Is National Conservatism the Future of the Movement?

Since the founding, conservatism has been a philosophy. The political ideology that has guided America through its most difficult times has evolved and changed with the country.

Conservatism stands again at a possible point for evolution. Both for and against national conservatism has been much discussed.

Nate Hochman, a staff writer at National Review, says that national conservatism is both the future of the movement—and its past.

“You can point to any number of issues, whether it’s a more, sort of, assertive social conservatism, immigration restriction, a sort of rethinking of conservatism’s relationship to big business, a kind of ‘two cheers for capitalism’ approach to free markets,” he says. “All of those things have been aspects of conservatism since the modern American conservative movement was founded.”

Hochman joins us to discuss national conservatism and what it means for the future of the movement.

Listen to the podcast or read the lightly edited transcript below:

Doug Blair: Today’s guest is Nate Hochman, National Review staff writer. Nate, welcome on the show.

Nate Hochman: Doug, thank you for having me.

Blair: It’s always a pleasure to have fellow Portlander on the show. We are at the National Conservatism Conference right now to hear from some of the most brilliant minds in the national conservative movement. I think for a lot of our listeners who maybe aren’t aware of what that actually means, how do you define national conservatism?

Hochman: That is the million-dollar question.

I think one of the things that Peter Thiel was talking about at the first speech of the conference is that there’s an enormous amount of ideological diversity at a conference like this. But I believe what national conservatism really is is something that is similar to the policies Donald Trump ran in 2016. So, immigration restrictions, trade hawkishness toward China, and a more aggressive position on the culture war. There’s a sort of suite of different policy issues and that’s expanded over time.

To me, national conservatism is a part of the larger American conservative tradition. It’s mostly just about a reformulation of traditional conservative principles to confront the contemporary issues today, whether those are cultural issues, immigration, a rising China, etc.

Blair: You believe it fits within the traditional values of conservatism. Is this something that’s not really new, it’s just sort of a reformulation of old values or is this something that’s developed and is different now?

Hochman: No, I think everything that’s being discussed at this conference is squarely within the American conservative tradition. You can point to any number of issues, whether it’s a more sort of assertive social conservatism, immigration restriction, a sort of rethinking of conservatism’s relationship to big business, a kind of “two cheers for capitalism” approach to free markets—all of those things have been aspects of conservatism since the modern American conservative movement was founded.

It’s just that over the course of the last couple of decades, the argument from a lot of the people at the conference here is that conservatives have sort of become complacent and haven’t really developed new policies to confront new problems. And that’s what I see the project of this conference as being all about.

Blair: You mentioned Donald Trump. He was one of the standard bearers perhaps of this movement. A lot of his policies which he ran on were the national conservative policies. Do you see any opposition to these policies from other candidates?

Hochman: Oh, well, there’s both. And there’s nothing more quintessentially conservative than fierce disagreements about what conservatism means. So that’s not new either, but [Florida Gov.] Ron DeSantis spoke last night. He’s obviously someone that I think a lot of people at the conference are big fans of—[Sen.]Blake Masters, Josh Hawley and Peter Thiel are clearly major figures.

So there’s a lot of conservatives, both actual elected Republicans and Republican candidates, but also conservative intellectuals and standard bearers who are interested in at least aspects of the program. But there are also many Republicans and conservatives with real concerns. I believe that debate is at most partially what a conference such as this is all about.

Blair: What are the most serious threats facing the country currently?

Hochman: Well, to my mind, at least, and I don’t want to speak for all national conservatives, what a lot of this is about is understanding that those primary fundamental challenges to America today are cultural. And they often flow from concentrated private power that the Left exercises, whether it’s through major corporations, foundations, civic activist groups, etc., which are really presenting an existential challenge to the American way of life.

And something like the Paul Ryan-era tax cuts deregulation as the primary goal of Republican party politics just isn’t going to actually be capable of confronting those challenges.

So someone like DeSantis is a model, where you’re actually willing to use public policy to put the culture war and all of those attendant issues at the forefront of your policy agenda and being willing to rethink our relationship to institutions like Big Business, which oftentimes have been captured by activists on the left, and proceed from there accordingly.

Blair: Does national conservatism hold any equivalence across the globe We’ve seen that other countries, specifically in Europe, like Britain and Italy, have moved in a more rightward direction. Are these movements similar to the U.S. national conservatism?

Hochman: Absolutely. National conservatism is the best way to understand the project. It involves rethinking traditional conservative principles in order to address new issues. Those issues are often, although there’s sort of variations across geography, they’re consistent across all of the West.

There are many parallels between the Left in the United States and the Left in France, Germany and Canada. I believe that right-wing parties from all of these places are having very similar conversations in some spheres to American conservatives.

And there’s a National Conservatism Conference in Europe as well, because I think there’s an attempt to take the intellectual resources from conservative parties and thinkers across Europe, not just the Anglosphere, but France and Germany and Belgium as well, and to share those conversations and how different conservative parties are thinking about that.

