But—I'm a Conservative!

"Our job is to prove right here in America that democracy means, not destructive wrangling, but effective cooperation in solving our spiritual and economic problems. Can this be too much to hope from American youth?"
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III

During the nineteenth century, all external standards and absolutes were one by one sacrificed at the altar of dynamic 'Life.' A pseudo-Darwinian war of all against all, for survival of the most ferocious or most lucky, becomes exalted as a healthy expression of dynamic Life-force. I suggest coining 'dynamism' as the label for this new, unchristian religion, this cult of power, instinct, blind change, blind Life. Dynamism means energy and, change for their own sake. It means playing the grand man-of-action merely for action's sake, the deification of such men-of-action as Fuhrers. Among dynamism's current incarnations is the unrestrained egoism of persons, nations, and classes. Gangsterism becomes a heroic romantic duty.

Society, as 1 would conserve it, would rest on five great self-disciplines: rule of reason in the individual, Christian ethics between individuals, Law in the state, free parliamentary negotiation among political parties, peace by negotiation among nations. Dynamism smashes all five of these great self-disciplines. Today the Nazis most radically incarnate dynamism. No wonder a current best seller refers to their 'Revolution of Nihilism'!

Dynamism, I believe, will some day be recognized as the most destructive and 'radical' revolution of modern times. It strikes at the root. Its modern rival, Marxism, retains at least the traditional respect for reason. The basis of the western world is the disciplining of life's energies and instincts by the supremacy of rational and ethical Law. Here our Christianity combines and conserves the legalistic heritage of the Jews and of the Greco-Roman Empire. In contrast, dynamism glories in the revolt of expansive Life-force against Law's 'dead shackles.' Transferred from individual to nation, such dynamism becomes lynch law: the 'healthy' and natural mob instincts of what Nazis call 'the Volk' and Reds call 'the masses.'

With the most passionate intensity, I resent the no-third-way sophistry of forcing American students to choose only from the alternatives of fascists and Marxists. Dynamic fascism, as it is sweeping Europe, is idealism diabolized. Economism, its opposite, whether of capitalist or Marxist brand, is materialism deified. Dynamism is immoral, economic materialism is unmoral; take your choice! Both are present to some degree in all societies. Either in excess explodes the civilization we conservatives would conserve. Our fight as young Americans is twofold: against our established cult of economism and mammon worship, and against all attempts to import fascism in its place.

In one aspect, the challenge of frank and open Bolshevik church burning is almost less dangerous to us than the more subtly masked Nazi challenge. This mask is anti-Semitism. Those ostrich conservatives miss its whole point who whistle in the dark, thinking 'What concern of ours are racial persecutions so long as we're not persecuted?' Political anti-Semitism is no isolated program. It is the first step in an ever-widening revolt of mob instinct against all restraints and liberties. It is the thin opening wedge for the subversion of democracy, Christianity, and tolerance in general.

I said our civilization is based on a blend of legalism, reason, and the Christian discipline (Protestant or Catholic or the closely-related Jewish). I stated this as a simple objective fact. Whether belief in them is 'true' is quite another matter, which each individual must decide for himself. Their truth will always be disputable, in so far as they deal with the non-material and invisible, but their necessity is indisputable.

IV

What are the immediate political duties today of a common-sense conservative? I think a conservative should patriotically join in our country's cautious groping toward a planned economy. Despite party slogans, this groping will in practice steadily continue, whether under Republicans or New Dealers. Leftists try to discredit the conservative attitude by linking it in the public mind with laissez-faire economics. But how on earth can we conserve what's dead and what probably never existed? Purchasing power must be so distributed that every citizen is himself a free and stable property owner and an economically articulate consumer. Necessities (such as wheat) must no longer be burned or ploughed under, but sold, even without profit and below cost, to all citizens who lack them.

Accepting vigilance as the price of liberty, the conservative will be alert equally against all illegalities from all sides, whether from flag-waving Americans or 'aliens' or capitalists or labor unions. He will everywhere answer illegal force with force-in-law, returning words for words and bullets for bullets,

until Law is respected again. He will answer fascist attacks, from within the United States or without, with the policeman's club and not the Chamber.. lain umbrella.

