inordinately ambitious man might be lured into destructive factions. In the spirit of faction and selfish ambition, a ruthless conservative might stab other conservatives in the back. Caesar was not stabbed by his enemies, but by his friends. Such betrayals begin with the clash of egos and the competition of swollen personal ambitions — as we saw this last election.

More Christian ministries and conservative political organizations have been ruined by the inordinate personal ambitions and the proud rivalries of leaders than from any other cause.

3) Among conservatives, there appeared to be a falling away from conservative principles or a failure to teach them to the emerging generation. Among Christians, there has been a general falling away from biblical principles — or so it seems to me. I am not just talking about the theological liberals. I am also talking about the falling away of some of those who fairly recently professed to be doctrinally conservative. I shall address the catastrophic spread of the "emerging church" in a separate essay and the role it has played in drawing Evangelicals away from sound doctrine.

It is my hope that A Brief History of Conservatism will play a role in calling conservatives and Christians back to the historical principles and truths that made our nation and our civilization great.

It has been reported that a surprising number of Evangelicals voted for Obama. We are told by some sources that certain Evangelicals today are rebelling against their former commitment to conservative politics. If this be true, I attribute it to an increase of worldliness among Christians, and a corresponding decline in doctrinal orthodoxy.

Essay # 16 of this series demonstrated the general compatibility, if not the perfect fit, of doctrinal orthodoxy with political conservative philosophy. We also learned in that essay that doctrinal orthodoxy is radically incompatible with modernism, such as the modernism of Barack Obama. Obviously, many Evangelicals have become so fuzzy on matters of doctrine that they cannot recognize this incompatibility.

Many of the drifting Evangelicals who withdrew their support from conservative candidates were disingenuous in their rationalizations. In many cases, they withdrew their support of conservatives in order to back liberals. I happen to think that they have been seduced by the spirit of this age — that is to say, the spirit of modernism.

Are we to conclude that an apostate church of the near future will fawn over the false political messiahs of modernism? Or, has the time come for another reformation — this time a reformation of Evangelicalism?

4) Some of the natural fault lines among the five kinds of conservatives had opened up into schisms. Later in this essay, we shall consider how the schisms and rifts can be healed. We shall also consider how we can take advantage of the natural harmonies that tend to unite the five kinds of conservatism. The original goal of this series of essays was to unite the five kinds of conservatives so that they will listen to each other, learn from each other, and work with each other.

Now, let us set our sad post mortems aside and get on with the business of seeking ways of rebuilding the conservative movement. First, let us look at the rise and fall of conservative fusionism, so as to find some clues about the way forward.

The rise of fusionism

In part 13, we considered the rise of conservative "fusionism" that was engineered by the late, William F. Buckley Jr. and his team in the late 50's and early 60's. Traditionalists, libertarians, and anti-communists were fused together in a strong, conservative alliance. Traditionalists and libertarians in that day were fiercely anticommunist, so they were willing to join hands to fight the communist menace. The enduring communist menace, and the fact that both traditionalists and libertarians read Buckley's National Review, held the conservative fusion movement together for thirty years.

Buckley invited intellectual Catholics who were well-versed in metaphysics and the literary classicists to write columns for National Review. These writers provided a badly needed intellectual booster shot for the conservative movement. Buckley, a Roman Catholic, began the slow process of weaning Catholics away from the Democratic Party. His efforts laid the ground for the political defection of perhaps half the conservative Catholics when Ronald Reagan ran for president.

Ronald Reagan was essentially a fusionist. His winning coalition consisted of traditionists, libertarians, and anticommunists in fusion, plus Evangelicals, plus half the conservative Catholics. Can a coalition like that be assembled once again? Yes — if we change the formula.

The first thing we must do is stop thinking and talking in terms of "more conservative than thou." It makes no sense for a traditionalist to say to a natural law conservative, "I am more conservative than thou," or for a libertarian to say to a neo-conservative "I am more conservative than thou." The spirit of fusionism says, "I need you precisely because you are a different kind of conservative, and because you have special insights, knowledge, and talents that I lack."