Blair: Sure. Well, we’ve had you on the show before to talk about the Canadian trucker protests, the freedom rallies, and I guess my question is, that sort of protesting, is that style of standing up to authoritative government, is that a strain of national conservatism or is that more of a populist strain of conservatism?

Hochman: Well, I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive all the time. Obviously, it’s tough too when you have something as unruly as mass outpouring at protests, it’s not always easy to assign a coherent ideological framework to what’s going on.

So I had to talk to people from vastly different ideologies when I was on ground in Canada. There were Christian groups, there were populist-minded truckers who were probably the Canadian equivalent of the Trump base here, there were people who just didn’t like vaccine mask mandates and wanted to go back to normal life.

So … all of those people had a shared goal. National conservatives and right-wingers would be well advised to harness spontaneous movements like this and share our goals.

But mass political movements aren’t always intellectually coherent. So national conservatives and conservatives in general should be looking at grassroots energy and trying to direct it toward the ends that they want, but that kind of populist uprising isn’t always exactly easy to pinpoint in terms of their subscription to national conservative principles.

Blair: Sure. It makes me wonder about the formation of that coalition. When you can form a coalition that will keep it, power seems to be derived. Are we seeing that national conservatism is drawing in partners that maybe haven’t been part of the conservative coalition before?

Hochman: Well, I think on the political electoral level, that’s clearly true. If you think about the Hispanic realignment in South Texas and Florida, where we are, it is clear that a lot of nonwhite, non-college educated voters are moving into conservative coalition. And I think that a lot of that has to do with the cultural issues that we’re talking about.

So insofar as national conservatism counsels an effort to put these cultural issues at the front and center of the conservative understanding, you are going to win a lot of folks who might have tended toward the Democratic Party in a different era and national conservatism is also counseling a move away from sort of fundamentalist free market libertarianism, which is also where you’re going to get a lot more working-class voters who might have been put off by Republican Party that ran primarily on cutting Social Security or something like that.

These types of working-class voters are now joining the Republican Party because they are socially conservative and economically moderate. This seems to me to be the clear future for the Republican coalition, and conservatism in general.

Blair: So are we seeing that those gains stay? Many people, after watching Donald Trump’s election in 2016, and then seeing his vote share in 2020, were unsure if it would stick, or if they would be able to maintain those gains. Are we seeing that that’s happening?

Hochman: Well, hopefully, of course, we’ll see in 2022 whether they return, but from 2016 to 2020, you saw massive shifts in places like the Rio Grande Valley, sometimes to the tune of 50 points from 2016 to 2020 in these sort of 90-plus percent Hispanic areas.

So that realignment, it’ll be interesting to see how it looks in 2022 and 2024, but as it stands today, it certainly looks like that’s where the trending is moving and public opinion polling, while often not entirely reliable, has also showed that realignment continuing to happen since 2020.

Blair: One of the things that I find very interesting about the conversation about national conservatism, at least with some of the people that I’ve spoken to, is the role of religion. Specifically many national conservatives I’ve spoken with view the church, and in certain contexts, the traditional Catholicism, as essential to the national conservative movement. Is this accurate? Or is it a misinterpretation of the movement’s workings?

Hochman: It’s obviously incredibly important, right? Again, if you’re looking at a sort of conservatism that is primarily focused on social issues, or at least organized around social and cultural issues, you can’t have that conversation without discussing religion.

Religion continues to play a central role in cultural debates. So you don’t have to be, I think, devoutly religious to be a national conservative, but you do have to affirm to a certain extent the importance of religion in civil society. Listen to any of the panelists at the conference to hear this.

Blair: Sure. One of those panelists we’ve spoken to is Yoram Hazony, who has a view on religion as being essential. You cannot untie those two principles, otherwise, it’s not conservatism. That being said, one of my questions is: Where does this extend to foreign religions. Does that apply to Hinduism too? Does that also apply to Buddhism Does it apply to Shintoism?

Hochman: Well, it’s a good question. I don’t know exactly how something like Buddhism plays in the American political context, just because I don’t know. I don’t think the Buddhist voting block is significant. Some polling shows that about 20% of American Buddhists are Republicans. This is quite funny. I would love to meet the Buddhist Republican voter. I haven’t met any here necessarily.

But Christianity is still the dominant religion in the United States. Conferences like this attract a lot of religious Jews. The West and the United States were founded on the Judeo-Christian religious and philosophical traditions.

And insofar as national conservatives are trying to preserve and defend our cultural heritage, that’s fundamentally what they’re defending, but that doesn’t mean that other religions which share our political goals, and I certainly think that there are plenty of people who belong to other religions that do, aren’t welcome in national conservatism and don’t have something to contribute.

