Yuval Levin, senior editor of New Atlantis journal, serves up an interesting argument in this week’s Weekly Standard. In his article “Putting Parents First,” Levin acknowledges the very real tensions within the American conservative coalition between those committed primarily to protecting free-market economics and those committed primarily to preserving traditional structures of family and community.
As the modern conservative movement took shape, conservatives were spared the full burden of mitigating these internal tensions because they confronted adversaries, at home and abroad, who opposed both of the goods conservatives aimed to advance. The left at its height viewed capitalism and traditional social institutions like the family as equally unjust and oppressive, and sought to use government power to replace or to undermine both.
This allowed conservatives to serve the cause of family and market by opposing big government. That doesn’t mean the conservative coalition always held together amicably, but a common enemy can go a long way toward smoothing over differences. And opposition to government was not just a slogan. It genuinely served the interests of the family and the market in a time when both were under siege. It truly was the case, as Ronald Reagan put it in his first inaugural address in 1981, that “in this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
Levin argues this strategy no longer holds, or will not hold much longer (I agree). In other words, the “Leave Us Alone” coalition increasingly is turning on itself. He sees the solution in conservatives of various stripes concentrating their policy proposals not on the “investor class” but on the “parenting class” and includes specific recommendations for public policy.
I’m not as optimistic as Levin that this coalition can be reconfigured. But his analysis is insightful, and should prompt some interesting discussions across the conservative landscape, especially perhaps among those of us who ask more and more, “What hath Jerusalem to do with Wall Street?”