Cultural Revolutions

Phenomenon of Popular Movements

The phenomenon of popular movements of protest succeeding and then being swallowed up by the Establishment is not a new story in American history, but the fate of "conservatism" in the last decade or so gives a remarkable case study. Not long ago, after ages of liberal dominance, conservatism seemed to be in the ascendancy both intellectually and at the grassroots level. Somewhere between the election of 1980 and now, a vast popular demand for reform was captured and emasculated by party politicians and literary spoilsmen, so that conservatism has ended up as nothing more than a vague rhetorical label for a very slightly modified form of Liberal Establishment.

These reflections are ignited by the sad fate of two erstwhile fighting conservatives, Jack Kemp and William Bennett. Both these gentlemen were youthful (as national politicians go), energetic, and articulate. Both have ended up in petty administrative posts in a "moderate" Republican administration—posts from which they cannot possibly draw any credit. In fact, I will bet a bound volume of, say, the last good year of National Review (1968) that they are politically dead.

That Kemp accepted the post of Secretary of HUD and Bennett that of "Drug Czar" speaks well for their honorable desire for public service. It speaks poorly indeed for their political judgment. In fact, only a very slight and healthy bit of paranoia would...

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