Blair: Sure. Let’s speak about the response to national conservatism from possibly our enemies on the left. How does the Left view this movement and what are their responses?

Hochman: Well, it depends exactly what sort of leftist you’re talking about, but there’s been an enormous amount of somewhat hysterical coverage of national conservatism as basically sort of latent fascism, semi-fascism, to use the president’s turn of phrase.

Obviously, I don’t think that’s true. I’m not a fascist, I’m a national conservative, but I think the Left correctly perceives that the ideas on offer here and the kind of Republican policy agenda that’s being formulated here is a bigger threat to their cultural hegemony because it’s actually focused on targeting their cultural hegemony is one of the primary goals.

They are understandably concerned by this. They should be worried, I believe. It doesn’t mean that anything being discussed here is illegitimate. While I believe the policy priorities are correct, it is a more dangerous form of conservatism to left-wing Hegemony than the one that primarily advocates tax cuts and occupational licensure.

Blair: Do we see any particular arenas of the culture where the conservative movement, at least in the national conservative space, is winning, where we’re starting to see shifts from that overarching power of the Left, maybe moving either toward the middle or toward the right?

Hochman: Oh, certainly. One of the most significant political and cultural stories in the last two decades is the parent-led grassroots revolt at school boards against critical race theory, and also gender ideology. Subsequently, the slate of anti-critical race theory laws that were passed in most red state legislatures at this point and laws restricting transgender athletes in women’s sports and obviously Dobbs [v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization]This is the culmination basically of what social conservatism as an political movement was founded upon.

I believe that a lot of the things national conservatives have been discussing for the past few years have started to translate into policy wins. The momentum is a validation of national conservatism’s argument. If we actually focus on these cultural issues, we can win, but we can use public policy to advance conservative ends and we should continue to do so because it’s crucially important.

Blair: Sure. Blair: Yes. And I almost see some of these discussions that we’re having right now, specifically surrounding Dobbs, as we won this victory at the Supreme Court. It is possible that the federal government will pass a law that allows abortion in all 50 states. How can conservatives counter this prevailing cultural narrative and still win victories at places like the Supreme Court?

Hochman: Part of it is realizing that politics is not necessarily downstream of culture. Obviously, sometimes it is, it would be naïve to say that politics exist in a vacuum and isn’t affected by culture. Sometimes, culture can also be downstream from politics.

If you look at any number of major Supreme Court cases, Roe v. Wade, for example, it’s impossible to deny that Roe v. Wade had a profound effect on American culture. The same applies to major laws passed and major policy decisions. The Iraq War had a profound impact on American culture. American culture would not be the same if it weren’t for something like the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Public policy and American cultural are not incompatible. They’re constantly in conversation with one another. And that doesn’t mean that you can completely engineer culture through sort of central planning and via top-down government or something. This does not mean that public policies cannot be viewed as intertwined.

I mean, it comes to something like education, I think Ron DeSantis has been a really good model of understanding that and not just focusing on banning poisonous ideologies like critical race theory, but also really focusing on a positive vision of renewed civics education, where we’re actually teaching about the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Again, we’re teaching that America’s a good country and explaining to students why all of that stuff is public policy.

This has a profound impact on the cultural understanding of next generation. And that’s what conservatives need to be focusing on.

Blair: Absolutely. As a final note, who are some of the people that our listeners might be able to look into or who might be able to research and say, “OK, I have a good understanding of what national conservatives believe and what their plan of action is”?

Hochman: Well, … obviously the speaker roster for National Conservatism is a good place to start. So on the political level you’ve got people like Ron DeSantis who’s a leader, you have candidates like Blake Masters and J.D. Vance. You have elected Republicans like Josh Hawley and then in the House, you’ve got folks like Jim Banks. All of these people have been really tuned into a lot national conservative priorities. In terms of the intellectual sphere, it’s impossible to compile a comprehensive list. I won’t bore your listeners.

But my colleague Michael Brendan Dougherty at National Review is someone who’s worth listening to. All the people at the Claremont Institute were involved in this. Yoram Hazony, who’s the organizer. I think all of these people are worth your time.

But if you want to see the actual policy agenda in action, there’s a number of Republicans and I think there will be even more after 2022 who are at least national conservative-friendly.

Blair: Just a quick aside. Are we seeing any Democrats moving more towards that movement? Or has the Democratic Party been completely taken over by the Left.

Hochman: Well, I don’t see any Democrats who I think national conservatives would identify as their friends for the most part.

There are Democrats who will cooperate with Republicans on certain priorities national conservatives value. National conservatives are interested to see a child credit for their tax credits, so something like family policy is one area. That’s something that you can get a lot of progressives on board with. But the cultural agenda, I believe Democrats are pretty much opposed to what national conservateurs believe in.

Blair: This was Nate Hochman, National Review’s staff writer. Nate, I always appreciate your presence.

Hochman: Thanks, Doug.

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