Conservative Tensions and
the Republican Future
JOEL D. ABERBACH AND GILLIAN PEELE
The contributors to this volume have identified a range of tensions and fissures in the conservative movement and a significant level of doubt and uncertainty about the future direction of the Republican Party. Here we briefly synthesize some of these tensions and uncertainties in an attempt to clarify the dilemmas facing conservative adherents and in anticipation of the continuing challenges that conservatives and Republicans are likely to face.
As many elsewhere and in this book argue, conservatism is dynamic, with several different, and sometimes competing, definitions and movements encompassed within it.
Traditional conservatism is identified with the thought of Edmund Burke. His conservatism was crystallized in his opposition to the cataclysmic changes wrought by the French Revolution, but it was not merely a call to stand pat. Mixed with his reverence for tradition and community was a distrust of all ideologies and a practical understanding of the need to adjust to changes in society. As Bruce Frohnen notes in his essay on conservatism, Burke argued, in writing about the revolution in France, “that the drive to remodel society according to any abstract theory, including the revolutionaries’ Rights of Man, must lead to tyranny and bloodshed,” but that does not mean that traditional conservatism is simply against all change.1 Indeed, the task of a Burkean conservative statesman, as Sam Tanenhaus suggests in quoting Burke, “was to maintain ‘equilibrium between [t]he two principles of conservatism and correction.”’2 Traditional conservatives, as Clinton Rossiter argued, stood firmly for the “superiority of liberty to equality,” for the “desirability of diffusing and balancing power,” for the “primacy of the organic community,” for “legitimacy, justice, constitutionalism, hierarchy, the recognition of limits—the marks of good