Why I’m a Republican

Why I’m a Republican

Luke Phillips

If you’re aware of me at all, you know that I’m a highly unconventional Republican. I throw shade all over the modern Grand Old Party on Facebook all the time, and I’m the co-founder of a moderate GOP website called The Seventh Establishment (a grassroots organization with the not-quite-explicit goal of building up a faction of Republicans hostile to almost every point of contemporary Republican orthodoxy- a sect of heretics, if you will.)

Moreover, my three greatest intellectual influences- Walter Russell Mead, Michael Lind, and Joel Kotkin- are all either centrist Democrats or apostates and refugees from the conservative Republican faith. My influences in the GOP, meanwhile, like David Frum and David Brooks and Geoff Kabaservice, are typically regarded as RINOs of some sort. Sure, I grew up in a Republican household, but by the time of my intellectual maturation I was a dyed-in-the-wool RINO, a conservative Yankee in Arthur Laffer, Pat Robertson, and Donald Rumsfeld’s court.

I outlined, in a recent letter, my temperamental problems with the pseudo-conservatism of Buckleyan fusionism. I’ve written piece after piece advocating the return of Centrist/Neo-Hamiltonian/Progressive/National Conservative/Whig Republicans to prominence in the GOP, after a half-century of exile after the Eisenhower Presidency. Heck, earlier today I almost wrote my own excommunication from the conservative movement- a piece tearing apart supply-side economics and social traditionalism, suggesting that the GOP Establishment ought to take cues from its two greatest foes in 2016- Donald Trump’s economic working-class populism, and President Barack Obama’s social moderation and political reformism. That’s right- not only am I a maverick, I’m an Obamacon and a Trumpista too! At the same time!


Come to think of it, I might write something along those lines in the future; I am doing research right now for a piece arguing for a “NEW New Conservatism” honoring not Bill Buckley, Russell Kirk, Irving Kristol, and Barry Goldwater, but Peter Viereck, Clinton Rossiter, James Burnham, and Jacob Javits. Maybe even some Democrats and nonpartisans like Samuel P. Huntington, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., and Reinhold Niebuhr to add some confusion to the mix.

So if I am so far out there as to be unintroduceable in polite mainstream Republican company, so far out there as to prefer not to go to Republican club echo-chamber/persecution-complex meetings (originally not like this, but recently, so I hear, the clubs have devolved,) so far out there as to shake my head in shame every time I hear a paean to a caricature of a Ronald Reagan that never existed in a GOP presidential debate- if I’m THAT far out there, why do I bother to call myself a Republican? Why do I continue to be the liberal Democrats’ favorite White Elephant (except when I turn my pen and keyboard on their social activist drivel, their Keynesian freakonomics, their naked paternalism, their Gaia-worship)? Why don’t I just go join Charles Wheelan’s Centrist Movement or go re-join Nancy Jacobsen’s No Labels or go reactivate my membership in that delightfully uninfluential Facebook group, the Modern Whig Party? Why don’t I just protest my way out of polarized party politics and inhabit the inane political center (which is something that intellectuals like me oftentimes, realizing their own futility, do?)

Well, first off, because doing the political independent thing is fruitless. Serious people who want to make a difference in the world hold their noses and join the ugliness of the power structure, because that’s just the way things work. From the days of Adam and Eve, politics wasn’t meant to be beautiful or morally pure. (They wanna be in, the room where it happens, the room where it happens, the room where it happens…) I want to DO stuff, not just complain or pontificate. And that means being involved in the circles where the power is.

Now this isn’t a naked clawing for power on my part. I’ve said before and I say again, I don’t want to be President of the United States (and if it’s ever suggested I will repeat like a robotic parrot, “God save the country if THAT ever happens.”) I don’t even have a target office or policy accomplishment. I just want to serve my country as an excellent intellectual, politico, and public servant who wears various hats and has his hands in various cookie jars, and puts his soul in without selling it. I want to be my great mentor, Alexander Hamilton, or the greatest public servant alive today, Robert Gates. But I need to have access to circles of influence in order to do this- and that means being involved in one of the major parties, rather than just joining online discussion groups.

So that’s why I’m not an Independent. How about why I’m not a Democrat?

Because, before I am a Republican, I am several things- a Machiavellian political realist, a Burkean temperamental conservative, a Hamiltonian liberal nationalist. Through these three identities, all of them more important than my Republican identity, I can explain why I choose to remain a Republican despite my disdain for what the party has become, rather than becoming a Democrat. In short- the GOP is slightly more open to thinkers like me than the Democrats, who are almost completely closed to thinkers like me.

