This article is from our January symposium issue, in which 53 leading writers and thinkers answer the question: “What is the future of conservatism in the wake of the 2012 election?” Click here to read the entire symposium.
Conservatism is in deep trouble–all over the world–because Leftism has been the world’s most dynamic religion over the last hundred years.
Leftism is the prism through which students in elementary school, high school, and university learn about life; and through which most of the world reads, hears, and views the news.
Even large segments of Christianity and Judaism have been deeply influenced, sometimes taken over, by Leftism. Mainstream Protestant church leadership and many of its clergy are Christian conduits for left-wing politics. Catholic bishops are liberal, differing from the left only with regard to abortion, same-sex marriage, and procreation. Conservative and Reform Jewish seminaries produce rabbis whose outlook on the world is identical to that of the New York Times editorial page and left-wing professors. After 40 years of deep involvement in Jewish life, including writing two books and hundreds of articles on Jewish topics, I have sadly concluded that for most non-Orthodox Jews (and I am not Orthodox), Leftism has become their religion, while Judaism has become an ethnic and cultural identity.
What can conservatives do?
The first thing we need to do is acquaint ourselves with Leftism and with its antitheses: conservatism and Americanism.
Over the past hundred years, Americans have forgotten the (conservative and American) values that render America different.
It took me half my life to realize what the distinctive American value system is. No one taught it to me–not my parents, who were passionately in love with America; not my elementary school, high school, or college; and certainly not my Ivy League graduate school (Columbia), where my professors were nearly all leftists, and none were conservative.
I had my epiphany one night as I removed coins from my pocket. They were embossed with what I have come to call the American Trinity: Liberty, In God We Trust, and E Pluribus Unum. No other country in the world has enshrined these three values.
Preserving the American Trinity–these values that made this country, not any leftist European country, the greatest in the world–is what conservatism is about.
Liberty first and foremost means having as small a government as possible. In God We Trust means that we can only preserve that liberty, as well as our rights, if we are a God-based society. Every Founder–including Franklin, Washington, and Jefferson–knew that if Americans did not regard themselves as morally accountable to God, liberty would produce moral chaos. And that would lead to big government (in the West, as the state gets bigger, God gets smaller). And E Pluribus Unum rapidly came to mean one nation out of many ethnicities and nationalities. Because of that–the Melting Pot idea–in no other country are newcomers of every background so quickly regarded as fellow members of the nation.
Leftism replaces liberty with egalitarianism, a God-based society with a secular one, and an overriding American national identity with multiculturalism.
Only if the American people are taught that the greatness of America is solely due to the unique American Trinity of values–and also taught the mortal threat to these values that Leftism poses–will conservatism prevail. And if it doesn’t, neither will America as we have known it for 236 years.
Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host and the author, most recently, of Still the Best Hope. He is also founder of the Internet-based Prager University.