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The Right: The Hundred-Year War for American Conservatism

Matthew Continetti
Published by Basic Books in 2022

Liberalism and Its Discontents

Francis Fukuyama
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2022

Conservatism: A Rediscovery

Yoram Hazony
Published by Regnery Gateway in 2022

Debates rage over the best direction for American conservatism, particularly in the wake of Donald Trump’s disruptive presidency. The three books reviewed here provide distinct diagnoses and prescriptions for American politics. Only one book, Yoram Hazony’s Conservatism: A Rediscovery, is primarily intended as a blueprint for American conservatism. Francis Fukuyama’s Liberalism and Its Discontents assesses America’s ideological right and left, according to Fukuyama’s understanding of liberalism. And Matthew Continetti’s The Right: The Hundred- Year War for American Conservatism documents debates on the American Right. However, both Fukuyama and Continetti also provide critiques and suggestions for modern-day conservatives, allowing for interesting interactions among all three works. Both Continetti and Fukuyama argue for liberalism, but with different understandings of the best version of the liberal tradition, and Hazony makes the case for his version of conservatism, which in the American context is rooted in the Anglo-American tradition. I’ll conclude with a brief theological reflection on the contending perspectives.

The Right: The Hundred-Year War for American Conservatism

Continetti chronicles debates within the political right from the early twentieth century to the present. He conceptualizes the right as the intellectually diverse group of political actors who oppose the ideological left, and his story documents when certain groups and ideas on the right were prominent and the processes leading to their emergence.

His story starts with a description of President Woodrow Wilson’s progressivism and how it became unpopular, paving the way for republican presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge to define republicans as providing a return to normalcy. The republican Party during this period championed limited government, a restrained foreign policy, the Constitution, and traditional values. It was also anti-immigration and pro civil rights (for African Americans). Herbert Hoover was elected President at the end of the decade just before the economic crash, which paved the way for a return to progressive politics through Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

As Continetti explains, the New Deal era pushed conservatives out of power and conservative thought from the mainstream. Continetti traces the establishment of different groups and organizations that promoted perspectives that ran counter to the New Deal, such as the Chicago School of Economics, the Austrian School economists, and others. The right continued its non-interventionist foreign policy stance in the lead up to World War II; however, as Continetti reminds us, that position was untenable after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

Next, Continetti chronicles the rise of anti-communist conservatives and liberals following World War II. A combination of anti-communism and the view that America’s changing strategic position warranted a more active and engaged foreign policy put an end to the right’s non-interventionist, and relatively isolationist, foreign policy.

The author surveys the assortment of intellectual activity that took place among the right throughout the 1950s. Dwight D. Eisenhower, despite being a Republican, was disliked by many on the right for not doing more to roll back communism abroad and weaken the New Deal at home. Continetti especially notes the intellectual influence of Hannah Arendt, F. Hayek, Russell Kirk, and William F. Buckley, with the latter two providing the intellectual foundation for the traditionalist approach to conservatism. Joseph McCarthy and McCarthyism also shaped the politics of the right during this period.

Continetti highlights the journal National Review, started by Buckley, as the centerpiece of the conservative movement. The journal rejected antisemitism, relativism, and Ann rand’s atheism. Shamefully, it initially opposed the civil rights movement. Libertarians largely stayed out of National Review, as did traditionalist conservatives like Russell Kirk. Leo Strauss and his followers had much in common with the conservatives at National Review, but they mostly withheld their support because of the Review’s early opposition to the civil rights movement. Continetti also provides an overview of Barry Goldwater’s rise to prominence in the conservative movement. He notes that the conservative movement had developed intellectually during this period; however, the republican Party nominated Richard Nixon, the more moderate candidate, for the 1960 presidential election instead of Goldwater, the more conservative nominee.

A key player in the influence of National Review was senior editor Frank Meyer, who “attempted to establish a conservative intellectual consensus” that emphasized individual freedom (144). He did not neglect morality, but viewed morality as the individual’s responsibility, not the responsibility of the government. Traditionalist conservative Brent Bozell criticized Meyer’s separation of virtue from the individual and political spheres. Continetti critiques Meyer’s view of society, claiming Meyer erred by neglecting the intermediate institutions between the individual and the state.

