Seizing the Future
Much like the rest of the country, the conservative movement is going through a period of tectonic stress. Existing alliances have fragmented while new ones remain uncertain. Different strands of the movement question whether small government or social morals should be a part of the agenda or whether ‘conservative’ is even a valid term for articulating that agenda.
Despite the establishment image, conservatives have most often formed as a response to some radical leftist program, economic, social, or political, and found meaning in fighting back. The resistance, sometimes successful, as with the recent Dobbs decision, and all too often unsuccessful, has suffered from its nature as a defensive reaction to another leftist assault.
The time lag between one generation and the next, rising to fight the New Deal only to confront Communism, getting a handle on Communism only to confront the counterculture, grappling with the counterculture only to come up against identity politics, mass migration, Islamic terrorism, a renewed culture war and so much else has shown the weaknesses of that strategy.
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And yet the Dobbs decision also shows that retaining focus and fighting one issue for two generations can actually pay off. But that’s not a strategy likely to win over many conservatives who have become frustrated with a tortoise movement losing the race to a leftist hare.
Into that debate enters Scott McKay’s The Revivalist Manifesto. The longtime founder and publisher of The Hayride, whose journal of Louisiana politics is an invaluable resource, has entered the fray with his latest book. The Revivalist Manifesto speaks to the state of a political system dominated by agendas that are fundamentally out of touch with ordinary Americans.
Most Americans, McKay argues, believe that the country, its culture and its political system are failing. “Our recent elections are exercises in rejection,” he argues. “Barack Obama was elected as a rejection of old white guy leadership, mostly due to those wars and the economic mismanagement that brought on the 2008 financial crisis, then Donald Trump won as a rejection of the Washington status quo, then Joe Biden won as a rejection (if you’ll allow the point) of Trump.” The cycle of rejection and dissatisfaction is about more than just partisan politics.
Most Americans see a country that no longer works, not only politically, but nationally. Majorities have lost hope in the future and the ability of political parties, business leaders, religious figures, and just about anyone to solve the seemingly intractable problems that have come to define the country. Social decline, economic decline, and urban decline all go hand in hand.
What Americans are really saying is that life in the country no longer works.
As McKay puts it, “Nonsense reigns supreme in America. Everyone sees it, nobody is happy.”
The Revivalist Manifesto offers important history lessons of how we got here, the evolution of the conservative movement and the revolutionary places it needs to go next to fight that trend.
There’s no escaping the fact that conservative politics is broken, but McKay’s history lesson traces the ‘brokenness’ through the various formative and reformative battles of the movement. The MAGA clashes were only the most recent such micro-struggle that both defined and redefined just what the opposition to the Left would look like. The question though is whether the conservative movement can afford to be a reactive opposition to an insurgent Left.
Opposing a disaster is all too easy. And some in the movement have profited and expect to profit hugely from the sheer scale of the disaster that has unwound under Biden and the growing public outrage. And yet the GOP and the movements revolving around it are under pressure to come up with better answers than simply dissenting from the most radical extremes.
Especially as we have seen the way that passive dissent can become complicity, collaboration and then the search for yet another trending hill that is politically safer to pretend to die on.
“Revivalism offers a fresh start and a chance to stand with the American people against those elites who have foisted this dystopian 21st century upon us. Conservatism’s key mantra, the one William F. Buckley so famously offered of standing athwart history, yelling ‘Stop,’ is and has always been wrong. The project isn’t to stop history, it’s to grab it by the throat and bend it in the direction we want,” McKay argues in The Revivalist Manifesto.
If history could have been ‘stopped’ in 1955, most conservatives recognize that even if history could be stopped right now, as absurd a proposition as Obama’s contention that history was inevitably drawn toward some optimal endgame, it would hardly leave us with a country we want to live in.
Revivalism contains the familiar call for small government, but also for the return of community and a defense of American culture not just by condemning what is wrong, but by creating what is right. “Start locally and move up from there. Let’s write novels and plays. Let’s be funny again. Let’s never be canceled. And let’s show the world that freedom is a lot more fun than wokeness,” The Revivalist Manifesto urges.
McKay anticipates further shakedowns, incoming institutional and political crashes as the houses of cards constructed by elites crumble under the pressure. Revivalism, as he defines it, is as much about profiting from the disaster as constructing a conceptual agenda. The underlying fragility of institutional wokeness conceals rottenness under seeming strength.
Americans are rejecting the current system that does not serve them or work for them. Opposition often appears futile, but it becomes revolutionary as the old system gives way.
Carpe diem also means carpe futurum.
The Revivalist Manifesto offers both an extended recapitulation of the past, covering everything from Karl Marx to compassionate conservatism, along with a bracing look at what is to come. It shows that the shakedown events of the moment are not new and that history isn’t over.
It’s just getting started.
Article posted with permission from Daniel Greenfield