The day of selection draws nigh. We’ve all felt the tension in recent weeks. In a contest of this sort, it’s natural to think of “our guy” vs. “their guy.” I don’t want to downplay the importance of personality in politics. “Our guy” or “their guy” is a choice that matters. Often human events turn on courage or cowardice, boldness or hesitation, charisma or humdrum leadership. So our judgments about the candidate rightly guide our votes. But as we head to the polls, it’s useful to remind ourselves of what we hope for in the longer haul.
In my view, our future depends upon a healthy, morally sound, and religiously informed culture; sensible foreign policy; and good economic initiatives. I call it “common good conservatism.” As an exercise in self-examination, I’ve disciplined myself to flesh out this vision of what our country needs as best I can.
Common good conservatism, to my mind, urges cultural priorities that help Americans live honorable lives and ensure that we are all treated with decency and respect. Our country needs to:
- Ensure full legal protection of the unborn and defend the freedom of conscience for doctors, nurses, and others who provide care.
- Prohibit identity quotas so that our country can return to its promise of equality for all rather than group rights and perquisites.
- Promote marriage and help families stay together.
- Encourage the religious life of the American people and set aside radical and false views of the separation of church and state that deem faith a purely private matter.
- Celebrate our nation’s heritage without apology and prohibit state subsidy of destructive, anti-American activism.
In the area of foreign policy, common good conservatism seeks to protect the interests of the American people. As I see it, this means that our leaders must:
- Shape and defend an international economic order that benefits America’s middle and working classes.
- Guard against China’s ability to dominate regions essential to the global economy and the interests of American people.
- Form and sustain equitable partnerships to pursue our nation’s goals of security and prosperity.
- Promote the flourishing of Western civilization, upon which our republican form of government and culture of freedom depend.
I remain a staunch supporter of free markets. But our capitalist economy has always had and will always need guardrails. I look back over the last thirty years and worry about the diminished prospects for vast swaths of the American people. This leads me to think that common good conservatism should work to expand opportunities for every American. This means we must:
- Re-establish domestic supply chains and increase domestic business investment so that a wide spectrum of Americans can find productive work in a vibrant economy.
- Reform and revitalize the American labor movement, which allows productive workers to recognize they have a stake in the success of their companies—and their companies have a stake in them.
- Diversify economic growth so that the prosperity of our country spreads beyond the confines of narrow geographical areas and just a few successful industries.
- Shift money away from higher education and use these funds to develop non-college pathways that honor practical, non-academic work and connect young Americans to good jobs.
Many of my friends are worried about what comes after November 3. They regret political polarization, social instability, and our debased popular culture, which has become relentlessly secular, crude, and degraded.
I don’t gainsay their worries. We face significant challenges. And the political wisdom of the last three generations—what I call the “postwar consensus”—has become inadequate and dysfunctional because suited to different times and different challenges.
But I am not fearful for our future. The United States of America is a great country. We settled a continent, attained independence, fought a terrible war to end slavery, welcomed immigrants, defeated vicious ideological enemies, brought the Cold War to a peaceful end, and led the way in building a more unified and prosperous world.
Common good conservatism seeks to conserve those remarkable achievements. Instead of tearing down statues and denouncing our founding fathers, we need to affirm our inheritance—and reframe our political priorities so that we can transmit the best aspects of America to our children and grandchildren. I’ve taken a stab. No matter what’s decided tomorrow (or early Wednesday morning—or even later), America’s future will require common good conservatism.
R. R. Reno is editor of First Things.
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