A few months ago, a manifesto entitled “National Conservatism: A Statement of Principles” was published by the Edmund Burke Foundation on their natcon website and quickly republished by the American Conservative and the European Conservative.
Among its drafters we could see names such as Viktor Orbán superfan #1 and The Benedict Option author, Rod Dreher, The Virtue of Nationalism and Conservatism: A Rediscovery author, Yoram Hazony, Return of the Strong Gods author, and First Things editor R.R. Reno, and ISI Modern Age editor Daniel McCarthy, and among its signatories, a good list of Hillsdale/Claremont-affiliated Straussians such as Michael Anton, Larry P. Arnn, Tom Klingenstein, Ryan Williams and Scott Yenor, classicist, war scholar and Hoover fellow Victor Davis Hanson, Jagiellonian University professor and Polish member of the European Parliament Ryszard Legutko, TPUSA founder and activist Charlie Kirk and tech entrepreneur and right-wing would-be kingmaker Peter Thiel, among others.
This list would make such a manifesto be authoritative enough for the Right, both in the United States as well as in Europe, to be united behind its claimed principles, but contrary to its purpose, the only thing it has promoted is a plethora of responses and replies, both in its support and many times against it, and while we can dismiss liberal pseudowarnings of fascism supposedly present in the natcon statement, such as the one published in the New York Times, as well as the Washington Post’s whining about its lack of references to human rights and equality, many of the issues raised about it from people in our spheres are enough for us, liberty-minded people to consider the viability of national conservatism as a flag to rally under.
For one, these issues reveal an ideological problem with the natcon statement, for it fails to gather all similarly leaning intellectuals in the Right, with the first noticeable absence being that of the Catholic integralist postliberals (Sohrab Ahmari, Patrick Deneen, Chad Pecknold, Gladden Pappin, and Adrian Vermeule), as noted in a response released the day after by The Bulwark, which could be explained in foreign policy differences over the Russian-Ukrainian war, and on a related note, Peter J. Leithart, of the Theopolis Institute, disparages the manifesto for its excessive reliance over its “national” element over its theological one, which he considers is the actual issue at hand that should be taken care more of.
Others, such as David Tucker, disagree over inconsistencies on the statement’s clauses on religion and race and their intellectual forefather Harry V. Jaffa’s understanding of equality as assimilation under the Declaration of Independence, whereas more free-market-oriented intellectuals, such as Samuel Gregg (formerly from the Acton Institute, now affiliated with the American Institute for Economic Research) noted instead the economic problems with the manifesto, describing what feels like a contradiction between the natcons defense of an enterprise economy, their condemnation of crony capitalism and their embrace of a thinly veiled version of state capitalism, “for the common good.”
Most of these positions were summed up in an article published by National Review by mid-August, and if things weren’t enough with this discussion, the other same outlet that shared the natcon statement alongside the American Conservative in June, that is, the European Conservative, recently published an open letter signed mostly by Catholic and Anglican affiliated thinkers, critiquing the incoherence of arguing against the universalism of globalist ideologies using an equally universalist Anglo-American understanding of national traditions and its apparent elements of “free enterprise” and “individual liberty,” which are more of a feature of conservatism in the United States.
With so many of these issues already laid out in the ground, where does the national conservatism discussion leave us?
Well, for one, national conservatism seems to have left out the paleos, both our paleoconservative friends at Chronicles magazine, and us, paleolibertarians at the Mises Institute, out of the equation, which, to be honest, should not be a surprise, given that in our corner, criticisms of the natcon project have been present at least since 2019, the year where it first appeared, beginning with Chronicles’ Pedro Gonzalez expressing doubts that it might just become another case of controlled right-wing opposition to the growing power of the Left.
Mises Institute president Jeff Deist and associated scholar Allen Mendenhall followed, noting, respectively, that the natcon use of the concept of cosmopolitanism was inadequate, given that Ludwig von Mises had already explained it as “not provincial,” for “Cosmopolitanism does not require a particular worldview or political perspective … but rather respect for others’ political arrangements and cultures” and that the “national” part of national conservatism was completely wrong, for “the United States is not a nation,” but “a country whose people are connected, if at all, by liberalism.”
Does that mean we should be left out of the natcon crowd? Well, it depends, especially given that in our last three years, many things have changed in the world, for we have suffered lockdowns, the expansion of government intervention in society and the economy, contested elections in the US, and the extension of another open conflict (this time, against Russia) in which Western powers, once again, have become involved to intervene, to the detriment of their economies and their peoples.
We have also seen the heating up of our culture wars (marked by the normalization of critical race theory and the George Floyd riots), the rise of the World Economic Forum, with their stakeholder capitalism (explained as woke corporate socialism by Michael Rectenwald), their similarities with the contemporary Chinese model (arguably a form of national socialism) and their influence over Western governments, who seem to either kowtow to their credentialed expert Mandarin class or to the fear of receiving foreign business cycles caused by malinvestment and civilizational misjudgment.
With all these external contingencies, and the rise, although clumsy, of national conservatism in the US and Europe, there might be a chance to begin building bridges between our camp and theirs, and mutually benefit from a larger and organized platform among the intellectuals of the Right.
Our context is better than ever, with a cleaner, healthier image of libertarianism, reminiscent of Ron Paul’s presidential campaigns, being promoted by the Libertarian Party, now under the leadership of its Mises Caucus, something that is being noted by members of religious groups in the Christian Right, washing away the libertine reputation that still followed the LP up to our days and that had already been denounced by Rothbard and Rockwell in the ’80s and ’90s.
For those who belong to the paleo trend in politics, to identify as either a conservative or a libertarian is a difficult task, and many of us simply decide not to use said categories, and simply belong to whatever is identified as “the Right,” and that decision may come in handy when the situation asks for it.
National conservatism is an interesting attempt to appeal to right-minded (pun intended) intellectuals and politicians, but it is lagging in many areas, and it shows. Their manifesto and its many replies demonstrate there is a lack of understanding of their theological, ethical, national, and economic principles, and while we cannot (and should not) comment on the first, we can surely add to a better understanding and a sounder doctrine to the three later.
Austro-libertarianism, many times a trend left in the dark out of misunderstanding or due to the act of bad faith actors, can become the much-needed element to create coherence and cohesion in a movement that still hasn’t decided its path forward.
Our tradition, from Menger and Böhm-Bawerk, through Mises, Hayek and Rothbard, to Hoppe and Salerno, can provide with the necessary takes to make sense of what a nation really is, how to peacefully organize society along the lines of trade for prosperity; free association, and organic, spontaneous institutions; and the meaning of preservation within a long-term, low-time-preference mentality.
The natcons are demanding to expand their horizons from a merely Anglo-American political tradition into one that can truly represent the Western intellectual potential for civilization, and if we’re on character with our capitalist nature, we should be happy to offer what the Austro-libertarian sphere can offer.
The many issues of national conservatism represent an opportunity for us to step out and retake our place among the political families of what used to be, back in the day, the Old Right, and while we recognize our differences, conservatives still need our help to make sense of what they are, and it might be better to give them a hand now that they’re redrafting their doctrine than later when they have retaken all their past vices and gotten new ones from an increasingly radicalized Left.