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Rzeczpospolita, Poland

The Knight of Conservatism

By Filip Memches

Translated By Emil Iracki

18 November 2012

Edited by Gillian Palmer

Poland - Rzeczpospolita - Original Article (Polish)

A second Republican defeat shows the American right to be in bad shape.

There arises the conclusion: The public relations experts working for the GOP are ineffective, and PR is what matters most in contemporary politics.

But perhaps it is not true. Maybe publicity alone does not warrant a victory. If so, then the Republicans should search for the causes of their failure in their own intellectual and ideological potential. Perceived in this way, the GOP presents no serious alternative to the current state of affairs. A suggestion is included in the most recent book written by Grzegorz Kucharczyk, devoted to one of the foremost American political philosophers, Russel Kirk.

The author, who is a historian from Poznań, outlines the life and heritage of a specific figure, putting it in a wider context. What we have here is essentially a panorama of the controversies over American conservatism, in which Russel Kirk was a major participant.

Nowadays, the Republican Party is mainly associated with support for free entrepreneurship, which, they argue, should not be limited by governmental regulations and intervention, and with the will to “export” democracy to other countries, such as Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya. It suggests a decline of the American right, as the scope through which they see reality appears to be very narrow.

Conservatism in the U.S. became an ideology of the cities, directed mainly against the idea of developing the social security system. In practice, however, it is not the weapon of the middle class, famous for its resourcefulness and initiative, but rather of the military and oil tycoons who capitalize on making business with the state. You get the feeling that the motto of Bill Clinton's presidential campaign from 20 years ago, “It's the economy, stupid,” was also taken to heart by the Republicans.

Meanwhile, the ancient American conservatism, whose promoter was Russel Kirk, cherished aristocratic values, such as honor and responsibility. The ethos of the knight prevailed over the ethos of the manager. Consequently, politics was treated in terms of culture rather than economy. By the way, “culture” was meant to be rooted in the Christian system of values, especially in its Catholic variant (Russel Kirk was a Catholic), which was inspired by the medieval heritage of Europe. In the framework of those values, the focal point is the spirit, not the mundane.

Kucharczyk may be right, writing that American conservatism stems from the post-1945 era as “a trend that was remote from power, almost anti-establishment.” Is it then forever condemned to the anti-establishment position in times of liberal democracy? The question remains unanswered.



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