Constitutional Studies hosts forum on modern conservatism
Christopher Parker | Monday, September 16, 2019
Notre Dame’s Constitutional Studies department hosted a debate between conservative voices in the Jenkins-Nanovic Hall Forum on Friday. The debaters in the event, “What is Conservatism in the Age of Trump?” have argued before — in print and in person — representing different schools of conservative thought.
First to speak was David French, senior writer at National Review. French mainly focused on America’s founders during his opening statement, citing Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in his vision for conservatism. He spoke of a “non-delegable duty of the government of the United States of America to protect liberty.”
“I think it is a time in our country to rediscover the wisdom of the founders,” he said.
French advocated for smaller government with more autonomy. He said this will ease some problems of the current political atmosphere.
“One of [the conservative movement’s] most urgent projects is to diffuse negative polarization,” French said. “What do you do about the fact that there’s differing communities in the United States with strongly different view about how the government should run? One of the things you do is let them govern themselves.”
Next, Sohrab Ahmari, the Iranian-American op-ed editor of the New York Post, debated French’s points about a hands-off government. He spoke of “the desire to renegotiate some elements of the conservative program.” He said that the movement should take action against what they perceive as immoral or dangerous for society, rather than providing more liberty.
“When I see certain events where children are interacting with licentious behavior, I don’t see that as the blessings of liberty that our founders had in mind,” Ahmari said.
He criticized French’s strain of conservatism as reactionary, not proactive, and said it fails to offer a “vision of the good” the way left-wing movements do. He cited Drew Brees and Mario Lopez, both recently criticized in the news, as examples of attacks from the left about morality.
“The battleground has shifted and ‘consensus conservatism’ has not kept up,” he said.
Last to speak was the Dengler-Dykema Distinguished Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College, Charles Kesler. In his comments, Kesler said “in some ways, what the Trump administration has been pursuing is a return to the Republican norm.”
“There’s never been a president like Donald Trump, for good or ill, but the situation conservatives find themselves in is not so unprecedented. The situation resembles that of the 1950’s,” he said.
Kesler said this old Republican norm included economic protectionism, tight but fair immigration, lower taxes, a proactive judiciary and a foreign policy that pursues national interests without “exporting democracy.” He said that though Trump’s leadership style will not last beyond his administration, the changes in policy will.
After this, the event switched to question-and-answer form. Vincent Phillip Muñoz, director of Constitutional Studies, asked the first two questions about the nature of the political “crisis” in the country, and whether the solution was more or less government control. Student volunteers were also given time to ask questions directly to the panelists.