Updated: Dec 30, 2021
…just to avoid confusion between “classical”, “modern” and “new-and-improved” Republicans and Conservatives.
I watched Peter, Paul & Mary sing this live in 1964 on the campus of the University of Kentucky. Of course, Bob Dylan wrote it, but I liked their voices better than his gravely-voice.
The words matter a lot here, so listen to them carefully, for not one person of the AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) generation of “liberal” would agree with any of the sentiments expressed here, only, they still proclaim themselves the heirs of these sentiments, including the likes of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, where Dylan’s songs were sung by this same trio in 1963, as part of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” March to the Washington Mall, in 1963.
I was part of folk-singing group in high school then. We were good, even traveling down to the Blue Grass to sing on university campus. Before the Vietnam War, our songs were about civil rights and freedom; not war protest. We sang Woody Guthrie, Dylan, “How Many roads must a man walk down…” Stuff like that.
But five years later Dr King’s Dream was safely hijacked, the Vietnam War lost, (coincidentally at the same period in 1968), not to mention stampeding environmentalist-nature lovers, replacing them with lawyers and their briefcases, easing hikers and birdwatchers aside. So, by 1976 Democrats could finally proclaim both MLK to be one of their founding fathers while scuttling all his dreams, and the Vietnam War won by their “peace movement”, thus renaming themselves “Modern Liberals” or “New Left”, taking over the Democrat Party, pushing “classical liberals” aside, saying:
“Modern liberalism stands for the proposition that all human behavior should be subject to the political process”
…a concept that stands so openly against the expressed natural law purposes of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution about the aspirations of free men and women, as to make your skin crawl.
And thousands of thousands of us found “conservative” a better choice than “liberal”.
But on the whole, I doubt the Republican Party actually got those nuances. And that is when the nomenclature-game began, multiple definitions of “liberal”, multiple definitions of “conservative” and a growing distinction between types of Republicans, such as “Rockefeller Republican” (today RINO), all very suitable to the “Democrats”, whose name remained unchanged.
Still, unless you’re a totally self-involved mind-numbed spoiled bratling from Manhattan’s Upper East Side…I can think of several Democrat-cum-leftists, from AOC to Adam Schiff, representing three generations now…who would still mouth their approval for Bob Dylan’s sentiments in “Time’s Are a’Changin'”, or accept Martin Luther King as one of theirs…as would their fawning media, who, I might add, speaks for only about 25%-30% of the American public. (The same 30% that has ruled mankind since the pharaohs, if you’re into history.)
But in 1964 they were considered exclusively “liberal”, not only because of the philosophy those words sung out, but because of their sentimentality…including the patriotic sentimentality that caused high school kids to sing “How many roads must a man walk down…” in 1964, then still hit the mud a’running in 1967 at Dak To. You can strip away the intellectualism in Dylan’s music which is why I like him. Classical liberals of the 1960s were more touchy-feely, while modern conservatives like WFB were coldly analytical, and thus exclusivist, allowing liberalism to paint itself as being more “of the people” than conservatives. But as I’ve related elsewhere, in 1991 I read the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence as a toast to a group of Soviet college professors and everyone, standing, glass held high, began to cry, never having heard of any of the prominent people I’ve mentioned here.
I reported that story to WFB (William F. Buckley, Jr.), by the way, after I returned in 1992, but that sort of sentimentality we need to have more of, don’t you think?
And that seems to be the button Donald Trump pushed in 2015.
The world was still full of “classical liberals” in the 60s and 70s. I believe Jonathan Turley to still be one. Maybe Alan Dershowitz as well. Buckley believed the principal difference between liberals and conservative was in the liberals’ belief that “government could do good” which we now know, fifty years later, it cannot, for very clear natural law reasons; a government built on process management will kill itself within a predictable period of time.
With that one thought in mind, relisten to Bob Dylan’s lyrics.
Only it seems “Conservative” has seen better days too, as has “Republican”, both because of the branding they allowed.
