October 25, 2011
A conservative’s task in society is “to preserve a particular people, living in a particular place during a particular time.”
Jack Hunter, in a review of this writer’s new book, Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025? thus summarizes Russell Kirk’s view of the duty of the conservative to his country.
Kirk, the traditionalist, though not so famous as some of his contemporaries at National Review, is now emerging as perhaps the greatest of that first generation of post-World War II conservatives—in the endurance of his thought.
Richard Nixon believed that. Forty years ago, he asked this writer to contact Dr. Kirk and invite him to the White House for an afternoon of talk. No other conservative would do, said the president.
Kirk’s rendering of the conservative responsibility invites a question. Has the right, despite its many victories, failed? For, in what we believe and how we behave, we are not the people we used to be.
Perhaps. But then, we didn’t start the fire.
Second-generation conservatives, Middle Americans who grew up in mid-century, were engulfed by a set of revolutions that turned their country upside down and from which there is no going home again.
First was a civil rights revolution, which began with the freedom riders and March on Washington of August 1963 and ended tragically and terribly with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.
That revolution produced the civil rights and voting rights acts, but was attended by the long, hot summers of the ‘60s—days-long riots in Harlem in 1964, Watts in 1965, Detroit and Newark in 1967, and a hundred other cities and Washington, D.C., in 1968 that tore the nation apart.
Crucially, the initial demands—an end to segregation and equality of opportunity—gave way to demands for an equality of condition and equality of results through affirmative action, race-based preferences in hiring and admissions, and a progressive income tax. Reparations for slavery are now on the table.
In response to this revolution, LBJ, after the rout of Barry Goldwater, exploited his huge congressional majorities to launch a governmental revolution, fastening on the nation a vast array of social programs that now threaten to bankrupt the republic, even as they have created a vast new class of permanent federal dependents.