Parley Is Set To Ponder Burke’s Legacy

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The New York Sun

The most important summer convention in the next two years may not be the one the Democrats will have in Milwaukee or the Republicans will have in Charlotte, N.C. It may be, instead, a gathering set for July 14 to 16, 2019, in Washington, D.C. — the inaugural conference on National Conservatism.

Confirmed speakers at the event include President Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton; a PayPal cofounder who spoke at the 2016 Republican convention, Peter Thiel; Fox News host Tucker Carlson, and the president of the American Enterprise Institute from 1986 to 2008, Christopher DeMuth.

American universities will be represented by Amy Wax of the University of Pennsylvania, Joshua Mitchell of Georgetown University, and Andre Archie of Colorado State University. From the world of think tanks come Arthur Milikh and Mike Gonzalez of the Heritage Foundation, John Fonte and Michael Doran of the Hudson Institute, Oren Cass of the Manhattan Institute, and Clifford May of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Magazine and journal editors on the conference schedule include Claire Lehmann of Quillette, Rich Lowry of National Review, Yuval Levin of National Affairs, and Rusty Reno of First Things. The authors Amity Shlaes and J.D. Vance are scheduled to speak.

The event will mark the public kickoff of a new organization, the Edmund Burke Foundation, which says it is “dedicated to developing a revitalized conservatism for the age of nationalism already upon us.”

In a statement on the conference website, the event’s organizers write of a “crisis of conservatism” centered on a debate over whether the new nationalism is “a hostile usurper that has arrived on the scene to displace political conservatism” or rather “an essential, if neglected, part of the Anglo-American conservative tradition at its best.”

It’s clear on what side the organizers come down. “We see this public conference as the kick off for a protracted effort to recover and reconsolidate the rich tradition of national conservative thought as an intellectually serious alternative to the excesses of purist libertarianism, and in stark opposition to political theories grounded in race,” they write. “Our aim is to solidify and energize national conservatives, offering them a much-needed institutional base, substantial ideas in the areas of public policy, political theory, and economics, and an extensive support network across the country.”

If this all may seem a bit abstract, it nonetheless has considerable implications. When I wrote to one of the speakers at the conference, Daniel Pipes, to ask what he made of it all, he pointed me to a 2017 essay in American Affairs, “What Is Conservatism?” by Ofir Haivry and Yoram Hazony. Mr. Pipes writes that in college he learned from the libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick, who assigned Friedrich Hayek’s essay “Why I Am Not a Conservative.” Mr. Pipes writes, “For close to 50 years, it caused me to assume I am a (classical) liberal. No more.”

The Haivry and Hazony essay says that “There may have been genuine advantages to soft-pedaling differences between conservatives and liberals until the 1980s, when all the strength that could be mustered had to be directed toward defeating Communism abroad and socialism at home.”

Nowadays, though, they write, liberals lump conservatives in with “illiberals”: “When things are divided up this way, the latter group ends up including everyone from Brexiteers, Trump supporters, Evangelical Christians, and Orthodox Jews to dictators, Iranian ayatollahs, and Nazis. Once things are framed in this way, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that everyone in that second group is in some degree a threat that must be combated.”

Over the weekend I asked Mr. Hazony, a bit provocatively, whether he saw anything ironic about an Israeli (himself) starting an organization named after a Briton, Edmund Burke, to advance nationalism with a conference in the United States. It’s practically a globalist project right there.

Mr. Hazony corrected me that Burke was an Irishman and said he saw no irony. “Sometimes, it helps to be a little bit of an outsider. It makes it easier to see large-scale trends,” he said, offering what he said was the rabbinic advice not to be a prophet in your own city.

Mr. Hazony is chairman of the Burke Foundation; its president is David Brog, a former aide to Senator Arlen Specter.

The 2016 campaign featured a rift between Donald Trump and some, though not all, conservative intellectuals. Remember the “Against Trump” cover of National Review, which featured contributions from, among others, the editors of the Weekly Standard and of Commentary? It can be argued that the election outcome proved the intellectuals irrelevant to the voters. If Trump-style American conservatism is to outlast Trump himself, though, it will require ideas and institutions of the sort this summer’s conference aims to provide.


Image: Drawing by Elliott Banfield originally appeared in The New York Sun, courtesy of the artist.

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