Balancing Economic and Traditional Conservatism

In today’s column David Brooks argues that Mitt Romney and the Republican Party need to balance their free-market, small government conservatism with a healthy dose of traditional conservatism.  By embracing only one brand of conservatism, the Party has “abandoned half of its intellectual ammunition.”  (Actually, the free market version of conservatism is really classical liberalism in conservative garb).  No Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan has managed to effectively merge these two brands of conservatism.

Traditional conservatism, as Brooks rightly defines it, is the conservatism of Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk, and Clinton Rossiter.  Brooks writes:

…the traditionalist wanted to preserve a society that functioned as a harmonious ecosystem, in which the different layers were nestled upon each other: individual, family, company, neighborhood, religion, city government and national government.

Because they were conservative, they tended to believe that power should be devolved down to the lower levels of this chain. They believed that people should lead disciplined, orderly lives, but doubted that individuals have the ability to do this alone, unaided by social custom and by God. So they were intensely interested in creating the sort of social, economic and political order that would encourage people to work hard, finish school and postpone childbearing until marriage.

In the end, according to Brooks, the Republican Party does a good job appealing to business owners, but it could do a better job appealing to “parents, neighbors, and citizens.”

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