After recounting the strife of the 1960s and conservative efforts to navigate issues of race, law and order, and the Vietnam War, Continetti addresses the rise and fall of Richard Nixon’s presidency. Nixon cultivated relationships with a broad range of the right. As for the conservatives, he assigned William F. Buckley to a United Nations delegation, routinely corresponded with Russell Kirk, and utilized Pat Buchanan as a speech writer. Chicago School libertarians Milton Friedman and George Shultz staffed Nixon’s administration. Nixon brought moderates like Daniel Patrick Moynihan into his fold, too.

Nixon’s electoral strategy, eventually nicknamed “the Southern strategy,” sought to build a broad coalition (200). Nixon pursued disillusioned working-class voters, supporters of George Wallace, the Alabama governor and presidential candidate who opposed de-segregation, and Catholic democrats who opposed the social unrest of the era. Overall, Nixon’s political strategy sought to win over the average voter in what was dubbed the “Dayton Housewife strategy,” where the Dayton housewife represented the bulk of voters who were neither conservative intellectuals nor student activists (200). These voters were appalled by both the behavior of anti-Vietnam War activists and the social values emanating from college and university campuses, and they simply wanted an orderly society. This became known as “street corner conservatism” (201).

As Continetti explains, Nixon’s New Deal republicanism was designed to attract those Dayton housewives and street corner conservatives by expanding government and pursuing industrial policy; however, it alienated libertarians in the process. The staunch anti-communists that characterized the National Review crowd were disgruntled by Nixon’s engagement with China and Henry Kissinger’s triangular diplomacy strategy that succeeded in creating space between the USSr and communist China. Finally, constituencies across the right withdrew their support from Nixon in the wake of the Watergate scandal and Nixon was forced to resign.

The period from Gerald Ford to Ronald Reagan was dominated by the New Right, which Continetti summarizes as “more political, more topical, more journalistic, less philosophical, and above all more populist” (255). Key leaders of the populist New Right were Kevin Phillips, who wanted rapid change, not Burkean incrementalism, and neoconservatives, such as Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who wanted an aggressive United States foreign policy and who were unsatisfied with the détente approach Ford and Kissinger carried over from the Nixon administration.

Ronald Reagan benefitted from the evolution of prominent neoconservatives such as Michael Novak, Peter Burger, and Richard John Neuhaus, the development of supply-side economics and public choice economics, and the social conservative movement that ramped up in the 1970s that included Pat Robertson’s The 700 Club, James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, and Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. Continetti concludes, “[b]y the time [Reagan] ran for president in 1980, he had brought together the New right, the neoconservatives, the supply-siders, and the religious right in a broad conservative coalition” (263).

The binding force of the right had been anti-communism, Continetti explains, and with the collapse of the USSR in the early 90s, intellectuals on the right debated the future of American foreign policy. Here Continetti focuses on arguments by Francis Fukuyama, Charles Krauthammer, Samuel P. Huntington, and Patrick Buchanan. Populist conservative media, such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, began to have considerable effect on conservative discourse on the right, especially with respect to the Clinton administration.

When George W. Bush was elected, neoconservatives at the Weekly Standard were highly critical of his approach to foreign policy, but that changed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Bush’s nation-building efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Michael Gerson’s “‘compassionate conservatism’” (330), which Continetti describes as “a fleshed-out philosophy of government activism in the service of moral ideals” (331), came to characterize Bush’s domestic policy. In accordance with this philosophy, the Bush administration sought to expand Medicare, increase foreign aid, reform education, and more. Continetti assesses compassionate conservatism as “not very conservative—insofar as conservatism’s primary domestic concern since 1932 had been limiting the federal government” (331). The Bush administration also sought immigration reform that included legalizing Mexican citizens that immigrated to the United States illegally. Conservative authors such as Victor Davis Hanson and Samuel P. Huntington were critical of this approach. By the end of Bush’s second term, “[c]onservative critics derided Bush as an apostate whose social conservatism barely hid the fact that he was a big-spending liberal interventionist” (346-347).

