“Oh, you snuck in so quietly,” she says, hurrying to help you find your name tag in a pile on a table in the hall of the University Club’s second floor.
You are late, and so ascertain which door will let you in at the back and not the front by the speakers before you slip into the modest room hosting the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s panel, “Conservatism: Trump and Beyond,” in Washington the evening of May 9. Daniel McCarthy is at the podium, explaining that now is an exciting time to think about conservatism and to be conservative, and arguing that Modern Age journal is, as one of a few publications that can foster longer and slower reflection, more important than ever.
He is right, of course, and usually is, but as you survey the room looking for a convenient seat the first thing you notice—are struck by, really—is that the old critique of too white and too male is painfully, obviously, apt here. It is Caucasian boys as far as the eye can see, mostly, and a lot of them are over the half-century mark if paunch and hair or lack of it is anything to judge by. At least Kelly Jane Torrance, assistant managing editor of the Weekly Standard, is on the panel. For those trying to imagine it, the room itself is old and mostly shades of white, too.
That homogeneity is not a wall to discussing conservatism, of course, but it doesn’t exactly bode well for the “Beyond” part of the panel’s title. At the very least, children require mothers, after all. Nothing lasts that can’t be reproduced, and as excellent as ISI’s campus chapters are, conversions in college aren’t a replacement for robust communities and culture.
The quarterly’s seventh editor since its 1957 founding by Russell Kirk, McCarthy succeeded Peter Augustine Lawler last fall, after the latter’s unexpected passing. He hands the mic over to Samuel Goldman, a George Washington University professor and his literary editor for Modern Age, who proceeds urbanely into a defense of fusionism. It’s less three-legged-stool than you think. There might be something deeper there—a way to keep everyone in the coalition on each other’s team.
His remarks are swift—indeed the whole event is; the goal seems to be more sparking conversation during the reception than arriving at definite conclusions—so Goldman sticks to that main point: the conception of fusionism you are carrying around in your head is probably wrong, or at least inadequate, and we should continue to try to grasp the horns of traditional virtue and individual freedom. The fusionist project has failed and needs revitalization because it has not been actively promoted. That is, an emphasis on what is and can be shared needs people to emphasize it; it won’t just emerge from people hashing out differences.
Next up is George Mason Law’s F. H. Buckley, who is here to say, with liberal interspersions of at least French and Latin, what a Trumpian nationalist workers party will do. It will do a lot, apparently, but the first thing is that it will produce jobs, or at least the conditions for jobs—whether a more conventional job-creation program, or something more ambitious, of a Works Progress Administration variety, is not exactly clear—and the second thing is that those jobs will reinvigorate American morals and society. Economic prosperity and independence will make us proud to be American, and proud Americans in a great-again America, we will become again good Americans. Buckley also drops a few withering vituperations against the Beltway’s professional conservatives and gives a brief encomium to the early 1960s. This program is quick, remember, so he speaks very fast.
Kelly Jane Torrance rounds out the remarks with a biographical meander that itself is a reminder of how complicated charting a future for conservatism is going to be. McCarthy introduces her as probably the only person to ever work for both the American Conservative and the Weekly Standard, and she spends much of her comments musing about whether it is better to call herself a libertarian with conservative sympathies or a conservative with libertarian sympathies; tradition doesn’t seem to have much to do with whatever she means by “conservative” and she’s dismissive of Buckley’s nationalism and ode to early sixties. Oddly though, she’s more concerned about the rate of women in the workplace at that time than other, more obviously troubling, features of that moment’s treatment of those who, like her, are not white men. Whether she decides she is more comfortable being called a libertarian or conservative, Torrance is certainly an internationalist—perhaps in Trump’s America, a globalist.
Introducing the question and answer period, which is swifter and more rapid fire—“two at a time, please, so we can get through everyone!”—than even the very brief statements, McCarthy acknowledges the obvious. The panelists do not agree on much of anything. Hopefully, he says, this dialectic can, with time and the help of Modern Age, produce a working synthesis. At the very least, he thinks, the lively conversation will sharpen all involved, and the act of discourse itself may represent a kind of conservatism.
I have my doubts about happy conclusions—the distinct anthropologies and normative citizens implicit to each position seem to make them incommensurable—but am sure Modern Ageunder Daniel McCarthy and Samuel Goldman will do its able best to help us as we all look to see what, for conservatism and the country, lies beyond Trump.
Micah Meadowcroft is assistant editor of the Washington Free Beacon. His writing has appeared in print in the Wall Street Journal books section, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and Providence Magazine, and online for publications including National Review, the American Conservative, and the American Spectator.