William Rusher Interview: Conversations with History: Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The Conservative Movement: Conversation with William A. Rusher, former publisher of the National Review; 4/25/90 by Harry Kreisler

Page 9 of 10

The Future of Conservatism

I want to get back to the philosophical underpinnings of the movement because, both in your biography and in your analysis of the conservative movement, anti-communism was a critical pillar.

That's were I came from.

That's right, but historically one could say that anti-communism and the Soviet threat, at key moments in the history of the movement, were important.

They certainly were important, they were very important. But, on the other hand, I am, in this sense, a convert to the conservative movement, in that I came to it from anti-communism, but I paid attention to what Kirk was saying about traditionalism, and what Meyer was saying about libertarianism, and about fusionism, the bringing of the two together, and of the importance of the coalition. So I became, I think, a pretty well-defined conservative all along the line, and anti-communism is just one aspect of that.

What happens when that issue passes from the scene? Hopefully it is. The Cold War is over, the adversary is defeated, and, in fact, one of Gorbachev's advisors said, "We will deny you your enemy." What happens to the movement?

To begin with, as I guess we've already established, it's a complex movement, it contains many, conceivably even inconsistent parts. So the impact of the end of the Cold War on them is going to differ. I can't see why the religious right, to take just one example out of half a dozen, should suddenly lose whatever connection it has with the conservative movement merely because the Cold War is over. And they've got millions of votes. I can't see why the libertarians, unless they go way off to the end and then support the Libertarian Party, but, what might be called the "sensible libertarians," should suddenly, just because the Cold War is over, stop supporting the conservative movement. On the other hand, I can imagine that it will be an interesting question to what extent neo-conservatives [stay in the movement]-- of course, they came in mostly in reaction to the New Left, not to the Cold War, although they are pretty strong ...

Some did. Some came in response to the Cold War.

Some, yes. They might be influenced to some extent. My own feeling is that basically the conservative coalition is a coalition not against communism so much as against liberalism, and that as long as liberalism is around, even in its present debilitated state, it will provide the glue to hold the coalition together. I think if liberalism were to disappear, as it may eventually just sort of whither away, then, obviously, you'd be facing a new state of affairs in some of these old fights. Like the lowering of the lake of communism in Eastern Europe has left raised the old rocks of Germany and other things which were there all the time but were hidden. The differences then between libertarians and traditionalists might start breaking out, I can see that off in the distance.

Does the Conservative movement have a new foreign policy agenda that you might touch on? Or is that still unfocused yet?

We're flapping around like everybody else. We like to think that the principles of conservatism can be applied to whatever problems come along, Germany or whatever. And, we're free traders, we intend to remain free traders.

Is that universal in the movement?

Again, not quite. A movement as big as ours has virtually everything in it but I think you can count on conservatism, if it remains true to itself, to remain true to that.

Might Germany or Japan be a military threat?

They might. They aren't yet, and I can see many reasons why they would not. I don't raise it as a bugaboo, but certainly it's got to be watched. I don't agree with Francis Fukuyama that history has come to an end. We're going to go right on having more of it as Aldous Huxley, in his inimitable definition, said. He didn't believe in cyclical things, you know. He said, "History is just one damned thing after another."

Are there any lessons in the history of the Conservative movement for those former communist states that are in some sort of a transition toward democracy? What would those lessons be? How could conservatives be helpful?

Some have already been over there and have received very warm receptions. You'll notice that, contrary to all expectations, East Germany voted, in effect, conservatively rather than socialistically in its first free elections. A friend of mine who has been to Moscow and talked with the inter-regional group of deputies, which are the real opposition, a minor opposition, only about 200 votes in the big chamber, says that they are way past socialism and thoroughly capitalistic in all their impulses now. We would be able to give them the benefit of what advice we can.

But there really isn't a map that you have with regard to getting from here to there.

No, that's the difficult part. There, we've got a good picture. Our shining city is there. And they know it's there, they want to get there. Getting there is not going to be half the fun in this particular case. It's going to almost all agony. And, as I said, I don't see, really, any way to avoid it.

Are you bothered by the fact that we haven't been able to take a leading position in providing aid, government to government, or government to private groups, because of these deficits that we have?

No, as a matter of fact, I think it's rather to the good. With exceptions, I don't think that what these people need is financial aid from the United States. What they've got to do is reorganize their societies. We might actually, by giving them aid, inhibit the process.

So that, in a way, it's more our example.

Exactly. If there's any truth to the principles we live by, we can tell them the principles. But they've got to live by them.

Are conservatives generally, and yourself in particular, internationalists, and do you remain internationalists? Once we lose the Soviet threat, might the old isolationist wing of conservatism combine with the libertarian wing and move the United States to a situation where it turns inward?

There's a streak of isolationism, in the American people first of all, which, to some degree, can be detected in the conservative movement, and to some degree on the left, by the way. The people up there in North and South Dakota and Minnesota, in that neck of the woods, have a good deal of that in them, on the liberal side. But I don't think, given the world we've got and as interrelated as it is, that this is going to be a big matter. I've been very encouraged to see the extent to which, in very recent years, members of the Conservative movement have started reaching out and networking with conservatives abroad. The liberals were way, way ahead of us on this, but we're getting there. We now know who the leading conservatives are in France and Germany and Britain and Japan and so on. We're in touch with them. They don't always agree with us; their histories are different. But, there's much more contact going on and I think that will keep us international.

Do you think that the competitive problems that we face in the international economy will require any kind of reorientation of conservative views of the role of government?

If conservatism is right, and I think it is, then by the correct application of conservative principles we're going to be able to do the best we can with whatever we've got in the way of problems ahead, not just by dashing to big government and asking for help certainly, on either tariffs or subsidies or anything of that sort. That's exactly the wrong way to go.

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