This piece by David Brooks is smart and insightful. He makes a compelling case for the communitarian roots of Conservatism as an ideology. “Being a Republican” or “being a Democrat” are not ideologies. They are means to power, more so now than ever. While Brooks is focusing on Conservatism, the same separation between Democrat or Progressive has been getting made on the other side for years. (One concise, if broadly-stroked and not entirely generous way to frame the considerable anecdotal evidence would be to recall how establishment Democrats told Progressives that Bernie Sanders was not a means to power, how establishment Democrats shamed Progressives, especially young, progressive women, for ever trying to go there).
It’s long been a trope of academic Conservatives to say that their conservatism is meant to preserve what liberalism has traditionally been: “Conservatives are simply modern-day classical liberals who believe in limited government and the absolute sovereignty of the individual in matters of state and conscience.” But Brooks locates the true origin of Conservatism in an overall agreement with Lockean liberalism with one important distinction: “Conservatives said we agree with the general effort but think you’ve got human nature wrong. There never was such a thing as an autonomous, free individual who could gather with others to create order. Rather, individuals emerge out of families, communities, faiths, neighborhoods and nations. The order comes first. Individual freedom is an artifact of that order.”
That’s a tremendously important difference between Conservatism as such and classical liberalism, one that has never been honestly and robustly explored in popular discourse. “The practical upshot,” Brooks says, “is that conservatives have always placed tremendous emphasis on the sacred space where individuals are formed. This space is populated by institutions like the family, religion, the local community, the local culture, the arts, the schools, literature and the manners that govern everyday life.”
The piece is short, precise, and incredibly important. It also sets up an unexplored discussion about the differences between true Conservatives, and, say, Libertarians, in addition to the call to parse Republicanism (a Jacobin means to power, really), and Conservatism rightly understood.
I take it that for Brooks, a Conservative regime would not be separating families at the border.