Is nationalism really the future of conservatism?

We have legions of declinists. Some sigh, with a wistful self-righteousness, that the damage progressives have done to our once-great nation is irreversible. Others will willingly explain how the American experiment was doomed from the beginning or even a few centuries before its founding. Some of these theories are interesting enough if the goal is scholarly discourse. They are continuing a centuries-old intellectual tradition of critiquing modernity itself and interpreting contemporary social ills through that philosophical lens. On the level of political strategy though, this kind of theorizing quickly turns into pie-in-the-sky utopianism, followed closely by stinging despair. America obviously isn’t going to become a confessional state in the foreseeable future, nor are we poised to re-embrace the agrarian ideals of Jeffersonians or Catholic distributists. Does it follow that all is lost? Growing numbers of right-wing intellectuals seem prepared to say yes.

On the other side of the field, we find another camp that is brimming with eagerness to continue the fight. These are the “Greatness” conservatives, Donald Trump’s self-appointed think tank, which revels in American exceptionalism and Trumpian nationalism. If I say that this group has a vaguely fascist character, I should offer qualifications. They aren’t, like the Nazis, wrapped up in racialist ideologies. They don’t share Benito Mussolini’s obsession with political violence. But they do seem eager to take refuge in an idealized vision of a more authentic America, which nefarious globalists have allegedly stolen from us, and which Trump and his populists are supposedly attempting to restore. That crusading nostalgia, combined with the yearning for a truer and purer America, is what makes us muse briefly on Mussolini’s Roman architecture or the backwards-looking triumphalism of Volkisch German thinkers.