I say this as a sadder but wiser man, because in 2007 I was infatuated with the idea of "more conservative than thou." Now, my dream is to unite the five historic kinds of conservatism. Paradoxically, selective exclusion comes before inclusion and unity.

Cranks need not apply

Unity requires a measure of exclusion. Buckley had the moral courage and wisdom to bar certain kinds of questionable people from the fusionist movement — such as conspiracy theorists, nativists, the hegelian right, bombastic loose cannons, and uncivilized paleoconservatives, while hanging on to civilized ones.

Some of the rejected cranks held a lasting grudge against fusionism. I know a man who is active in right-wing splinter parties who calls Buckley a "Trotskyite." This old lie comes from the frustrated bitterness of the excluded cranks. I know a confused and unteachable young man who is forever running for Congress and who called John McCain a "communist." He has munched on too much of the loco weed of crank literature.

Buckley's fusion movement was spared from the kind of divisive cranks that now bedevil the conservative movement. We have no one like Buckley today who has the moral authority to bar the door against the cranks. Buckley understood that in order to unite the wholesome streams of historical conservatism, it is necessary to selectively exclude the pathological mutations of conservatism. True unity requires a measure of exclusivity. Heaven will be united at the cost of casting some into hell.

Interestingly, Buckley saw promise in an ideological subgroup that other conservatives did not. Buckley decided that the libertarians shall be included in the conservative movement. Buckley's father was a friend of libertarian Alan Jay Nock. As a young man, Buckley conversed with libertarian writers and read their works. His pet project was to reclaim libertarianism and make it part of the conservative movement.

The reclamation of libertarians

Buckley reclaimed and redeemed the libertarian movement and made it fit for inclusion in the conservative movement.

Libertarianism started as classical liberalism, which had one foot in the conservative past and one foot in early modernism. Natural law philosophy was that part of classical liberalism which came from the premodern past. As such, it was rich in metaphysical rationality and morality. The remaining two elements of classical liberalism were classical economics and individualistic pragmatism. These two elements came into being during the early modern era and, thus, were anemic in metaphysical content. Ben Franklin's "enlightened self interest" is a perfect example of that kind of individualistic pragmatism. Franklin's philosophy was shrewd and effective, but shallow and void of metaphysics.

For a time, the rich metaphysics of natural law philosophy adequately compensated for the metaphysical deficit of classical economics and individualistic pragmatism. Laissez-faire capitalism need not revert to a state of nature, as it did at the time of the robber barons, if men remain moral, rational, and socially responsible through the influence of natural law philosophy and Christianity. Individualistic pragmatists need not become narcissists or disorderly barbarians, if they are Christians or students of natural law.

Natural law is no substitute for divine grace in setting men free from the power of sin, of course. However, if common decency, social civility, public integrity, and good citizenship are what we are seeking, natural law philosophy is up to the task.

In the course of time, classical liberalism transmogrified into libertarianism. Natural law was retained by libertarians when personal rights were spoken of. It was rejected when moral laws and personal duties were addressed. This why 20th century libertarianism became prone to metaphysical anemia, moral relativism, and untamed atomistic individualism.

Buckley cleverly placed libertarian columns side by side with columns by natural law philosophers in his magazine. In this way, the libertarians were regularly exposed to a robust metaphysics of just the kind they needed. Under Buckley's tutelage, libertarians revived from their metaphysical anemia for a while. They were ready for fusion with traditionalists and anticommunists and to become a valuable part of the conservative movement.

As we criticize libertarianism for its tendency toward metaphysical anemia and its corresponding moral and intellectual shallowness, it behooves us to remember that no one loves liberty more than libertarians. As the statist threat to liberty grows more ominous, the libertarian's zeal for liberty grows all the more passionate. The other four kinds of conservatives are well advised to listen when libertarians wax eloquent about their love of liberty.

