Book Review: ‘Progressive Conservatism: How Republicans Will Become America’s Natural Governing Party’

An argument for a political path forward
BY Dustin Bass TIMEJuly 9, 2022 PRINT

It seems that F.H. Buckley thinks a bit differently than most Republicans and Democrats.

In his book “Progressive Conservatism: How Republicans Will Become America’s Natural Governing Party,” he makes it quite clear why that is the case. He belongs to a genre of politics that is rare: a combination of the two (or three, if you toss in Libertarian).

This is not to say that Buckley does not belong to a political party. The cover of his book makes that obvious. But it is clear that he has a smidgen of disdain for the current order of the Republican Party, and much more so for the modern American political order.

In his book, Buckley is calling for a more progressive approach to the conservatism of the Republican Party. It’s not the type of progressivism found in the Democrat Party, which has handed itself over completely to socialism with tinges of Marxism, but the progressivism reminiscent of Theodore Roosevelt.

Roosevelt isn’t the only example the author provides. He bases his progressive conservative thought on Abraham Lincoln and Dwight D. Eisenhower as well. He lauds these three progressive conservative presidents and, surprisingly, adds a fourth president: Donald Trump.

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Official White House portrait of President Eisenhower, circa 1960, by James Anthony Wills. (Public Domain)

Buckley writes that these four presidents worked more toward bettering the population as a whole rather than catering to their party. He presents his arguments based on these presidents’ abilities to address, and often solve, current economic or social issues even when it meant going against their own party members.

A Return to Pre-Revolution Aristocracy

The author points out that one of the primary problems in America is the decline in economic mobility. He questions why the country has slowed down, if not moved backward, in arguably the most important category for a country’s citizens.

He believes, and makes the case, that politicians have reverted to a pre-Revolution aristocracy, where “who you know gets you where you want to go.” It’s the “old money” system, just with “new money.”

He further notes that America is laughably behind in the economic mobility category (among many other categories) among First World countries. The author uses Canada, our neighbor to the north, as a prime comparison. He describes how Canada, which is just as diverse as our country, offers far better economic mobility for its citizens. One of the reasons for this is our faltering (and that is putting it mildly) education system.

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F.H. Buckley, author of “Progressive Conservatism: How Republicans Will Become America’s Natural Governing Party.” (Encounter Books)

While progressive liberals have dominated the scene in secondary and post-secondary education, our once exalted system is in shambles. With each new generation subjected to our abysmal education system, our country falls further behind.

Another issue at hand is the completely out-of-control immigration problem along our southern border, oft-ignored by Democrats. The massive and continual influx of immigrants, who provide little if any benefit to our country, is taking a toll on our economic, educational, and political systems.

Buckley suggests, however, that Democrats see the mass migrations, legal or otherwise, as a benefit to their party. This, in turn, provides no incentive for modern progressives to halt or minimize the number of immigrants.

The author demonstrates how this influx of migrants (who are typically uneducated and poor) and the high percentage of teenagers graduating from a high school program that has dumbed down American intellect has catered to and even bolstered the modern American aristocracy.

Corruption at High Levels

Several times, Buckley references the Founding Fathers’ attempt to stifle corruption in political office. They were aware that eliminating corruption altogether was a fool’s errand, but tried to minimize it through laws as well as checks and balances they hoped would prove sufficient.

The author agrees that this worked to an extent, but in the modern 20th- and 21st-century era, laws (predominantly regulations) have created a massive bureaucracy with a vast abundance of corrupt bureaucrats.

He argues that the administrative state, with agencies like the EPA and the FBI, has become more powerful than the elected officials, those who are supposed to be in charge of running the country.

The author further pinpoints that there are so many rules and regulations created and administered by the administrative state that it stifles business, especially small businesses. The steady growth of the regulatory state has created a deterrence for small businesses to grow and for entrepreneurs to start businesses. Large corporations, on the other hand, benefit from the regulatory state by facing less and less competition. Buckley correlates this and the rise of our aristocracy.

What Is Nationalism?

In “Progressive Conservatism,” Buckley discusses how the term “nationalism” has been corrupted. This corruption started in the middle of the 20th century, but before that time, nationalism was looked upon favorably.

He argues that Americans need to go back to a nationalist idea, and that doing so is the natural order of nations. Nations, like individuals, are naturally concerned first with self-preservation.

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Migrants take part in a vigil for those who died while migrating to the United States, at the US-Mexico border in playas de Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico, on July 4, 2022. (Guillermo Arias/AFP via Getty Images)

He suggests that the ones advancing a move toward global preservation over national self-preservation are globalists. These globalists, like those of the World Economic Forum, are the global aristocracy.

Buckley further argues that it takes a strong leader—like a Lincoln, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, or Trump—to push against the national-global aristocracy. The purpose of his book, however, is not to convince a political figure to become a progressive conservative but to convince citizens, Democrats and Republicans alike, to become progressive conservatives.

His argument is that this is the only way forward. He states that other philosophies, like libertarianism, integralism, and naturalism, are not the paths forward. His arguments are not hyperbolic takedowns of various political philosophies, but rather coherent reasons for disagreement. His arguments are interesting and often convincing.

2 Extremes

Buckley is a self-proclaimed progressive conservative. He worked with Trump as a speech writer. And although he refers to many of the former president’s successes, he doesn’t believe that Trump is the president of the future. In his view, Trump is too divisive a figure, a lightning rod for controversy.

Regardless of your perspective on Trump, Buckley does make proper use of the 45th president. Trump, as polarizing of a figure as he was, was neither a liberal nor a conservative, but rather progressively conservative. Though it may sound like a contradiction in terms, Buckley makes the case that it is not; his book is dedicated to that premise.

He argues, to an extent pleads, with readers not to choose between the two extremes of conservative or liberal. Unfortunately, Buckley is right: The two have become polar extremes in that one must not agree with the other.

For those who are on the fence politically or who are staunchly conservative or liberal, this book will cause readers to reconsider their positions on numerous political issues.

Buckley finishes the book with a list of tasks that must be performed in order to place our country back toward the top of the First World countries. These are all issues that need resolution. Buckley’s view is that they can most likely be accomplished only by a progressive conservative.

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Cover of “Progressive Conservatism: How Republicans Will Become America’s Natural Governing Party.” (Encounter Books)

‘Progressive Conservatism: How Republicans Will Become America’s Natural Governing Party’
By F.H. Buckley
Encounter Books, July 12, 2022
Hardcover; 272 pages

Dustin Bass
Dustin Bass is the host of Epoch TV's "About the Book: A Show about New Books With the Authors Who Wrote Them." He is an author and co-host of The Sons of History podcast.
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