The Problem with “Conservative Nationalism”

What is “American conservatism”?

I’ve spent a lot of time on my podcast discussing this issue.

I also co-authored a book on the topic with Clyde Wilson about a decade ago.

If you haven’t picked that up, you should.

This a large topic, and no one can sufficiently answer the question in a podcast or two, or perhaps even a book.

But I know one thing that American conservatism is not: nationalism.

That hasn’t stopped modern American “conservatives” for hopping on that train.

Trump bought a ticket and rode it to success in 2016.

Two of the most important recent books on American “conservatism” have also suggested that in order for American conservatism to find success, it needs to hitch a car to the nationalism train.

That may or may not be true, but one thing is for certain, this train isn’t “American” at all.

In fact, most American “conservatives” have long identified with decentralization, not nationalism.

For example, John C. Calhoun described himself as a “conservative,” and because he was a “conservative” he was a “State’s rights man.”

Translation: that means he wasn’t an American “nationalist.” He was a “Unionist” but never a “nationalist” because Calhoun understood that an American “nation” by a traditional definition never existed.

This is what led John Taylor of Caroline, a “conservative”, to say that “America for Americans” was like a “Utopia for Utopians.” In other words, it never existed.

The “one people” theory works well for modern American “conservative nationalists,” but as Jesse Merriam points out in this excellent essay at Law and Liberty, conservative “nationalism” inevitably arrives at the same point as progressive “nationalism.” The “United State” which these nationalists champion will lead to the same nanny State we have today.

“Conservatives” will never control the center in the United States. This is why American “conservatives” have long relied on federalism to protect their communities from Ralph Waldo Emerson and President Brandon alike.

If you want to be a “conservative” in America, you should support decentralization, not the American centralized State.

Merriam’s piece did make for great Podcast fodder, so I covered it on Episode 703 of The Brion McClanahan Show.

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