The disintegration of fusionism

The sexual revolution had a terrible effect on libertarians. Some of my young libertarian friends became morally decadent. Their desire to rationalize immorality sent some of them back into metaphysical famine and to the dark forest of moral relativism. Evangelicals became uneasy about working with libertarians because they suspected them of being libertines.

The collapse of the Soviet Union represented both the triumph of fusionism and the death blow of fusionism. Anticommunism was the glue that held libertarians and traditionalists together in an effective conservative fusion movement. After that glue disappeared, the old conservative fusion began to fall apart.

The aging and fading of the two master fusionists, Ronald Reagan and William F. Buckley Jr., left the remaining fusionists leaderless and divided. The libertarians, left to their own devices, became increasingly annoyed with the staid traditionalist conservatives and the morally judgmental Christian conservatives. Therefore, many seceded from the fusion movement.

Libertarians became increasingly known for their crankish third party bids. This tendency culminated in the crankish and divisive campaign of Ron Paul for the Republican nomination. Ron Paul sides with the liberals on culture war issues. He also sides with liberals in matters of homeland security and the war against terrorism. Some of his followers subscribe to nutty conspiracy theories that demonize neo-conservatives. Thus, many libertarians who once walked in the light of the conservative fusion movement have gone over to "the dark side of the force." Metaphysical shallowness makes people vulnerable to out-of-kilter ideas. I became aware of this when I studied how theological shallowness or doctrinal slackness among Christians opens the door to heresy.

The story has a bright side. During the 30 years of the old fusion movement, traditionalists learned about classical economics from the libertarians and learned how to debunk the claims of the creeping socialists. Therefore, they did not need the libertarians as badly in 1990 as they did in 1960. Some of the libertarians might yet return to the conservative movement, when they realize that the conservatives still believe in classical economics, while the moderates and liberals reject it.

The core that failed

A lasting fusion movement must be harmonious at the core. I recall tension between traditionalists and libertarians during the heyday of fusionism. Buckley was right to include the libertarians in the conservative movement, but was wrong to make them co-equal with traditionalists at the very core of the fusion movement. He should have included the libertarians at the periphery and not the core of the movement.

Only when the libertarians return to classical liberalism on the model of the founding fathers can they be trusted once more as core members of the conservative movement.

For this to happen, we first need a renaissance in natural law philosophy. When this happens, I assume that many of our libertarian friends will become classical liberals. In that day, the attention deficit disorder of libertarians without boundaries will hopefully be cured. Then, as grown-up classical liberals, they will hopefully have the self-discipline, temperance, and gravitas of conservative maturity. That is when we can look to them for conservative leadership once more.

Bring back men like the founders

This Republic was founded under the steady hand of classical liberals. Now that the ship of state is in danger of foundering on the rocks of modernism, we need men like the founding fathers once more. In short, we need mature classical liberals. When I look at libertarians, I wistfully see the classical liberals that they might have been.

Through some combination of hatred for metaphysics and hatred of moral laws, libertarians have cast off essential natural law principles and have failed to grow up into classical liberals. As a result, they are falling short of what the Republic needs from them in this hour of her great need.

Time is short. We need millions of libertarians to embrace natural law and become classical liberals. That is how we can bring back men like the founders to save the Republic. Until then, we need to find a different core for a new fusionism.

A new core

I propose that Christian conservatism and traditionist conservatism become the new core of a new fusionism. After all, these two groups command the largest number of conservative voters. These are the two most robust and resilient forms of conservatism in America. The grassroots mainstream of American conservatism consists mostly of traditionalist conservatives and Christian conservatives.

The other three kinds of conservatives are too dependent on their leaders, intellectuals, and writers to recruit and sustain large masses of ordinary people in the grassroots. In contrast, Christian and traditionalist conservatism can carry on for generations among ordinary people in the grassroots without much leadership and without the help of intellectuals. These two core kinds of conservatism are naturally passed on to successive generations. The other three schools of conservatism, it seems, must start from scratch in winning recruits from each new generation.

