As the Conservative Political Action Conference comes to town, the Right — conservative activists, commentators, talk-radio hosts and Republican politicians — should keep actual conservatism at the front and center of their minds.
The set of beliefs and principals that animate conservatism is at risk of being obscured — perhaps even displaced — by vulgar provocation, tribal rather than principled opposition to the Left, the demands of entertainment and partisan fealty to a Republican president.
If these elements take over and drown out conservative philosophy, ideas, and policies, they will inflict harm not only on conservatism but on the Right in general and on the Republican Party and President Trump in particular. And that would be bad for the country.
CPAC’s agenda demonstrates the battle over the future of the movement. On one hand, there’s Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, the black Democrat and Fox News regular whose schtick is an almost comical law-and-order toughness. On another panel, Hillsdale College’s erudite president, Larry Arnn, whose beliefs spring from serious philosophical soil and are nourished by constant intellectual inquiry, speaks on “the Roots of Conservatism.”
A big tent is great. But the volume and bombast of the entertainers and liberal bashers could crowd out conservatism. This isn’t a CPAC problem, but a problem that the entire Right must guard against.
Battling the Left is necessary work for conservatism, but it can’t become its heart. The appeal of celebrities willing to tear mercilessly into the Left is clear, but also dangerous, especially as some of those chosen to do so never bothered to ground themselves in real conservatism. If conservatism defines itself mainly as being against the Left, if it pulls up its philosophical roots and does not adhere to its real values, it could doom itself to radicalism.
Lord Acton’s maxim that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is an insight grounded in centuries of experience, that lies at the foundation of government.
Limited government is a central principle of conservatism in acknowledgment of this wisdom. An unshackled government will abuse its power and trample the natural rights of the individual.
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