The Magazine

IS 'CONSERVATIVE REVOLUTION' AN OXYMORON?

Dec 18, 1995, Vol. 1, No. 14 • By GERTRUDE HIMMELFARB
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Ehrenhalt concludes by accusing conservatives of not appreciating the true nture of our problem: "the moral, social, and cultural erosion of the past quarter-century in American life." That erosion, he tells us, can be corrected only by restoring "community" and "civil society." But this, of course, is precisely what conservatives had been saying long before liberals belatedly acknowledged these moral, social, and cultural problems (remember " the economy, stupid") -- and long, long before liberals discovered the virtues of community and civil society. And it is precisely because conservatives ("cultural" or "social" conservatives, as they have been called) take these problems seriously that they seek to tndo the policies that have helped undermine individual, familial, and communal responsibilities. It is ironic to find liberals mouthing the mantras of "community" and "civil society" while refusing to make those reforms (in welfare, most notably) that would restore a truly viable community and civil society.


It is in such a situation that a conservative, a conservative by " disposition," raay be tempted to give two cheers for a conservative rvolution. Two, not three, because a conservative is a reluctant revolutionist. And two, not one or none, because there comes, unhappily, a time when evea conservative has to be a revolutionist.



Gertrude Himmelfarb is the author, most recently, of The DeMoralization of Society (Alfred A. Knopp).