Conference on 'National Conservatism' to Return for the First Time Post-Trump

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“What the Hell is ‘National Conservatism’ Anyway?” asked Park MacDougald in a 2019 New York magazine article about the first National Conservatism Conference held in July of that year in Washington. MacDougald cast the event as “an attempt to synthesize some of the disparate strands of Trump-era populism and nationalism into something representing a coherent – and intellectually respectable – part of the conservative movement.” Stephanie Slade of Reason griped that the conference was an indicator that “if government infringements on personal liberty are the price of achieving good outcomes, conservatives are more than happy to pay it.” Brad Littlejohn wrote for Mere Orthodoxy, on the other hand, that the event was filled with “emotional intensity” and left him feeling “hopeful about the future of our nation” for the first time in his adult life as he mingled with conservative intellectuals crafting a blueprint for national renewal. 

The event makes its return at the end of this month, having migrated further south – to Orlando, Florida – and with Trump, at least for now, in the rearview mirror. Judging from its expansive roster, this latest installment should inspire equally strong sentiments from both supporters and detractors. The event’s more than 80 speakers include such figures as controversial investor Peter Thiel; senatorial candidate and Hillbilly Elegy author J. D. Vance; author of the seminal “Flight 93” essay Michael Anton; journalist and leader of the charge against Critical Race Theory Christopher Rufo; and three sitting U.S. Senators (Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and Marco Rubio). 

The event’s organizers, the Edmund Burke Foundation, say that the conference is meant to “bring together public figures, journalists, scholars, and students who understand that the past and future of conservatism are inextricably tied to the idea of the nation, to the principle of national independence, and to the revival of the unique national traditions that alone have the power to bind a people together and bring about their flourishing.” A repeated theme in conference materials, including statements presented to RealClear by the organizers, is that conservatives must unite against threats to democracy from abroad such as that posed by a resurgent China – and threats at home, as seen in the increasing cultural influence of Neo-Marxism. Conspicuously absent is a desire to relitigate Trumpism. 

Conference chairman Christopher DeMuth told RealClear in a statement that “[w]e are building a conservatism that will not only resist but reverse today’s horrible trends in politics and culture. Our task begins with nationhood – free and independent nations that cultivate a virtuous public culture, unify rather than divide their citizens, and stand against globalist threats to their sovereignty and welfare. Conserving the great achievements of Western civilization has now become a matter of day-to-day urgency. In Orlando, we will lay out a path forward that is grounded, rigorous, and widely appealing.” 

Yoram Hazony, chairman of the Edmund Burke Foundation and conference organizing committee member, told RealClear that the conference should be of interest to both “nationalist conservatives and anti-Marxist liberals.” In a statement, he addressed those who might criticize the conference as merely an exercise in abstract thought. “NatCon is ground zero for the counter-revolution. Some will say that it’s largely a bunch of intellectuals kicking around ‘ideas.’ But ideas are the source of action. As senseless as the violence and chaos surrounding BLM and Antifa might seem, it’s all inspired by a set of ideas—namely, those of neo-Marxism. National Conservatism exists to be the countervailing force.”

Organizing committee member David Brog told RealClear that the conference is an act of “resistance” against authoritarians who have “assaulted our history and institutions.” “This is going to be a momentous few days for America and all who love her,” he said. 

Momentous occasions seem like old hat in our whiplash-inducing political age. What is clear, however, is that organizers have once again put together a National Conservatism Conference with a stacked roster of conservative talents certain either to anger or delight. Nationalists, it seems, have plenty to say about the direction of the country – with or without Donald Trump. 

Bill Zeiser is editor of RealClearPolicy. 

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