I never liked to use “Classical conservative” for that term “conservative” came from the House of Lords stigma of representing the ruling class of Britain: Tories. One of the 20th Century’s finest intellectual minds and Christian moralist, G K Chesterton, (and like Buckley, a practicing Roman Catholic) couldn’t abide Tories, and proclaimed himself a “Liberal” in England, which itself had been the principal opposition party until Labour replaced them after WWII. It would be Margaret Thatcher, a PhD scientist (chemistry) and a commoner, who would transform the Tories in the Reagan era, and save Britain, and in the process project the same aura onto the term “conservative” in England as Buckley had done in America. She died in 2003 and WFB died in 2008, and in both cases, it appears “classical conservatism” died with them, save a few old war horses such as myself. England is close to being a lost cause.
Not being sure what will follow me is why I am writing this.
Perhaps we need new names in order to recover those old sensibilities for Democrats and the media have appropriated the power to name us, and call us what they like…at least to that 30% representing their natural stake in the population.
The truth is “liberal” no longer means anything unless you are a historian and use it in precise historical terms. And then you have to spend half your time equivocating as an annoying morning radio talk show host here does. The same goes for “conservative” since I can no longer call myself “conservative” so long as old National Review alums such as Jonah Goldberg and David French (both a little older than my eldest boy) or colleague Stephen Hayes of Weekly Standard, the age of my baby boy, are still out there proclaiming themselves to be “exclusivist” conservatives. They just don’t want to rub elbows with that sort of person.
There is virtually nothing about America-as-founded that connects me to them.
If the truth were known, Donald Trump was never a conservative, but more of the classical liberal type, only, and here’s the rub, Trump was of the back-slapping, flag-waving variety, which has not been common among society’s better-educated and more affluent citizens since Daniel Webster. But this was how Trump found our lost Army, long since buried for at least a generation. He was the right man at the right time to wake those several millions up to citizenship and liberty again. Despised by the Left for having wakened them up, he is also hated by those superficial conservatives because he reminds them that these are the people they will have to actually keep company with and learn to speak their language if they can have any actual impact on how America is governed.
(I’ve often called Trump the world’s “largest small-businessman”, which explains everything modern corporate America hates about him…he knows his employees by their first names, thus defying stereotyping of virtually every corporate protocol and identifier, and runs his businesses like a friendly corner candy store owner.)
Trump is not a process businessman. He graduated from Wharton before they taught that sort of swill, nor a process Republican, and America can do with another 30 years’ worth of that sort of government just to get things back on the straight and narrow.
I just don’t think “Republican” can carry the name anymore. It has too many wounds in its chest that are self-inflicted. And it hadn’t represented the “brand”, much less paid public honor to it, since Ronald Reagan. And even in RR’s day, the GOP establishment didn’t like him inviting people like us to come through the front door. (Although all the hobos that came thru my town knew where the houses were that would give them a handout, my mother still sent them ’round to the kitchen door to get it. I understood stigma at an early age.)
There’s nothing about “being Republican” to wax poetic over anymore. Only Donald Trump was able to reignite the original “Doctrine of Liberty” brand in the souls of ordinary Americans.
Now, with the growth of the Precinct Project*, a brainchild of a friend of mine, Dan Schultz, (a West Point grad, btw) and the neighborhood foot-power it creates, that charged out of the gate in Virginia in 2021, and which may possibly kill most of Democrat plans to steal in 2022, maybe the brand can be saved…but only as a people’s brand, a doctrine-of-liberty brand to which many Republicans of the political class don’t want to bow their heads to.
If you can’t get rid of those squids who are afraid to get their hands dirty, get a better name.
“Con los pobres de la tierra”
Vassar Bushmills @bushmillsvassar is the pen name of one of our Twitter friends, author and host of the Vassar Bushmills website and co-author, with David M. Poff, of Unwashed Philosophy: A User's Guide For Our Imperfect Union available on Amazon through this link.
*The Precinct Project won the CHQ Liberty Prize and is covered in some detail in CHQ Chairman Richard A. Viguerie’s book Takeover: The 100-Year War for the Soul of the GOP and How Conservatives Can Finally Win It
William F. Buckley