Suppose the Communist Party calls itself the 'Paul Reveres of 1936,' and the Nazi Bund pays lip service to George Washington. No matter how democratic their phrases or how American their ancestry, our conservative will judge solely by their methods and actions. Anti-fascist lip service is not enough of a criterion. If fascism ever comes to America, it will assuredly be some homespun, native brand, riding into power on militaristic anti-fascist (i.e. anti-'alien') phrases. The same is true of any native American communist dictatorship; it would vociferously repudiate any openly labeled 'communist' party. So we have only one safe criterion, no matter what are men's professed aims and programs. That criterion is whether they pursue those aims within or without the great American constitutional framework.

Our conservative will never admit that the state as a whole is greater than the sum of its separate individuals. All power he will distrust and hence limit. He will fight every extension of government authority, no matter in whose hands, whenever it seems more dangerous than the genuine wrong it would remedy. But he will insist equally on forestalling mass discontent with thoroughgoing social legislation, with the proviso that such new governmental power be as decentralized as possible.

He believes in majority rule for America, but never majority dictatorship. Instead, he believes in the absolute constitutional and human rights of minorities, whether share-croppers or millionaires, whether economic, religious, or racial. He will stubbornly insist that corrupt means betray even the worthiest ends. Karl Marx's disciples would discredit our constitutional and judicial checks merely because irresponsible finance can abuse them. That is like blaming the abused glass; it tackles the wrong cause of the evil. The fact that wealthy Wall Street or radical Norman Thomas or anybody else happens to benefit from free speech does not automatically make free speech vicious.

V

This year all 'ideology' is in flux. Soon, justified by Russian events, conservatives will no longer seem disgracefully unfashionable in intellectual spheres. But let's not gloat over honest disillusionment. Instead, let us conservatives humbly admit that we have equally erred. Our error was our tardiness in realizing the economic lesson of our 1929 crash.

Current Congressional investigations go too far in smearing duped fellow travelers with the communist brush. It is bad morals and bad strategy to allow red-baiting to pass into liberal-baiting and labor-baiting. That only drives labor and the uncrushable mass of liberal voters into a revolutionary camp. Instead, we must offer them our own camp as freedom's refuge from the communism with which they flirted so disastrously. For both decency and strategy, conservatives should repudiate our liberal-baiting rabble rousers unambiguously, be they eloquent Senators or cheap sensational journalists.

To sum up: my great dream, perhaps young and naive, is for American youth to synthesize cultural, spiritual, and political conservatism with economic reform. Such a movement must simultaneously be broad enough to include some economic ends of the radicals and narrow enough to exclude the means of the communazis. Our generation's New Conservatism must appeal not only to independent-minded conservatives but also-to those disillusioned 'fellow travelers.' The former must accept further economic planning and honestly repudiate their pre-1929 cant. The latter must honestly repudiate despotic Russia and Marxist materialism and the stirring up of a lawless mob movement: their pre-1939 cant.

Only such concessions from both sides can make harmonious synthesis possible within our free representative system. In all democracies, men of good will from right and left must today unite to conserve their free habits of centuries. Conserve from what? From the extreme reaction of what I call the 'capitalist anarchists' and from the extreme radicalism of the dynamists.

The success of literal 'National Socialists' whether Hitler or Stalin, is in their vote-getting synthesis of romantic expansive nationalism with a planned economy. In contrast, we conservatives must synthesize the good in the latter, not with despotism, but with freedom—that is, with all our ancient civil liberties, tolerance of minorities, and a peaceful internationalism of Law. Our job is to prove right here in America that democracy means, not destructive wrangling, but effective cooperation in solving our spiritual and economic problems. Can this be too much to hope from American youth? It is not yet too late.

Peter Viereck is the author of two new books, both published in 2005. The first is a book of poems, titled Door: Last Poems (Higganum Hill Press). The second is Conservative Thinkers from John Adams to Churchill (Transaction Press).
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