Markets and the Good   /   Fall 2023   /    Book Reviews

The New Prince

A not so very different Machiavellianism.

Andrew Lynn

THR illustration (statue of Machiavelli/Adam Eastland Art+Architecture/Alamy Stock Photo).

Back in 1999, in the immediate wake of the US Senate’s rejection of impeachment measures against President Bill Clinton, conservative activist Paul Weyrich disseminated a consequential letter among DC elites. Recent electoral gains had delivered minimal cultural impact, Weyrich lamented. Whatever political success the New Right had experienced, it was outweighed by a profound cultural devastation. Weyrich even admitted that his own organization’s name—the Moral Majority—was likely misleading, given the values apparently held by the majority. What had caused this cultural devastation? Ideologues committed to political correctness and cultural Marxism, he argued, had captured and used media companies such as Disney, public school systems, and other cultural institutions to undermine traditional ways of life.

Weyrich’s diagnosis from 1999 sounds familiar today because it is scarcely distinguishable from a set of conservative ideas that have recently gained significant ground on the political right. Perceived levels of cultural disintegration and decay have caused many conservatives to revisit precisely what has been achieved by past electoral victories. And, since the 2010s, more and more conservatives have taken aim not just at progressive elites but at leaders within their own movement.

One bullet-riddled target is postwar conservative fusionism, an engineered marriage of social and economic conservatism generally attributed to the handiwork of National Review editors William F. Buckley Jr. and Frank Meyer. A 2019 open letter published in the magazine First Things, for example, condemned the “dead consensus” of fusionism, its authors arguing that affluence and individualism had proven irreconcilable with family stability and communal solidarity. Many signers of that letter have since forged a postfusionist conservatism within the pages of First Things and other right-of-center magazines while joining together in events sponsored by the newly founded Edmund Burke Foundation.

In Regime Change: Toward a Postliberal Future, University of Notre Dame political scientist Patrick J. Deneen offers his contribution to this cause. His starting point is unmistakably Weyrichian: Battered and beaten by adversarial forces, traditional conservatism is in bad shape. The present state of cultural decay, Deneen argues, was hardly offset by post-Obama Republican gains in state offices, the record turnouts of Republican voters in the last two presidential elections, or recent court rulings favoring conservatives—nor will future electoral victories likely turn back the cultural tides. In this assessment, the conservative movement’s blueprint is deeply flawed.

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