Christians and traditionalists can bond together to form the conservative core because they have natural affinities. I started as a traditionalist conservative in my teen years. At age 21, my faith in Christ was suddenly, unexpectedly, and supernaturally awakened when I was on my "road to Damascus."

After I found my sea legs as a Christian, I found that my new faith generally enhanced, deepened, and vivified my old conservatism. I never felt that my conservatism seriously contradicted my faith — except for a few problematic issues and several minor points of tension.

Christians look back to the scriptures and the creeds, while traditionalists look back to the moral and intellectual signposts of the Western cultural heritage. Many of the old signposts were the work of Christians. When I embarked upon my first extensive exploration of European history, I was delighted to discover that the further I went back in time, the more Christian the culture became.

An ancient fusion

The fusion of Christianity and classicism was the native formulation of European culture. Charlemagne's scholars (800 A.D.) laid the foundation for this synthesis. From 1050 to 1750, the synthesis dominated European culture. It was the most successful and fruitful fusion movement of all time.

Traditionalist conservatism often includes literary traditionalism and classicism. A return to the Christian/classical fusion will feel like "going home" to people of European heritage. In a cultural sense, it brings us back to who we are in our heart of hearts. If the saying "we are who we were" is true, we are well advised to return to the cultural fusion of our ancestors. As a culture, we have wandered far from this lovely heritage that God gave to our forefathers — and we have forgotten who we are.

Grassroots conservatism

Grassroots conservatism is mostly Christian conservatism and traditionalist conservatism. One of the weaknesses of these two principal kinds of American conservatism is the failure to produce enough home-grown grassroots men and women who have the breadth of knowledge and depth of understanding to educate, train, and equip other grassroots conservatives.

That is precisely why grassroots conservatives are indebted to the other three schools of conservatism that each has a surplus of intellectuals. There are a lot of deep thinkers on the periphery of American conservatism — namely libertarians, neo-conservatives, and natural law philosophers — but there is a deficit of deep thinkers in the grassroots core, namely the traditionalists and Christian conservatives. Some Evangelicals are anti-intellectual. That a good way to lose the culture war, of course.

The process of grassroots conservatives reaching out to other kinds of conservatives for an intellectual booster shot has already begun. For example, grassroots Evangelicals have started to learn natural law philosophy and metaphysics from Catholic intellectuals. Evangelical culture war warriors are beginning to use natural law arguments against abortion and against the gay agenda. We are beginning to turn to the Weekly Standard, the neo-con flagship magazine, for facts and arguments to support the war on terrorism. For forty years, grassroots traditionalists have been learning about the virtues of free enterprise and the vices of socialism from libertarian writers.

A new leadership

A new kind of leadership is needed to serve the conservative core in the grassroots. While meeting the needs of the core, the leaders should make use of the knowledge and talents of the libertarians, neo-conservatives, and natural law philosophers. Two new kinds of leaders are needed:

1) New think-tank leaders. Such leaders would recruit literary, research, and philosophical talent from all five kinds of conservatives. Their first objective would be to educate and equip the conservative grassroots leaders and build a national network with them. The local leaders would do the real work of educating and training conservative foot soldiers and leading them in activist projects.

Their second objective would be to launch extensive conversations between deep thinkers from each of the five kinds of conservative. The idea is for conservatives to learn how to talk to each other, to learn from each other, to learn how to work together, and to learn how to unite and harmonize the conservative movement.

Every major cultural change in European history began with intense conversations by a small number of intelligent persons. Ideally, the intense conversations of the five kinds of conservative at the think tanks would be replicated among students at college campuses and in the grassroots neighborhoods.

The new think tanks might facilitate grassroots activism by issuing guides, such as "how to run a tea party" ("tea" = "taxed enough already").