Exacerbated by the rise of social media, the right’s response to Barack Obama’s presidency widened the gulf between populist conservatives like rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and the Tea Party, and elites on the right who derided Obama’s foreign policy retrenchment. With the rise of Donald Trump, republican voters shifted their priorities dramatically. Trump capitalized on a “base of white working-class and rural voters who were anti-elitist, suspicious of government, doubtful about America’s overseas commitments, and fearful of globalization” (396). Trump’s coalition marked a significant departure from conservatism of the past, Continetti explains: “where conservatives in the 1990s had emphasized character and moral education, conservatives in the Trump era were pounding the table about economics—about how globalization had supposedly resulted in job loss and social fragmentation” (386).

In the final chapter, Continetti outlines his preferred path forward for the right. He concedes that retaining some elements of Trump’s political positions is politically necessary to forge a new conservative consensus. However, his preference is for a conservatism built on “anti-statism, constitutionalism, patriotism, and antisocialism” and for America to conserve its classically liberal founding as established in the Constitution (413).

The Right is meticulously researched. Continetti packs each chapter with thorough descriptions of intellectual debates and political dynamics that have influenced the right. He provides balanced summaries of contending views and factions, yet also manages to provide occasional assessments in a way that does not interfere with the debates he chronicles. While Continetti does provide a summary in the concluding chapter, readers would benefit from more summary and stocktaking throughout the book. It is easy to lose track of the larger trends in the right’s debates when sifting through the multitude of details that Continetti provides.

Liberalism and Its Discontents

In Liberalism and Its Discontents, Fukuyama defends liberalism against what he sees as the tendencies of both the political right and the political left to stretch liberal principles to unhealthy extremes. He says that liberalism’s foundational principle is the individual’s right to autonomy, and he defines individual autonomy as “the ability to make choices with regard to speech, association, belief, and ultimately political life” (2). Institutionalized rights and the rule of law limit government’s power in liberal societies, and, especially in the West, liberal principles are paired with democratic institutions. He provides three justifications for liberalism. The first justification is pragmatic: liberalism, with its principle of tolerance, allows diverse populations to live peaceably with one another. The second justification is moral: liberalism protects individual autonomy and other rights. And the third justification is economic: liberalism fosters a productive economy.

Neoliberals, the pro-free-market, Chicago School economists and their like-minded allies on the right, are the first group to draw Fukuyama’s ire. To be clear, Fukuyama recognizes the benefits of free-market policies like free trade, immigration, and deregulation, and he recognizes the logical connection between the liberal principle of individual autonomy and economic freedom. He also concedes that many of the pro-market reforms of the Reagan-Thatcher era were needed at the time. But he contends that neoliberals go too far with their promotion of limited government, and he argues that liberalism, properly understood, is compatible with government regulations and welfare programs to alleviate social and political challenges produced by market economies. He also criticizes neoliberal theorizing, especially its tendency to view people as consumers, but not producers, and its conception of people as rational utility maximizers in their economic behavior, which he views as oversimplistic because it ignores human sociability. Overall, Fukuyama’s assessment of neoliberal theory does not pull any punches. He criticizes neoliberalism as a theoretical perspective “where property rights and consumer welfare [are] worshipped, and all aspects of state action and social solidarity denigrated” (45).

Fukuyama also takes aim at those on the political left who, instead of over-emphasizing economic autonomy like the neoliberals, “valued a different type of autonomy centered around individual self-actualization” (47). He traces the development of the Western conception of individual autonomy from Martin Luther and the Protestant reformation to Thomas Hobbes, the French revolution, Immanuel Kant, and finally to John Rawls. He spends ample time explaining and critiquing Rawls, particularly his focus on individual autonomy at the expense of communal identities. Fukuyama argues that the inner self is not as sovereign as Rawls proposes. Instead, we are shaped by external pressures, like racism and patriarchy. Autonomy, then, must extend to the groups to which we belong and not just to atomized individuals (63).