Machiavellian Political Realist-

Political Realism is one of the best things I ever chanced upon. It sees an ugly world, a terrifying world of disruption and anarchy and despair, where only acts of courage and cunning can wring order from the chaos. It sees human nature for being as self-interested, socially-oriented, fickle, duplicitous, idealistic, inspirable, as it is; it lauds the great men and women of history for understanding our individual and social natures, and doing what must be done to craft orders and systems wherein the better angels of our nature shall be encouraged and rewarded, and the greater devils shall be constrained and harnessed for the public good. It is the watchman’s and the guardian’s blueprint of human life- for if you don’t understand how bad things can get, you won’t know what to do when they get that bad. Of course, this pessimism and negativity- grounded as it is in empirical experience- falls upon deaf ears among liberal Democrats, who tend to believe in the fundamental goodness and rationality of human nature (and moreover, the equation of our goodness with our rationality, which doesn’t make sense to me but apparently makes sense to some.) Republicans at least tend to be somewhat realistic in their social views and particularly their international views. Then again, they are wholly unrealistic with their radical libertarian views of unfettered capitalism (“1896 was GREAT!”) but at the very least they seem to have a basic respect for the requirement of impediments upon liberty to preserve liberty from its own excesses, in certain situations. Naturally, I fit in more easily with this pessimism than with liberal Democratic sunniness.

Burkean Temperamental Conservative-

Temperamental conservatism- the belief in an enduring natural order of things, the reverence for “Tradition, Place, and Things Divine” (to quote Anamnesis and the Ciceronian Society,) the belief in the importance of the family, of citizenship, of civil society, of individual character and individual pursuit of personal excellence, of the objectivity of natural law and moral right, yet the opacity and nebulousness of those eternal truths when glimpsed by broken human eyes, basically the odd stepchild of Yuval Levin and Robert Baden-Powell- temperamental conservatism is my connection to the ancients from Aeneas and Odysseus to Aristotle to Plutarch to Augustine. And though there are probably some Democrats out there who pay heed to these thinkers and their heirs, it seems to me that the Democratic Party post-McGovern has been so entirely subsumed by cultural relativism, deconstructionism, postmodernism, rabid ultra-feminism, and all kinds of other despicably ugly “isms” as to wholly reject the heritage of Western Civilization and indeed, the wisdom of all other civilizations. I don’t much prefer the radical anti-intellectualism and Jacobin traditionalism on the right, but I can at least find fellow-travelers who appreciate the good things in life and, to quote the last line of my personal ethos, acknowledge “Humility Before God” in the GOP. They’re usually wrong about most policy issues, but they’ve got the humane spirit.

Hamiltonian Liberal Nationalist-

Ah, my favorite. The tradition that literally built this country- that of Washington and Hamilton, Clay and Webster and Quincy Adams, Lincoln and Seward and Hay, T. Roosevelt and Lodge and Root, F.D. Roosevelt and Truman and Eisenhower and Kennedy, Stevenson and Rockefeller- the Hamiltonian Liberal Nationalist tradition- is more or less dead outside of the Military-Industrial Complex. Both Democrats and Republicans have pioneered and accepted and institutionalized supply-side neoliberal excess, while the Democrats have compounded voodoo economics with crushing, stifling regulatory oligarchies. Democrats talk of equality and stability; Republicans talk of liberty and absolute growth; where are the Liberal Nationalists to talk about broad-based growth, innovative dynamism, and strategic economics? Hamiltonians believe in the power and utility of the market and the power and utility of the state, and see the public and private sectors as co-equal partners in the pursuit and maintenance of economic strategies which, in the end, serve the ends of national security and grand strategy. How so? Why, quite easily- on the Hamiltonian economic agenda is support for central finance, federal financing of infrastructure and technological innovation and education, industrial policy partnering with strategic industries, the basics of a social safety net and the welfare state, progressive legislation protecting workers and consumers from the excesses of capitalism, pro-business legislation protecting businesses from the excesses of government regulation, and other general trappings of the modern industrial/information economy. On this issue Democrats tend to be more up my alley, for they are accustomed to state intervention in the economy; but their ends are social justice rather than strategic viability. If Republicans shed supply-side, I think they’d easily land at someplace near me on the economic spectrum. Their passion for national security would demand it.


So where does all this put me?

An intellectual outsider who yet insists on being a party activist. A centrist-reformist-nationalist reformer seeking to update a dead tradition from the inside of a living party. An American patriot, an American citizen, a neurotic, romantic, and self-righteous offspring of immigrants and country-folk who likens himself to American heroes of similar background, temperament, and overinflated self-worth.

A Republican. Not a Republican-In-Name-Only- but a Republican in the best sense of the name, doing his best to reform his party and serve his country in these tumultuous times.

And a proud one, at that. I am a Republican.

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