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HAMMER: The ‘National Conservatism Conference’ Is 2019’s Most Important Intellectual Gathering

In the aftermath of the election of nationalist/populist Donald Trump as President of the United States, the American conservative movement and Republican Party alike have been forced to confront the realities of a fundamentally transformed intellectual and political landscape. As such, we conservatives have been internally grappling with many profound questions.

What is the continuing intellectual vitality of the founding ethos of the modern, Cold War-era conservative movement — the “Fusionism” between laissez-faire neoliberalism and traditional moral conservatism, as best personified by William F. Buckley, Jr. and National Review? What is the continuing political and pragmatic vitality of Reaganism’s “three-legged stool” of laissez-faire, social conservatism, and anti-Communist (subsequently rebirthed as anti-Islamist) hawkishness? To what extent should conservatives — and, indeed, partisan Republicans — consider “Fusionism”/Reaganism to be a “dead consensus” that is intellectually and politically worth discarding as an atavistic remnant of a bygone era? To what extent should conservatives and Republicans rededicate themselves to the experience- and wisdom-centric insights of Edmund Burke and cease fealty to the rationalist, Lockean natural rights principles that undergirded Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence? Is the free market best viewed as an intrinsically moral good for which conservatives ought to brook minimal deviation, or as a purely instrumental means that may (or may not) assist the achievement of philosophically loftier ends — justice, greatness, and Aristotelian human flourishing? Is classical liberalism capable of forming a philosophical backbone for a durable political coalition, or is something else needed to congeal solidarity and wield fortified social capital against an emboldened and hegemonic cultural Left?

These are but some of the probing queries that the election of Trump — to say nothing of similar movements all across the globe, such as Britain’s 2016 “Brexit” vote and the elections of nationalist figures as far as Hungary and Brazil — has necessitated. In January, Tucker Carlson issued a clarion on-air populist call to action heard ’round the world — Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro responded in generally critical fashion, and I offered a compromise of sorts wherein conservatives “channel their ‘virtuous’ fealty to nationalism and promote policies that galvanize a moral spark for a disaggregated citizenry that begin to heal the wounds of our bitterly fractious politics” so long “as we do so without throwing the free enterprise baby out with the surrounding bathwater.” These tensions within the broader right-of-center political and intellectual tent have only been accentuated by the recent intramural skirmish between conservative intellectuals Sohrab Ahmari and David French — an extended dialogue that has been somewhat disjointedly focused on an amalgamation of nationalism versus classical liberalism, Trumpism versus Reaganism, political means/ends justifications, substance versus procedure, and brashness versus civility. Here at The Daily Wire, I offered multiple nuanced defenses of the thrust of Ahmari’s more nationalistic and overtly moralistic prescription for the present intellectual moment on the Right.

Now, an exciting intellectual confab that promises to explore these themes in greater detail will be held next month in Washington, D.C. The “National Conservatism Conference,” organized by the Edmund Burke Foundation and its leaders Yoram Hazony and David Brog, will be held from July 14-16 in the nation’s capital. Keynote speakers include U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton, Tucker Carlson, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), and entrepreneur Peter Thiel. The Conference describes its role, in relevant part, as follows:

The return of nationalism has created a much-discussed “crisis of conservatism” that may be unprecedented since modern Anglo-American conservatism was formulated by Russell Kirk, William Buckley, and their colleagues in the 1950s. At the heart of this crisis is a question: Is the new American and British nationalism a hostile usurper that has arrived on the scene to displace political conservatism? Or is nationalism an essential, if neglected, part of the Anglo-American conservative tradition at its best?

The conference on “National Conservatism” will bring together public figures, journalists, scholars, and students who understand that the past and future of conservatism are inextricably tied to the idea of the nation, to the principle of national independence, and to the revival of the unique national traditions that alone have the power to bind a people together and bring about their flourishing.

We see this public conference as the kick off for a protracted effort to recover and reconsolidate the rich tradition of national conservative thought as an intellectually serious alternative to the excesses of purist libertarianism, and in stark opposition to political theories grounded in race. Our aim is to solidify and energize national conservatives, offering them a much-needed institutional base, substantial ideas in the areas of public policy, political theory, and economics, and an extensive support network across the country.

