Posted on | February 13, 2014 | 36 Comments
— Robert Stacy McCain (@rsmccain) February 13, 2014
If American conservatism has a future, that future is going to look a lot like Gabby Hoffman. What is striking about Gabby is that, unlike some other young conservatives I have met, she shows a deep appreciation of conservatism’s history, especially its development in the context of the Cold War. While it is true that American conservatism has a long and respectable intellectual pedigree — as Russell Kirk demonstrated in The Conservative Mind — it was only in the post-World War II environment that this philosophy emerged as a fighting creed to challenge the liberal hegemony that had dominated our culture since the Progressive Era of the early 20th century. While it took many hands to build the movement that eventually elected Ronald Reagan president, three books are generally credited with inspiring the movement and providing it with a sense of philosophical coherence:
- The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek (1944).
- Ideas Have Consequences by Richard Weaver (1948).
- God and Man at Yale by William F. Buckley Jr. (1951).
Weaver’s book remains a classic, but it is perhaps impossible for anyone who was not alive at the time to imagine what a publishing sensation Hayek and Buckley’s books created. The Road to Serfdom was republished in a condensed version by the Reader’s Digest and went through multiple editions. It gained immediate attention as an important work, and the same was true of God and Man at Yale. Young conservatives who think of Buckley as an imminently respectable intellectual have no idea what kind of hateful denunciations were heaped upon him after he boldly exposed the leftward drift in elite academia. Some two decades after FDR’s triumphal election, liberals simply were not used to being addressed in such a tone of confident disagreement, and Buckley was personally demonized for it.
All of three of these books were published at a time when armed confrontation with totalitarian power was the great crisis facing the American political order, creating a sensibility of existential threat that is absent in much conservative discourse today.
In the quarter-century since the fall of the Berlin Wall, it seems, many young conservatives have forgotten — or perhaps it is more accurate to say they never learned — what it was that originally inspired the modern conservative movement. The dread of dictatorship and the menace of totalitarian ideology was easier to understand for those of us who grew up under the shadow the Evil Empire, with the threat of thermonuclear annihilation constantly in our minds. Because her parents grew up inside the nightmare of Stalin’s conquests, immigrating from Soviet Lithuania to the United States, Gabby Hoffman gets it in a way that many other young people don’t really get it anymore:
Millions tuned to NBC last Friday night to watch the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Despite subpar construction, dingy hotel conditions, and athletes trapped in bathrooms, the Sochi spectacle was masterfully executed — except for the Olympic ring that didn’t budge and the glorification of Soviet symbols.
To anyone with family members that escaped the Soviet Union — including yours truly — the opening ceremony brought back terrible memories of the Old Country.
The opening montage began with, “Russia overwhelms. Russia mystifies. Russia transcends. Through every stage of its story, it’s resisted any notion of limitation. Through every re-invention, only redoubling its desire to cast a towering presence.”
The narrator — Game of Thrones actor Peter Dinklage — continued by saying, “The empire that ascended to affirm a colossal footprint; the revolution that birthed one of modern history’s pivotal experiments. But if politics has long shaped our sense of who they are, it’s passion that endures…”
What’s so “pivotal” about centrally-planned government, food rationing, prison labor camps, a secret police, and millions of deaths? . . . .