What is a Conservative?

How do we define “conservative” in 2022? Depends on who we listen to. Compared to today’s conservative movement, Ronald Reagan was “center left,” and Dwight Eisenhower was “liberal.” At the National Conservatism Conference in Miami, Florida in September, prominent speakers promoted a new conservative worldview. Here’s a promo for their conference:

Promo for National Conservatism Conference

The Heritage Foundation, founded almost 50 years ago, leads the way. As perhaps the #1 conservative Think Tank for decades, their power to impose conservative policy was apparent when Donald Trump was president. In the 1980s the Reagan Administration used the Foundation’s policy series, Mandate for Leadership, to guide its work. Under President Trump, the Foundation placed its own people in positions of power to enact conservative policies.

Heritage Foundation President, Kevin Roberts, spoke at the conference about “the betrayal by the Republican Party of the families, community, and nation it exists to serve.” He went on to clearly distinguish the Republican Party from the “national conservatism” he was advocating for. Today’s conservatives are no longer Republican in any traditional sense.

A report on the conference in The Daily Signal, the foundation’s media arm, puts the new conservatism on full display in the language and ideas of Kevin Roberts:

“I come today to this convention as president of The Heritage Foundation to extend my gratitude for the ideas and energy national conservatives have injected into the national debate, and my fellowship with principles you advance to rescue America from the barbarians inside the gates of our very own institutions.”

Roberts “commended the national conservative movement for restoring a ‘proper’ public orientation of virtues like patriotism, courage, honor, loyalty, wisdom, religion, and family in American society.” And he spoke of “the rot coming from within: The tragedy of our universities, the stratification of our economy, the gelding of Congress, the farce of our news media, the weaponization of government against its people, and the popular culture against their values; these were all inside jobs.”

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., spoke at the conference as an advocate for Christian Nationalism, part of the larger movement:

“The left is engaged in a project to undo the American Revolution and separate the nation from its biblical, Christian moral heritage. We are a revolutionary nation precisely because we are the heirs of the revolution of the Bible. This is a revolution that began with the founding of the nation of Israel, of Zion, and continued with the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth in the days of ancient Rome.”  

Sen. Hawley’s words do not fully explain what he envisions as the “revolution of the Bible,” but he continues in the same direction:

“Without the Bible, there is no modernity. Without the Bible, there is no America. The Bible’s centrality in our politics is the question of the age.  The ‘woke left’ is desperate to unseat its influence in American life, to ‘remake’ this nation. It’s doing this by making Americans believe that the country is ‘irredeemably racist and oppressive,’ that men can become women, and that the family is repressive. Their real target in all this, I submit to you, is the inheritance of the Bible. What they particularly dislike about America is our dependence on biblical teaching and tradition. What they particularly dislike about our culture is the Bible’s influence on it. And now they want to break that influence for good.

The conference program included Balasz Orban, political director for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (no relation to Viktor Orban). He represents a global conservatism. With intended humor, he said their language has no word for “woke” and added that “we are lucky enough to not have to come up with a word. Obviously, we’re doing anything we can do to ensure that it stays that way.”  

He attributed a widespread practice of “kneeling” at sports events as a “woke” influence in their country. And he continued, saying “the radical left further tried to influence Hungary by targeting the country’s children, similarly to what the left does in America. The turning point came when we realized that the woke propaganda was being used against our children. They started targeting our children, brainwashing young kids with ideology.” He “concluded his speech by encouraging leaders and conservatives across the world to stand strong against wokeness coming from America.”

Where will this new conservatism take our nation? Leaders of the movement make no apology for seeking power to change the laws and impose their understanding of morality upon everyone. They like to claim they are the “victims” of “the woke left” – their favorite new term for the rest of us – through the media, arts, education, business, and government, which are all controlled by this imagined “left.” If we do not want that future for ourselves, we must act now to change it.