I am very excited for this gathering, and will be covering the Conference for The Daily Wire. It is my hope that committed activists and those who have given thought to the nature of the intellectual and political moment on the Right will consider registering to attend.

In anticipation of the Conference, I have collected exclusive statements from numerous Conference organizers and speakers. Each statement reflects solely the views of the individual who has provided the statement. Here are the statements:

  • Yoram Hazony, Edmund Burke Foundation Chairman and Herzl Institute President: “The intellectual map on the political right consists of three main groupings: The dominant view for the last generation has been classical liberal or libertarian; on the far right, there is the rising power of white identitarian politics. In between these two groups, I believe we can see a clear coming together of a third camp — which we’re calling national conservatism. National conservatives are distinct from libertarians in that we recognize the centrality of the idea of the nation, both in the history of conservative thought and in the real political world. The purpose of national politics is to defend the independence, cultural inheritance, and interests of a particular nation. We believe in the unique historical identity of each nation, but we reject the idea that a nation can be reduced to the color of one’s skin. The nation is real people, sharing a unique cultural inheritance and bonds of mutual loyalty. We believe that at this moment, national conservatism can offer a realistic alternative and a way forward for the political right that these other alternatives cannot offer.”
  • David Brog, Edmund Burke Foundation President and Maccabee Task Force Executive Director: “The election of Donald Trump created an overdue opportunity to challenge the status quo that’s long dominated movement conservatism. We hope to seize this moment to reclaim and reassert the nationalist principles that have always been central to the conservative worldview. At a time when forces on the woke left and extreme right seek to divide us, we propose uniting Americans with an energized vision of our shared nationality. And at a time when too many glorify being left alone, we welcome shared sacrifice for the sake of giving every American a right to rise. This is a conservatism that can inspire. And this is a conservatism that can win.”
  • Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO): “American conservatism is at an inflection point. After years litigating the battles we inherited from the 1980s — and losing them all too often — we have an opportunity to offer the country a new vision of America’s tomorrow. This conference is one of the most promising signs yet of our movement’s capacity for renewal, and I look forward to offering my own small contribution to that discussion.”
  • Rich Lowry, National Review Editor: “Nationalism is one of the most important trends of our time, and an indispensable aspect of American conservatism. Thinking through why that is so, and what concrete form American nationalism should take, deserves to be very high on the Trump-era Right’s to-do list.”
  • Daniel Pipes, Middle East Forum President: “The conference organizers have dug deeper into the history of conservatism — back to the fifteenth century — than anyone else, thereby producing a more profound understanding of this intellectual current. I look forward to conference speakers applying those insights to today’s issues. That is what I hope to do in my overview of Europe.”
  • David Azerrad, Director, B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics and AWC Family Foundation Fellow, The Heritage Foundation: “The election of Trump shattered the reigning consensus on the Right. As a result, we conservatives have had to reconsider how we talk and think about the conservative project. [Yoram] Hazony has gathered an impressive array of conservatives to think through the big challenges of our time: The rise of China, identity politics, transnationalism and the atomization of Western society.”
  • Michael Doran, Hudson Institute Senior Fellow: “In the past, political movements tended to follow on after intellectual movements. In today’s world, nationalism has flowed directly out of the body politic without any preceding intellectual current. The conference seeks to begin filling the void.”
  • Rebeccah Heinrichs, Hudson Institute Senior Fellow: “What is the purpose of government? What is the unique purpose of the American government and how ought we as Americans orient our policies toward other nations? And what are the biggest external and internal threats facing America? Conservatives are grappling with these questions in a new and energetic way that is necessary and good. There is little consensus at this point and things are fluid. But that should be encouraging! Groupthink is the last thing we need. This conference will help us think through some of these questions so we can learn from one another and hopefully do good for conservatives and Americans, generally. It’s a start.”

I hope to see many of you next month in our nation’s capital to discuss these ideas that are so profoundly important for the future of our American republic, our Western civilization, and our common humanity alike.

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