This last point inevitably leads to a discussion of identity politics, which, Fukuyama asserts, emerged from the effort of historically marginalized groups such as African Americans, women, and gays and lesbians to receive the promises of liberalism (66). As such, Fukuyama provides a sympathetic assessment of identity politics: group identities fostered political action and, eventually, social change, granting group members the universal equality and equal protection promised, but not always delivered, to all members of liberal societies. He describes critical theory as a useful means for understanding how societies mistreat certain groups, but he also provides a number of rebuttals to its arguments. In particular, he laments how some more radical proponents of critical theory aim their criticism not at the failures of liberalism to live up to its own standards, but at liberalism itself, hoping to replace it with an illiberal ideology (68). Fukuyama dismisses these “contemporary avatars of critical theory” (68) as unserious scholars; unfortunately, he does not mention the scholars to whom he is referring and how their arguments differ from other, more salutary, versions of critical theory.

Liberalism, Fukuyama claims, is strongly associated with rationality, or the notion that facts can be established through scientific methodologies and separated from values. With respect to the latter, he explains that modern liberalism was founded on the notion that diverse societies would not agree on values or come to agreement on conceptions of the common good. Attacks on liberalism then, are often accompanied with attacks on rationality, from both the Left and the right. Fukuyama engages with the postmodern argument that all claims to rationality are simply mask for the claim to power. Given the long history of racial inequality and injustice in American society, Fukuyama argues that the postmodern critique and its conceptual tools such as “lived experience” and “intersectionality” are useful for understanding modern inequalities (90). While Fukuyama does not directly critique postmodernism, he does infer a criticism: “Foucault maintained that power pervaded virtually all activities, to the point that, critics argued, deprived his concept of any real explanatory power” (94).

Fukuyama displays much less patience for the critiques of rationality coming from the right, which he associates with recent efforts to reject science and resist pandemic lockdowns. Overall, Fukuyama supports identity politics and critiques of rationality that seek equal treatment for members of historically marginalized groups, but he rejects those arguments when they are utilized by the right, such as “[w]hite nationalist groups today [that] regard themselves as a beleaguered identity group” (95).

Fukuyama provides a brief discussion of the challenges posed to freedom of speech by technology, misinformation, and the potential regulation of online speech by social media platforms and the government. Noting Donald Trump’s denial of the results of the 2020 election, he sees the right’s abuse of these technological developments as an existential threat to American liberal democracy. He does not see the same problems on the progressive Left, at least not to the same extent that exists on the right since that on the Left is not a threat to the foundations of liberal democracy (97-98).

Patrick Deneen, Yoram Hazony, and others have recently levied critiques against liberalism. Fukuyama recognizes the truth to these authors’ argument to the extent “that liberal societies provide no strong common moral horizon around which community can be built” (120). However, he concludes that modern society is too diverse to impose any one moral order, making the solutions proposed by intellectuals on the right unrealistic.

Fukuyama recognizes some of the Left’s criticisms of liberalism such as the persistence of massive inequalities due to class, race, gender, and sexual identity, and the inability of liberal democracies to deal adequately with the climate crisis (124). However, he quickly pivots and claims that the right’s worries about the Left’s political intentions are exaggerated. Those on the right, Fukuyama explains, “imagine a world in which the government moves seamlessly from mandating masks and vaccines to meet a health emergency, to one in which jackbooted thugs go door to door to forcibly take away people’s guns and Bibles” (126).

Fukuyama concludes the book with five “principles for a liberal society.”1 But before giving those principles, he offers advice to America’s right and Left. Conservatives have two options, he says, regarding their approach to demographic change: “[T]hey could move in an overtly authoritarian direction, and simply seize power by cancelling democratic elections [ . . . ]” or be like British conservatives “by accepting and seeking to manage social change” (143). Obviously, he advises conservatives to take the latter approach, and he urges conservatives “to come to terms with the country’s shifting racial and ethnic mix, the fact that women will continue to occupy the fullest range of positions, both professionally and privately, and that gender roles have changed profoundly” (146). Fukuyama implores the Left to recognize that half of the country disagrees with their social values and to include conservative Christian perspectives under the banner of diversity.

