Debating the future of U.S. conservatism

Since the 2012 presidential election, there has been an ongoing and lively debate about what the future of conservatism is or should be. For example, Commentary magazine recently published a “symposium issue” containing brief articles from more than 50 conservative thinkers, activists, and writers seeking to address this question. Additionally, some have sought to summarize the themes of these varied opinions from diverse minds.

One argument among the many that should not get lost amid the debate is the argument of Arthur Brooks: The path to future success for conservatism (i.e., in changing conventional political wisdom and culture) is grounded in moral arguments. His argument is not that conservatives should get preachy, but rather that conservatives must make a moral case for their vision of society and their desired public policies if they hope to succeed.

The reality is that the average person, whether by nature or nurture (or both), wants to do the right thing.

Hence, when the average person is faced with a clear choice of either doing “the right thing” or the thing that is explained as being best for economic growth or for balancing the budget,  “the right thing” will almost always win out (and will certainly win out over time).

There is the separate (and valid) communications question of how to appeal to people’s morality without being preachy, but answering that question should not cause conservatives to back away from the necessity of making moral arguments. As conservatives, we can throw around facts, data, and studies all day long, but unless we learn to communicate with people on a basic, moral level – speaking to their hearts as well as their minds – we will lose the political and cultural debates that determine public policy the future of free society.

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