Probably not, says Macaulay of the Journal of American Greatness. And I, a student of Burke for over 20 years, basically agree. America lacks the kind of coherent tradition stretching back to its founding era, which Burke’s England had. America also lacks the appropriate social class. We are a nation of managers, as James Burnham argued so presciently; the old, independent landed aristocracy was only extant partially and regionally and it’s been ground down in the last 100 years by taxes, expanded suffrage, the rise of bureaucracy, and a whole bunch of other intervening developments.
More important, from a Burkean viewpoint, America has had whatever its founders’ genius wrought laid over many times by different “revolutions within the form.” Lincoln got rid of one evil and replaced it with another by significantly centralizing the government and undoing its federal character.
FDR brought this further along, responding to a revolutionary economic situation with an even more radical series of centralized bureaucracies that grow and grow and grow, eliminating the functional value of local business, private property, personal savings, and the family as the chief social welfare institution.
The 1960s created something of a social revolution, further undoing the ties of family, and introducing a radical Marxist feminism, racial egalitarian movement, and other changes that have radically altered the character of everyday life.
Finally, we’ve seen in our own time the impact of mass, sustained immigration by non-European people, coupled with a radical effort not to assimilate them, as with earlier immigrants, into the broader American fabric through education, inter-marriage, and “cooling off” periods.
Conservatives in America today thus find themselves in a position more like that of Frenchmen of a rightward bent in the late 19th Century. The French right was disunified and consisted of groups leaning towards several competing sources of authority: Orleanists, Bonapartists, Bourbonist Restorationists, and moderate Republicans. Each group had different practical policies under the circumstances of France. More important, each appealed to a different mode of legitimacy; in late 19th Century France, the very idea of what France was, who was and was not a part of it, and the purpose of the French regime were highly contested questions.
Similarly, on the American right of today, we find not just different areas of emphasis–as arguably was the case in the Reagan era–but radically different views, represented by libertarians, socially liberal pro-business types, Christian Evangelicals, neoconservatives, and nationalists, whose chief champion is Trump.
Like French Bonapartists, Trump-leaning conservatives see a rotten, corrupt system where disloyal elements use the language of constitutionalism to promote their pet causes and narrow, factional interests. They also see high-minded rhetoric regarding free markets as a mask for hte interests of a narrow, international business class, that is coextensive with many prominent political donors. Like the French rallying to the Second Empire, American conservatives can, in my view, recognize that desperate times call for desperate measures.
The sine qua non of an American restoration is a restoration of the American people and charting a way for it to prosper and remain independent in an increasingly unforgiving global economy and multipolar world. Warmed over Reaganism–a different view for a different time addressing a different set of problems–won’t cut it, nor will Burkean traditionalism, because, as in the case of France 100 years after its revolution, the question of which France (or in our case which America) prevails is paramount. And appealing to traditionalism without sifting through the layers of leftist, anti-American tradition that have been grafted onto the American whole is a fool’s errand that fails to recognize the extent of the damage to any traditionalist approach.
We have to set priorities, and some kind of national restoration defined broadly seems the only solution, and only Trump seems to have the will, vision, or mandate to cut through the Gordian Knot of special interests and accumulated layers of garbage in our national political life to take some steps toward that end. Let’s not forget that Burke favored, above all, order. And he predicted, with some regret, the rise of a Bonaparte after the chaos of its Revolution:
The officers must totally lose the characteristic disposition of military men if they see with perfect submission and due admiration the dominion of pleaders; especially when they find that they have a new court to pay to an endless succession of those pleaders, whose military policy, and the genius of whose command (if they should have any), must be as uncertain as their duration is transient. In the weakness of one kind of authority, and in the fluctuation of all, the officers of an army will remain for some time mutinous and full of faction until some popular general, who understands the art of conciliating the soldiery, and who possesses the true spirit of command, shall draw the eyes of all men upon himself. Armies will obey him on his personal account. There is no other way of securing military obedience in this state of things.