Many to the right of center take their political bearings from the Hamiltonian founders and the early Republicans -- that is, from the party of trade and the party of industry. But just as many take their bearings from the Madisonian founders and the mid-era Republicans -- from the party of civic republicanism and the party of civic pride. On the one hand, an approach grounded in the vigor of powerful government and powerful business; on the other, one founded in the virtue of small government and small business. Reconciling these two visions -- making them work together and educate one another -- has always been the task of the modern Republican party. In what I will leave to others to call "a very real sense," it has always been the task of the American statesman.
Alas, Republican politicos and conservative statesmen have come up against an implacable foe: progressivism. For progressives, Hamiltonian vigor and Madisonian virtue alike are too narrow to be truly good or great. Rather than being merely powerful, government and business must be big -- the better to work in permanent 'partnership' for the perfection of public virtue. From Wilson to FDR to LBJ to Barack Obama, the progressive project has been as crystal clear as it has been persuasive -- despite its remarkable consistency in meeting great promises with even greater failures. The dream of the Great Society, complete with Great Projects run by a Great Bureaucracy ruled by a Great Leader, is a powerful one. As national greatness conservatives learned from the West's best classical liberals, democracy unleashes great passions but also encourages a base appreciation for material pleasures and mere comfort. As Tocqueville warned, democracy's drift toward soft despotism could loose the springs of action and deprive a once-vigorous, once-virtuous people of their vigor and their virtue. Progressivism promises deliverance from that democratic dystopia -- in the dual form of hope and change.Conservatives know better. But in order to be able to say better, to promise better, the allies on the right must topple the allure of the progressive dream while balancing their own judgments of theory and practice. It is a tricky business, prone to error, but it is a necessary task. And it is the one to which Bill Kristol is presently applying his efforts.
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