Overall, Fukuyama provides a clear and concise overview of liberalism, and he makes a compelling case for organizing pluralistic societies according to liberal principles. However, his leftward-skewed assessment of American politics misdiagnoses contemporary challenges to liberalism; consequently, his prescriptions, if followed, might further liberalism’s demise.

Regarding his assessment of the Left, while he does critique Rawlsian liberalism, he is too sympathetic to critical theory, postmodernism, and the Left’s identity politics, and he is far too optimistic about their combined effect on liberal societies. He treats the excesses of these ideologies as bugs, not features central to them. The opposite seems to be true in many cases. The ESG (economic, social, and governance) frameworks utilized by corporations and the DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) offices that are now ubiquitous throughout virtually all American institutions have more in common with what Fukuyama dismisses as “contemporary avatars of critical theory” (68) than they do with left-leaning proponents of liberalism that benignly seek to extend the promises of liberalism to individuals in marginalized groups.

Regarding his assessment of the right, Fukuyama commits the opposite mistake: he tends to characterize the entire political right by its most extreme members. Too often, his assessments of conservatives, the far right, and the right as a whole blur together, when in most cases they should be carefully distinguished. And while some on the right have been fooled by misinformation, Fukuyama should recognize recent failures and mistakes conducted by elites in government and media and the resulting distrust in those institutions they cultivated across the political spectrum. Furthermore, those on the far right engaging in identity politics and motivated primarily by demographic changes are not represented to any meaningful extent in the institutions at the commanding heights of American culture—higher education, prominent news media outlets, large corporations, and government institutions. One could argue that those institutions have been, to varying degrees, captured by the illiberal Left. As such, Fukuyama’s treatment of conservatives as the primary, if not the only, threat to liberalism does not hold up to scrutiny.

Conservatism: A Rediscovery

Conservatism is commonly understood as a desire to maintain established norms and institutions. It is not usually articulated as a political philosophy with defined presuppositions and axioms. In Conservatism: A Rediscovery, Hazony provides a fully-defined conservative understanding of government and society that he applies to the Anglo-American tradition.

He traces the origins and development of the Anglo-American conservative tradition from John Fortescue, Richard Hooker, John Selden, and Edmund Burke on the English side to Americans such as Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, and John Jay. Hazony emphasizes the continuity between Anglo and American conservatism, noting how the Federalists, in particular, argued that being denied the rights due to them under the English Constitution was a justification for revolution. These are the same rights and principles derived through tradition in England and which Burke claimed were worthy of conserving when arguing against England’s embrace of the revolutionary principles popular in France during his time. The Founders adopted many of these rights and principles in the United States Constitution. Therefore, Hazony concludes that America was founded as a conservative nation in the Anglo-American tradition.

Hazony asserts that until the mid-20th century, both constitutionally, as recognized by Supreme Court rulings, and politically, as affirmed in presidential speeches, the United States was accurately classified as a Protestant Christian democracy in the Anglo-American tradition. Most Americans were then what today we would refer to as Christian nationalists. However, a confluence of factors led to a shift away from this identity after World War II. These factors included a series of Supreme Court rulings that entrenched the legal doctrine of separation of church and state and the emergence of the intellectual perspective called fusionism. This alliance between traditional conservatives and enlightenment liberals against communism during the Cold War, dubbed fusionism, redefined the meaning of American conservatism, argues Hazony. But it was not an equal partnership. As Hazony laments, “the ‘fusion’ that has been so much discussed is nothing other than the view that one should be a liberal in one’s political commitments, and a Christian in private” (301).

