Volume > Issue > The Two Minds of Modern Conservatism

The Two Minds of Modern Conservatism

DEBATING THE ROLE OF VIRTUE IN SOCIETY

By Steven Hayward | January-February 1985
Steven Hayward, a political conservative and an Episcopalian, is a Research Fellow with the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy, as well as Associate Editor of the Claremont Review of Books, both in Claremont, California.

Every year near the end of February the majordomos of the conservative movement gather at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., for something called the “Conservative Political Action Conference,” or “see-pack” after its initials, CPAC. Through the 1970s this conference gathered most­ly to lament the latest advances of the welfare state and the Soviets, and the featured speaker was usu­ally a former movie actor and governor of Califor­nia who inspired the discouraged troopers of the movement to dream on about someday having a conservative president who would lead us into the promised land.

In 1980 “the Movement” (as it is frankly call­ed by some conservative leaders) finally triumphed at the polls. The far-right weekly Human Events ran the biggest banner headline in its then-35-year history: “AT LAST!” At last, the faithful rejoiced, we’ve got a president who will stop the welfare state, boost the defense budget, stick it to the Rus­sians, deregulate business, cut taxes, fight abortion, stick up for free trade and family values. At Last! The wilderness years were over.

Needless to say, the 1981 CPAC was very different from its predecessors. It was not so much a conference as it was a benediction. The infantry was jubilant — and why not? CPAC would be front-page news in the Washington Post that year, and beyond.

But just then, the first big cracks were begin­ning to appear in the monolithic “Movement.” One incident in particular tells the story. The first morning of the conference I spied an animated knot of people in a corner of the lobby. Never one to miss out on excitement, I wandered over to find out what the commotion was about. It was an ar­gument about abortion. A middle-aged gentleman was saying that he didn’t see what right the govern­ment had stepping into the lives of individuals, and besides, life doesn’t begin until birth anyway. His interlocutor brought up counter-arguments about the rights of the unborn, etc. The argument got in­creasingly heated, whereupon I left. I find argu­ments over abortion, though necessary, very pain­ful; besides, I didn’t want to miss the first session of the morning, where Jeane Kirkpatrick would ex­plain why the U.S. should ally herself with right-wing authoritarian regimes in Latin America.

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