However, since the conservative mainstream live in suburbia, exurbia, rural, main street, and small town America, most activism should well up from the grassroots. The kind of divisions that have vexed the top-down conservative leaders tend not be as serious in the grassroots. Grassroots America has a strong tradition of local civic and volunteer organizations. Rich experience from such organizations mitigates against divisiveness.

2) Local grassroots leaders who assume responsibility for educating other local conservatives and training, organizing, and equipping them for action. The need for education in conservative principles is especially needed at the grassroots level. Grassroots conservatives have an admirable bias for action and a pitiful bias against sitting down with a book. Therefore, top priority should first be given to educating the grassroots folk in sound conservative principles.

A massive education in the European Christian/classical heritage is needed. The education must start in the new think tanks. It then can be transmitted to grassroots leaders. These leaders have the task of educating grassroots Christian conservatives and traditionalist conservatives in the Western heritage. It is not enough to hand them books. Some of the grassroots folks do not read books. Teaching sessions followed by discussion groups are needed.

Being vs. becoming

The metaphysical formula should be: being first and then doing. Doing flows from being, and not vice versa. The education and formation of conservatives comes before conservative activism. And please, let there be no more young "conservatives" running for office who do not understand even the basic principles of conservatism.

It is time for Americans to scrap the Great Gatsby idea of becoming — that we become through doing. Gatsby supposed that he had become part of the patrician elite by the money he had made, the clothes he wore, the house he lived in, and the parties he threw, but all he had was a strut and a pose. No one was fooled by the pose except himself.

Many allegedly conservative office holders offer us the semblance of being a conservative, but it is an empty pose. In many cases, they've risen to the top through tireless campaigning and sloganeering without ever deeply pondering conservative principles in their minds and hearts.

The conservative meltdown of 2008 becomes completely understandable when we consider some of the so called "conservatives" that we have elected to represent us. The conservative core in the grassroots were not well enough educated in conservative principles to differentiate between the pose of conservatism and the living reality of the conservative mind and heart.

A new glue

Although Christianity and traditionalism have strong natural affinities, there are also tensions between them. There is a sense in which the grace of God sets us free from bondage to tradition. There is also a sense in which traditionalism can resist faith and grace. This is doubly true when traditionalism which is combined with legalism. These important and difficult questions are outside the scope of this essay. Suffice it to say, a fusion of Christian conservatism and traditionalist conservatism will require a new glue.

The glue of the old fusion movement was anticommunism, strong leadership, and good writers in Buckley's magazine. I propose that the new glue of the new fusion movement be: a) the united opposition to modernism and b) natural law philosophy.

The case for uniting conservatives against the three waves of modernism was made in the last essay. To this end, the core members of the new fusion must learn to rely upon neo-conservatives for guidance about the nature and tactics of the three kinds of modernists. If a Christian-traditionalist leader of the new fusion emerges, he would be well advised to recruit a neo-conservative intellectual as a senior advisor about the three waves of modernism.

Natural law and tradition

Nothing ameliorates the tension between Christian and traditionalist conservatism as well as natural law philosophy. This is because natural law principles are compatible with both kinds of conservatism.

For example, God created man and designed man. Thus, human nature prior to the fall of Adam was determined by that design. Nature law philosophers can discover that design through reason. When sinful men violate that design, they violate their own true nature and sin against God. When men are virtuous according to natural law, they are true to themselves and honor God.

Traditional wisdom is filled with lessons about what is good and bad for man. To a remarkable degree, these lessons correspond with natural law principles. For example, English common law as complied in Blackstone's commentaries was a masterpiece of traditional wisdom. The commentaries were greatly prized by Bolingbroke, Montesquieu, and Madison, who were steeped in natural law theory.

One of the great discoveries of the American founders was that traditionalist wisdom is generally in accord with natural law. Accumulated experience validates the truths of natural law. Englishmen of the eighteenth century did not take risky actions contrary to the lessons of experience, no matter how good the theory sounded. They do not start revolutions without solid ground to stand upon.

