The progressive assault on American society is nearing total victory. The assault was in fact a revolution as it sought to overthrow the governing structures of the United States by undermining and abrogating the fundamental principles that gave birth to those structures. The assault, which began at the turn of the twentieth century, met with almost immediate success. In particular, the ratification of the 16th and 17th amendments to the Constitution and the establishment of the Federal Reserve bear testimony to that success. Although many pundits argue that it was not until the advent of Barack Obama that the progressive victory was assured, one can make a very strong case that the cataclysmic upheavals in American society that occurred in the 1960s guaranteed the ultimate success of the progressive revolution. There have been a few partially successful conservative counterattacks: Coolidge in the 1920s, Reagan in the 1980s, Gingrich in the 1990s and the Tea Party a few years ago. But all of these have a “Battle of the Bulge” character – delaying the inevitable, not preventing it.
I have argued on numerous occasions that the fundamental strategy of the progressive assault is encapsulated in the aphorism usually attributed to the early twentieth century Italian philosopher, Antonio Gramsci: capture the culture, the politics will follow. And that is exactly what the progressives did. Through an unremitting assault on the basic cultural institutions of American society, the progressive movement captured virtually all of the society’s opinion-forming organs. Today the media, universities, legal profession, seminaries, federal bureaucracy, journalism schools, educational system, etc. are overwhelmingly dominated by leftists, collectivists and statists. Not surprisingly, the politics have followed – to the extent that a radical statist with absolutely no experience in any qualifying aspect of American life (e.g., business, military, executive) has been elected – and re-elected – president of the US. Surely, when surveying the scene in 1895, the young progressive must have viewed the revolutionary task ahead of him as gargantuan – perhaps even impossible. But he and his cohort set to work and scarcely more than a century later, his progeny sits atop the mountain. With perseverance, single-minded dedication and adherence to the game plan, they overcame the enormous obstacles in their path and converted American society into the multicultural, government-dependent, environmentally-obsessed, racially divisive, militarily-weakened, redistributionist, self-denigrating, secular, morally decadent, class conscious society that we comprise today.
Thus in 2013, a young conservative, when contemplating a counterrevolution that would return America to its founding principles, faces a daunting landscape as inhospitable as his progressive forbearer confronted 118 years earlier. He will need the same perseverance, tenacity and dedication if he is to repeat the success. And he needs to follow the same game plan – that is, he needs to recapture the culture. In other venues, I have proposed some strategies to do so, but here I would like to suggest the need for a tool. All revolutions require a guidebook – a manifesto that outlines the fundamental rationale of the revolutionaries and points the way toward the game plan that will drive the revolution. Historical examples are manifold. Perhaps the most famous is the US Declaration of Independence. Others include: the Declaration of the Rights of Man (issued during the French Revolution), the Cartagena Manifesto of Simon Bolivar, the Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf. Two more recent examples are the Port Huron Statement and the Contract with America. The latter, which inspired Gingrich and to some extent the Tea Party, has had rather limited success. On the other hand, the former (usually attributed to Tom Hayden) has played a significant role in motivating and guiding progressive efforts over the last half century. One could argue that the manifesto for the conservative counterrevolution has already been written by Mark Levin. His 2009 book Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto is a serious candidate to fill the bill. But I fear that its longevity and influence may be limited. Time will tell. However, it is likely that something shorter and more focused, but equally eloquently and passionately argued, might be necessary. I don’t propose to write that document here. Rather I will describe what I see as the five fundamental components that the document must encompass and address if it is to galvanize and motivate the public and also to serve as the inspiration for the decades-long effort that it must guide. Those five are:
- Freedom. The primary thrust of a conservative manifesto must be freedom. The basic tenets of the Declaration of Independence must be re-emphasized. The most fundamental ideal of the American Revolution is that all human beings are born free, that each individual is inherently equal to any other before the law, that we all enjoy certain inalienable rights endowed by God, or Nature’s God – specifically, the rights spelled out in the Bill of Rights, and that governments are instituted almost exclusively to protect those rights. The present system, in which the Federal Government acts as the initiator and enforcer of “new rights” in a manner that is far beyond the scope of the powers enumerated to it in our Constitution, is contrary to the spirit of freedom and constitutes a grave danger to our individual liberty.
- Economic Opportunity. Building on and consistent with political freedom is our right to economic freedom. The people have the right to choose their mode and place of work, to enter into monetary or labor contracts freely, to enjoy the fruits of their labor and to buy and sell property as they see fit — all, of course, within the rule of law. The government’s sole role in the economic foundation of our lives is to enforce the rule of law – dispassionately, objectively and without prejudice. In addition, our economic system will embrace free market capitalism – because it is the only system consistent with economic and political freedom, and because it yields far greater overall prosperity than does socialism, Keynesianism or any other economic system.
- American Exceptionalism. We must re-endorse the following ideas: the American experiment in political and economic freedom makes us unique among the nations of the Earth; America should remain a shining example to the world of freedom and hope; America has been and continues to be a force for good in the world; we welcome immigrants to our shores who share our ideals; and we will maintain the strength and will to move the world towards a more humane, free and prosperous future.
- Morality. We must re-endorse the notion of our Founders that our system of government and rules for organizing society (i.e., as a democratic, Constitutional Republic) can work only if the people – who enjoy widespread liberty – are moral, decent and virtuous. We live in a time when one man’s morality is another man’s chains. But hopefully, we all can agree that a moral America is one grounded in: faith, charity, humility and strong families and communities.
- Rule of Law. We must re-emphasize that ours is a society in which the law, not men, reign supreme. In addition to – indeed as a companion to freedom, we seek justice. The laws are made by the people and our leaders execute them according to the consent of all who are governed by them. Thus we reject political corruption, crony capitalism, the cult of a leader or leaders, and discrimination – reverse or otherwise.
Who will write the manifesto? The conservative cause needs someone with Levin’s depth of understanding, Krauthammer’s perspicacity, Buckley’s eloquence, Limbaugh’s passion, Churchill’s guts, Reagan’s optimism and the wisdom of a Solomon. Will that person please report to the front desk asap!
This essay also appeared in The Intellectual Conservative at: http://intellectualconservative.com/index.php/who-will-compose-a-manifesto