I read the National Review to try to understand the arguments of the "responsible" or "serious" or "important" conservatives.
Today, especially for the National Review and the modern conservative movement in the US, has to be particularly painful. Fifty years ago it publicly opposed the civil rights movement with a vengeance.
The central question that emerges--and it is not a parliamentary question or a question that is answered by merely consulting a catalog of the rights of American citizens, born Equal--is whether the White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is Yes--the White community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race. It is not easy, and it is unpleasant, to adduce statistics evidencing the median cultural superiority of White over Negro: but it is fact that obtrudes, one that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists. The question, as far as the White community is concerned, is whether the claims of civilization supersede those of universal suffrage. The British believe they do, and acted accordingly, in Kenya, where the choice was dramatically one between civilization and barbarism, and elsewhere; the South, where the conflict is by no means dramatic, as in Kenya, nevertheless perceives important qualitative differences between its culture and the Negroes', and intends to assert its own.Of course, the National Review opposed the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. I can't find any archive of what it wrong about fifty years ago, but let's consider what they say today.
National Review believes that the South's premises are correct. If the majority wills what is socially atavistic, then to thwart the majority may be, though undemocratic, enlightened. It is more important for any community, anywhere in the world, to affirm and live by civilized standards, than to bow to the demands of the numerical majority.
(Added comments: See Media Matters for some other statements from the National Review. It cites the 1957 editorial above.
Ministry of Truth has a diary similar to this one, but it doesn't analyzed today's editorial.)
Here is today's editorial from the National Review. The link on the front page is revealing: Marching in Time: The civil-rights revolution was conservative.
Here is why, according to the NR editors, the Civil Rights movement was "conservative."
The civil-rights revolution, like the American revolution, was in a crucial sense conservative: It did not seek to invent rights, but to secure ones that the government already respected in principle. “In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check,” said Martin Luther King Jr., a “promissory note” signed in “the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.” The speech he gave 50 years ago today is a thorough, if implicit, repudiation of all anti-Americanism.If the editors consider defending the rights all Americans as a conservative principle, I'm a conservative. That is why the National Review has come out so clearly for equal rights for same-sex partnerships. (It hasn't, has it?)
The editors must realize it has some unfortunate history with civil rights, and it does acknowledge that:
Too many conservatives and libertarians, including the editors of this magazine, missed all of [the conservative principles of the Civil Rights movement] at the time. They worried about the effects of the civil-rights movement on federalism and limited government. Those principles weren’t wrong, exactly; they were tragically misapplied, given the moral and historical context. It is a mark of the success of King’s movement that almost all Americans can now see its necessity."tragically misapplied" -- isn't the passive voice wonderful? Exactly who tragically misapplied the principles of federalism and limited government to the Civil Rights movement? How did they tragically misapply those principles?
Go back and look at the 1957 editorial. There is no mention of limited government or federalism. The opposition to civil rights by the National Review, and the conservative movement created by it, was based on the following:
It is more important for any community, anywhere in the world, to affirm and live by civilized standards, than to bow to the demands of the numerical majority.The opposition to women being able to decide what they will do with bodies and equality for same-sex couples is not based on any principles of limited government or federalism but on the fact that such rights are not part of their conception of "civilized standards." (And, opposition to both expands governmental reach, not contracts it.) The conservative movement is still committed to denial of democratic rights when THEIR "civilized standards" are in jeopardy.
There has NEVER been conservative, in the US conservative, in the the events of Seneca Fall, Selma, and Stonewall. The only consistency in the conservative movement is opposition to the goals that those events were trying to achieve and that opposition remains the same today.