As grandsons and great grandsons of Englishmen, the founding fathers were much the same. They were not prepared to found a new nation based on untested theory. Therefore, they did not trust natural law theory until they had validated it with the wisdom of experience. The natural harmony between classical law and traditionalist wisdom made possible the birth of the American Republic.

The magical glue of natural law

Just as natural law has natural affinities with traditionalism and natural affinities with Christian conservatism, it is a natural glue to hold these two together. The two-part core of the conservative movement will be glued together with natural law.

Neo-conservatism, the right wing of the conservative movement, will be glued on with natural law. Libertarianism, the left wing of the movement, will also be glued on with natural law.

Why would natural law appeal to neo-conservatives? Neo-conservatism began when the young Robert Maynard Hutchins studied the metaphysics of Thomism. Thomas Aquinas is the father of natural law as a comprehensive philosophy. Therefore, natural law philosophy is welcome in the metaphysics-rich atmosphere of neo-conservatism.

Why would natural law appeal to libertarians? Because it is the missing piece of their innate classical liberalism, and libertarians have a secret hunger for natural law ideas. Only through natural law can libertarians return to being the classical liberals they were meant to be.

Evangelicals and Catholics together in the culture war

I am not a supporter of the ecumenical movement, including the well publicized "Evangelicals and Catholics together" conclaves. I feel that ecumenicalism is modernism in a Christian wrapper. Almost every step forward in ecumenicism is a step backwards for truth.

However, I propose a conservative political league of Evangelicals and conservative Catholics to fight the culture war. The glue enabling them to work together shall be natural law philosophy.

Some of the most effective proponents of the conservative position on culture war issues are natural law thinkers. Whether it be abortion, homosexuality, sexual fidelity, stem cells, or euthanasia, natural law writers make some of the most effective arguments I have heard. Many of the best natural law philosophers are Catholics.

These are issues that conservative Catholics and Evangelicals care deeply about. Evangelicals supply the majority of the foot soldiers for the culture war, and Catholics furnish us with the majority of the world-class natural law philosophers.

If natural law philosophy is the magical glue that holds the new conservative fusion together, Evangelicals will be well advised to enlist the distinguished graduates of Catholic universities — who have taken advanced classes in natural law philosophy. However, it should relieve the minds of Evangelicals to know that this can be done while shunning the Evangelical-Catholic ecumenical conclaves.

Catholics and Evangelicals in the American army fought well together against the Nazis and the Japanese — without an ecumenical thought in their heads. They can also fight the culture war together without the distraction and the time-wasting dead-end road of ecumenicism.

Conservatives and liberals in dialog

I am trilingual. I can give a speech in traditionalist lingo and Christian lingo. I can also speak to the crowd in natural law. I have learned by experience that if I speak to liberals in traditionalist or Christian language, they will not tolerate it, but they will accept a speech clothed in natural law words and concepts. They may not like it, but will respect it.

Last fall, I gave a speech to a crowd of conservatives and liberals in Vermont. All the conservatives were sitting to the right of the isle. All the liberals were sitting to the left of the isle. My speech was filled with legal and constitutional precepts and telling facts. During the question and answer period, I switched to natural law language.

Both conservatives and liberals were eager to participate. The liberals gamely tried to air their arguments in a natural law context. I did not think their arguments were successful, but their smiles indicated that they thought they were holding their own. When I listened to the DVD later, I did not think they had anything to smile about except that they came to the table and participated in a valid conversation.

When a liberal made an interesting point, I forbade the conservatives from chiming in too fast. I carefully recapped the liberals' argument, explained why it was an interesting point, and finally explained how the idea was ultimately false. Although liberals often throw a fit when you contradict them, these liberals were still smiling. I had bypassed their pinched ideologies and had addressed their rational faculties.

