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                 The Reactionary Utopian
                    February 12, 2008

by Joe Sobran

     Conservatives are feeling gloomy these days. In this 
country the latest Republican "revolution" has been 
thwarted by Bill Clinton. In Britain Tony Blair's Labor 
Party has routed the Tories. In France the story is the 
same: a pragmatic, post-Marxist Left has stymied what 
recently appeared to be a rightward trend.

     "Is there a worldwide conservative crackup?" asks 
THE WEEKLY STANDARD. Twenty-eight more-or-less 
conservative writers (mostly less) offer their answers in 
one of those marathon symposia so typical of the 
conservative intellectual press.

     "Worldwide" seems a trifle grand for a political 
pattern confined to three countries. Moreover, the 
pattern has been misread. Conservatives in America and 
Britain never won as much as their press releases 
claimed. Yes, Ronald Reagan and George Bush won the White 
House with three straight landslides. But the federal 
government continued to grow during their 
administrations, a twelve-year span in which federal 
spending nearly doubled.

     Most of that increased spending was for programs 
nowhere authorized by the Constitution. Yet these 
"conservative" presidents never raised the constitutional 
issues posed by the explosion of federal spending and 
national debt. They talked limited government while 
making no effort to restore historic limits.

     So conservatives have reason to be discouraged. The 
Republican Party has let them down time and again. The 
candidacy of Bob Dole was a disappointment, yes, but what 
is more discouraging is the growing realization that, 
rhetoric aside, Reagan himself was never very different 
from Dole. Dole was widely ridiculed for offering, once, 
"to be another Reagan"; but Reagan was already another 
Dole. He left the federal government far bigger than he 
found it.

     Of the 28 contributors to THE WEEKLY STANDARD's 
symposium, none even mentions the Constitution. Not one. 
Several, in fact, deplore what they call the 
"anti-government" and "libertarian" mind-set of many 
conservatives. One laments "mindless opposition to the 

     In fact, most of these "conservatives" are actually 
neoconservatives: They want big government without too 
many social programs. They don't want constitutional 
government; they don't argue for principled limitations 
of any sort. Just the opposite. Above all, they want an 
interventionist foreign policy, especially in the Middle 

     For instance, Eliot A. Cohen writes, "The Founders 
did not envision or desire a feeble government, and they 
did not shrink from endorsing its essential functions." 
Yes, but they defined those "essential" functions 
carefully and narrowly. They were more anxious about 
"usurpation" than about any other domestic danger. And 
they believed that "foreign corruption" and "entangling 
alliances" with the Old World posed special threats to 
the American Republic.

     That classical American conservatism is strictly 
taboo at THE WEEKLY STANDARD. Its symposium includes a 
few token "social" conservatives, but nobody who espouses 
the constitutional and foreign policy views of the 
Founders. It finds room for a liberal Democrat, an 
Englishman, and an Israeli, but not for a Pat Buchanan, a 
Howard Phillips, a Samuel Francis, or a Charlie Reese.

     By excluding such perspectives, THE WEEKLY STANDARD 
is trying to pass off the neoconservative party line as 
the conservative consensus. It's trying to stifle the 
vigorous and necessary debate over first principles that 
is actually raging among conservatives. In fact, the 
lesson of its current issue may be that the best way to 
avoid debate is to hold a symposium.

     Like the Republican Party, THE WEEKLY STANDARD only 
pretends to oppose a political establishment whose 
principles it accepts. That's why, despite the talents of 
some of its writers, the magazine is essentially boring.

     If the neoconservatives got everything they want in 
the way of public policy, nothing much would be changed. 
The legacy of the liberal era would remain. Yet most 
conservatives still think the neoconservatives are their 
allies. If a neoconservative is a liberal who has been 
mugged by reality, conservatives have yet to realize 
they've been mugged -- by the neoconservatives.

     Over the last two generations, liberals have staged 
a revolution in American government while pretending only 
to modify the system. By contrast, conservatives have 
managed only modifications in the liberal system while 
claiming to have effected revolution. At the moment, it's 
still the liberals' country. Conservatives are just 


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