By the end of the Cold War, enlightenment liberalism was the dominant perspective on both sides of the political spectrum. Traditional conservatism all but disappeared. Once in a dominant position, liberals reworked historical narratives, Hazony argues, to identify liberalism with America’s founding and redefine it as the quintessential American political philosophy.2 As a result, preserving liberalism’s dominant position came to be referred to as conservatism in America. With this narrative framework in mind, Hazony seeks to recover what he sees as a more authentic conservatism. In particular, he wants to rediscover traditionalist, Burkean conservatism and disentangle it from its Cold-War- motivated, unequal partnership with liberalism.

Throughout much of the book, Hazony clarifies Anglo-American conservatism by contrasting it with enlightenment liberalism. Enlightenment liberalism originated with John Locke, animated the French revolution, and was the political philosophy of Anti-Federalists such as Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine. Lockean liberals take a rationalist approach that starts with three general axioms that, supposedly, are true of all humans. Locke assumes that: (1) our natural state is one of perfect freedom and equality, (2) reason governs humanity in the state of nature, and (3) reason leads free people to leave the state of nature and join society (22-23). From there, liberals rationally deduce universal principles and values.

Traditional conservatism, on the other hand, rests not on rationalism but upon a historical empiricism, which contends that “our reasoning in political and legal matters should be based upon inherited national traditions” (16). Unlike liberalism, which relies on abstract reasoning and purports to generate universal principles, conservatism draws from “the accumulated experience of the past” to “overcome the inherent weakness of individual judgment”; and consequently, conservatism produces perspectives and actions appropriate for particular nations at particular points in history (16). As a result, conservatism shies away from universal claims.

Hazony’s conservative philosophy recognizes “that individuals are born into families, tribes, and nations to which they are bound by mutual loyalty,” with mutual loyalty arising when two individuals seek to advance one another’s interests and celebrate their achievements (90). These relationships inevitably involve hierarchies where individuals are owed different levels of honor, which Hazony describes as deference, importance, or weightiness. People and groups relate to one another in hierarchical relationships and bonds of mutual loyalty through a nation’s institutions. These institutions define the nation’s character and influence its overall health. Traditional institutions are “any social structure or form of speech or behavior that is passed down from one generation to the next” and include language, religion, law, government structures, and economic systems (142). Hazony assesses the health of a nation according to its material prosperity, the mutual loyalty of its people, and the richness and excellence of its cultural heritage that is passed on from one generation to the next (117).

Changes to a nation’s traditional institutions may either contribute to the nation’s health or detract from it. And for traditional institutions to endure, they need support from prominent individuals at the top of hierarchies. Conservatives are not opposed to change, Hazony reminds us, but they are aware of how traditional institutions contribute to a nation’s health and that changing these institutions may have adverse effects on its people.

Justice occurs when individuals and groups uphold the obligations they have to other members in the societal hierarchy. Justice then, is not a universal concept, but can only be understood through the workings of the traditional institutions and hierarchical relationships of individual nations. Attempts to discern a comprehensive and universal standard of justice are bound to fail (162).

Enlightenment liberalism views the purpose of government primarily in terms of securing the individual’s freedom. Hazony’s view of the purpose of government, however, includes a more comprehensive and balanced view of the common good. Any discussion of the common good must begin with the good of the family unit—mothers and fathers balance the health of the family unit as a whole, while seeing to the needs of individual family members. Likewise, a wise government seeks the good of the nation, but is concerned with the health of individual tribes and groups. An important part of the common good advanced by political leadership is cultivating mutual loyalty among community members. This requires compromises that are culturally and historically specific.

In terms of the Anglo-American tradition, the purposes of government are listed in the preamble to the United States Constitution.3 Hazony elaborates on two of those purposes: establishing justice and the general welfare. He conceptualizes both justice and welfare in terms of how accessible they are by groups, not simply by individuals or by the nation as a whole. To establish justice, Hazony argues, various groups and factions that comprise a nation must receive appropriate levels of “honors and influence” (246) so they view themselves as respected members of the wider society. A nation’s general welfare is a combination of the material prosperity of all of the nation’s groups and the quality of the nation’s cultural inheritance. He also includes the establishment of religion as a legitimate purpose of government, and he reminds us it was pursued by most states at the time of the founding. Hazony rejects the possibility of a value-neutral state, and he claims that a state-sponsored religion is needed to create a shared “‘public philosophy’” (251) and sense of the common good among the nation’s groups.