When the liberals were really clever, I let the crowd in on their cleverness — before I exposed their underlying fallacies. These particular liberals seemed to care more about being recognized for their cleverness than being right. We compromised. I let them win at being clever and they let me win at being right. No one directly contested the two major propositions of my speech. A distinguished liberal professor praised me for being a "strong speaker."

The magic of natural law can bypass ideological knots and go straight to the higher faculties of reason.


In essay #1, I made the point that conservatism is ancient and is to a large extent responsible for the cultural flourishing of the West. I also said that liberalism is modern and is to a large extent responsible for the cultural decline of the West. If our journey through history with the five kinds of conservatism spanning 18 essays was successful in its intent, the reader will now probably accept these two propositions.

The decay of Western culture is far advanced and a rebuilding of the shattered conservative movement is desperately needed. I have suggested a way to do it in this essay.

Some readers of these 18 essays might have realized for the first time which of the five kinds of conservative is their kind of conservatism. Others may have noticed the kind of conservative they want to become. I recommend that they make a study of their favorite kind of conservatism and read the important books written by noted authors in that stream of conservatism. The glory of conservatism is that we can stand on the shoulders of the giants who went before us.

Those who are well established in their own school of conservatism might consider making a study of the other four schools. Such ones might be effective at educating grassroots conservatives. They might be effective in reaching out to other kinds of conservatives, to the end that we learn to communicate with each other, learn from each other, and work with each other. Then we will be ready to get busy to restore the Republic to the glorious destiny that the great architect of the universe has chosen for us.

Reflections on the mysteries of Divine Providence

Ultimately, the rise and fall of a great superpower like America is in the hands of God. But who knows whether God might call for one last revival of the Republic before the end of the age? If so, he will work through people to do it.

Although our sins and follies are great, there might well be enough time to repent and turn things around before His mighty judgments fall on us.

The puritan fathers established the Massachusetts Bay Colony to be a Christian Republic. As such, it was to be a "city set on a hill," and a light and example to the nations of the world. For all we know, this may yet be the destiny of the American Republic.

As we near the end of the age when the lights go out and darkness descends upon the earth, perhaps it will be within God's purposes to preserve one place on earth where the light of the world and the light of truth are still shining. It is not impossible that the American Republic will be that place.

However, the greatest spiritual revival this nation has ever seen must yet come before that can happen. In this day of general apostasy, when even the Evangelicals seldom talk about sin, repentance, or the cross of Christ, and talk even less of judgment and hell, the churches must be turned upside down and transformed into the oracles of God's truth and righteousness once more. A great wave of deep repentance by worldly Christians is long overdue.

Standing on the shoulders of giants

American conservatives can still be used by God to rebuild the Republic. In spite of the conservative meltdown of 2008, conservatives have a great treasure house of riches — the treasury of wisdom from the past. We have a splendid history, a storehouse of great principles of truth, sterling examples set by great men, and venerable wisdom to build with. We can win the great battle against a deeply entrenched modernism, if and only if we are humble enough and wise enough to stand on the shoulders of the giants who have gone before us.

A message from Stephen Stone, President, RenewAmerica

I first became acquainted with Fred Hutchison in December 2003, when he contacted me about an article he was interested in writing for RenewAmerica about Alan Keyes. From that auspicious moment until God took him a little more than six years later, we published over 200 of Fred's incomparable essays — usually on some vital aspect of the modern "culture war," written with wit and disarming logic from Fred's brilliant perspective of history, philosophy, science, and scripture.

It was obvious to me from the beginning that Fred was in a class by himself among American conservative writers, and I was honored to feature his insights at RA.

I greatly miss Fred, who died of a brain tumor on August 10, 2010. What a gentle — yet profoundly powerful — voice of reason and godly truth! I'm delighted to see his remarkable essays on the history of conservatism brought together in a masterfully-edited volume by Julie Klusty. Restoring History is a wonderful tribute to a truly great man.

The book is available at

© Fred Hutchison

RenewAmerica analyst Fred Hutchison also writes a column for RenewAmerica.


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. —Isaiah 40:31