“A conservative,” says Yoram Hazony, “considers national and religious traditions key to strengthening the nation and to maintaining it over time.”
Now, liberties are obviously important, but it’s impossible to conserve anything by a movement that’s only interested in individual freedom. Without any other principles, individual freedom isn’t about conserving anything. It’s the opposite. It’s saying, “We don’t owe the past anything. We don’t have any duty of handing down and transmitting things.”
In 2020, we saw something very different. The New York Times—the leading exponent for liberalism—dismissed some proponents of liberalism to accommodate a woke neo-Marxism, and that accommodation was then repeated across the United States and Britain.
I went to Princeton University, which has now decided to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from the buildings. You can’t find a more obvious liberal intellectual and political leader, but Wilson was too toxic for Princeton. So they scrubbed his name from the buildings, and Princeton now is under the thumb of woke neo-Marxist ideology. You can repeat that across dozens of major institutions, parts of the U.S. government bureaucracy, and even the military.
There’s an attempt by woke neo-Marxists—the progressives—to establish hegemony. If you don’t go along, then you’re not going to be a member of society in good standing.
That way of thinking was alien to enlightenment liberalism. Enlightenment liberalism was invented mostly during the 1600s and 1700s. It’s a rationalist theory that tries to figure out for human beings of all ages and countries the right form of government. This approach begins with the assumption that there’s a right form of government for all people and that we can figure it out if we reason well enough, if we think properly and clearly.
Though liberals and conservatives are concerned about individual liberties, their ideas stand in terrific tension. The conservative asks, “What do we need to do to transmit certain ideas?” To do that, you have to create norms. You have to create guardrails. You say, “This range of behaviors and ideas is what we stand for.”
Liberals say almost the opposite: “Everybody needs to be free to choose just about anything.” And today, we have a society in which all the guardrails are pretty much gone. Every day, some wild new thing is proposed as to the way society should be structured, and the young people, who have no memory of a society with guardrails, are not happy that they’ve received no usable inheritance. As conservatives, we have to listen to them and explain why they should be conservative.
The problem, Kristol said, is that this excessive focus on the individual by the market acts as a solvent to destroy all loyalty to groups, beginning with the family. The bonds of the family are based on a mutual loyalty, which is traditional, backed up by scriptural tradition, and is the way we’ve lived for a couple thousand years.
If you bring the liberalism of the market into the family, Kristol says that husbands and wives treat each other like commodities.
“I don’t choose to be in this marriage anymore.” That idea of greater loyalty dissolves under the pressure of the market, saying: “No, everything is free choice. You need a maximum of choice.”
The same thing happens with the relationship between a people and a nation. The question of what we owe our country becomes an absurdity if we decide we don’t owe anything, if we say, “I have the natural right to choose whatever I want.”
I think conservatives are coming to realize that you need some kind of balance among principles. It can’t always be individual liberty on every issue.
If people care for the future, they need to ask what was lost when biblical tradition ceased to be the guardrails—our overarching public philosophy.
I think—and I don’t know if it will succeed—that many Christians are going to look at the new woke public religion and say: “This is too far. We need to go back. We need to restore what the country was like before the enlightenment liberal revolution after World War II.”
So the idea of intergenerational transmission, righteousness, wisdom, and a God-fearing worldview—and also the reverse—the evil-doing that transmits from one generation to the next, is at the heart of the way the Bible describes politics.
It’s the strangest thing that in America or Britain—which were built on widespread reading of the Old Testament and taking the Bible to heart—today, you can’t find that. Kids go to school; it’s not in school. They go to universities, but you can’t find any discussion of this stuff in almost any academic setting. Instead, everybody’s thinking in terms of enlightenment liberal ideas. The only way we can restore an understanding about the way the world works is by returning to studying the Bible, and I hope that’s still possible.