After a fuller history of America’s turn from Anglo-American traditionalism to what he calls liberal hegemony, Hazony then turns his attention to Marxism. Interestingly, as opposed to liberals who focus on individuals, Hazony notes that both Marxists and conservatives view society as functioning through groups. However, unlike Marxists, conservatives do not view all group relationships as exploitative. Hazony explains how the liberal perspective interacts with the Marxist perspective to advance Marxism: first, liberals point to equality and freedom of the individual. Second, Marxists point to instances of inequality. And third, liberals agree to new conceptions of rights to ensure freedom and equality. Hazony claims this dance is leading to the death of democracy in the United States and the end of liberalism in United States universities and media institutions.

So, what is to be done? First, according to Hazony, we need to reject the liberal understanding of America. That understanding is based on a historical falsehood about America’s founding, and its basic axioms (see above) are at odds with Christian and Jewish understanding of persons. Hazony summarizes,

[T]here are no grounds for the claim that liberalism is merely a system of “neutral” rules, a “procedural” system. Liberalism is a substantive belief system that provides an alternative foundation for our views concerning the nature of human beings, reason and the sources of the moral obligations that bind us. This alternative foundation has not coexisted with earlier political tradition, rooted in the Bible, as we were told it would. It has rather cut this earlier tradition to ribbons (335).

In liberalism’s place, Hazony offers and explains five principles of Anglo-American conservatism: (1) historical empiricism, (2) nationalism, (3) religion, (4) limited executive power, and (5) individual freedom (336-337). Foundationally, Hazony sees restoring the Christian tradition as essential for re-establishing conservative democracy in the United States. A starting place, he argues, would be overturning the Supreme Court decisions that led to the doctrine of separation of church and state.

Interactions and Assessments

The three authors provide distinct visions for the future of America’s Right. Continetti calls the Right to return to the classically liberal principles that he identifies with America’s founding. Fukuyama encourages the Right to embrace liberal principles properly understood, which includes scrapping neoliberalism, embracing demographic and social change, and rejecting identity politics (at the least identity politics of the Right). And Hazony prompts the Right to rediscover the Anglo-American conservatism associated with America’s founding.

While Continetti and Fukuyama are both liberals, Continetti’s classical liberalism is akin to what the more moderate Fukuyama refers to as hyper- individualistic neoliberalism. However, both liberal scholars would reject Hazony’s preference for an established church. And while Continetti and Hazony both look to America’s founding for inspiration, the liberal ideals that Continetti associates with the founding stem from both Federalists and Anti-Federalists, whereas Hazony’s rediscovery of conservative principles runs solely through the former.

Most certainly, there is a large divide between Fukuyama’s and Hazony’s theoretical perspectives. Fukuyama’s liberalism is primarily concerned with maintaining individual autonomy as a means to managing our pluralistic society (something Continetti would likely support). Fukuyama also supports utilizing government policies to address inequalities as identified through postmodern methodologies (something of which Continetti would likely be skeptical). While Hazony’s Anglo-American conservatism does affirm individual freedom as a bedrock principle for American society, Hazony primarily conceptualizes society as a series of relationships and obligations nested in inherited institutions that government policy should preserve and, when necessary, adjust to the benefit of all groups in a society. And while Hazony supports government policies aimed at helping groups in need, he rejects the combination of liberalism, critical theory, and postmodernism that Fukuyama endorses.

Arguments over the future of the right prompt theological reflection. Unfortunately, space does not permit a full theological analysis of Fukuyama’s liberalism and Hazony’s conservatism, so a few thoughts must suffice.4 With respect to Hazony’s conservatism, some Christians will have reservations concerning Hazony’s preference for an established church. From the reformed Two Kingdoms perspective that this author finds helpful, an established church blurs the distinction in Christ’s two-fold kingdom and risks giving authority that God did not ordain to either the church or government institutions. Furthermore, while Hazony’s anthropological starting point that humans are born into families, tribes, and nations provides a firmer foundation for political theorizing than liberalism’s state of nature, his theory’s emphasis on group membership could inadvertently lead to an identity politics similar to that which he criticizes liberals and Marxists for promoting. And on a more practical level, Christians sympathetic to Hazony’s ideas should be careful to avoid putting more hope in their nation than in Christ’s church and coming kingdom.

With respect to Fukuyama’s work, Christians should be wary of uncritically adopting liberalism and postmodernism as frameworks for organizing society and diagnosing social problems. From a biblical perspective, God spoke creation into existence. He created humanity as His image bearers and for a purpose—to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Therefore, God created humanity with an essence (the Imago Dei) and a purpose (to glorify God). Humanity is embedded in God’s created moral order; and even though humanity has been tainted by the fall, human flourishing still involves accurately discerning and living within the bounds of the created order as spoken into existence by God.

Liberalism and postmodernism have foundational assumptions that are different from the biblical perspective just described. Liberal theory assumes that humans first existed as sovereign individuals in the state of nature. They come together in societies under a social contract, in part, to guarantee their individual autonomy. Liberal societies then allow individuals to define their own understanding of self and purpose. Like liberal theory, postmodernism rejects the notion that humans have an essence and a purpose grounded in God’s created order. But unlike liberals who assume that the individual creates oneself through self-actualization, postmodernists contend that humanity’s essence and purpose are ideational constructs imposed on individuals by society’s power-brokers, especially through the use of language.

Thus, from a biblical perspective, God spoke and defined humanity. From the liberal perspective—at least some contemporary applications of the liberal perspective—individuals speak and define themselves. And from the postmodernist perspective, societies speak and define their members.5 While liberal institutions can indeed assist societies with managing pluralism, and postmodernism may, or may not, provide insights into some social dynamics, an uncritical use of these theoretical perspectives could lead Christians to an understanding of humanity and society that is at odds with the created order. And policies emanating from faulty understandings of reality are unlikely to facilitate societies in which people peaceably live with one another. It may be that the previous success of liberal institutions in managing pluralism was in part the result of those societies’ shared understanding, at least at a basic level, of an accurate view of humanity’s essence and purpose. Perhaps those with liberal leanings and concerns with life in pluralist societies should revisit the importance of inherited institutions and a shared vision of the common good.


  1. These principles are improving the quality of government, pursuing federalism, protecting free speech, “continuing primacy of individual rights over the rights of cultural groups” (150), recognizing that the liberal principle of human autonomy can be taken too far, and promoting “public-spiritedness, tolerance, open-mindedness” (152) and other liberal values, emphasizing moderation (147-154).
  2. Certainly, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and others argued from a liberal perspective and their views characterized the failed Articles of Confederation. But Hazony demonstrates how Federalist views actually dominated the United States Constitution, though Federalists made compromises to unify the thirteen colonies into one country (33-36).
  3. These are: (1) a more perfect union, (2) justice, (3) domestic peace, (4) the common defense, (5) the general welfare, (6) individual liberty, (7) national liberty, and (8) permanence and stability through the ages. See Hazony, Conservatism, 239-249.
  4. As a reminder, Continetti’s book chronicles debates on the right. It does not provide a full explanation and defense of classical liberal philosophy. Consequently, classical liberalism will not be critiqued here.
  5. Abigail Favale uses similar phrasing when comparing her Christian perspective to postmodernism in The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2022). Abigail Favale and Kevin DeYoung refer to this phrasing in DeYoung’s episode, “The Gender Paradigm with Abigail Favale,” June 7, 2023, in Life and Books and Everything, produced by Clearly reformed, podcast, MP3 audio, 1:07:30, podcasts/lbe/983060/.

Michael N. Jacobs

Michael N. Jacobs is Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.