It’s no secret that I’m gleeful about the crack-up in Conservatism. I’ve made that clear in audio-meetups and in the live chats. If I may be so bold, I would like to propose a simpler reason for the demise of Conservatism than many of the reasons currently floated by political analysts. It doesn’t involve climate change or demographics, and it is only somewhat related to economic growth. It is not beyond the control of Conservatives themselves. Conservatives caused their own demise for one reason, and that reason comes down to Conservatism’s lack of quantitative explanations for middle class problems.
Before I go deeper into this explanation, let me just add that Progressivism does not have this problem. Indeed, Progressive control of academia has allowed Progressives to analyze many discoveries made in economics, political science, mathematics, statistics, etc. and craft explanations for many of these phenomena through the development of models. Some of these models offer great insight, while others do not. Still, Conservatives have ceded academia to Progressives, and Progressives have been the ones to make the discoveries and apply an understanding of these discoveries to government policy. This is done directly, through government research institutions (such as the Federal Reserve), or indirectly through advice given by think-tanks and academics to Liberal politicians, who then seek to turn this advice into policy.
Now let me get back to Conservatism. Conservatives do not have the mechanism described above. Their contempt for academia has harmed them more than they would like to admit. In place of the above, Conservatives must rely upon comforting heuristics that are derived from nothing more than mere musings.
For example, consider trade. The government has mechanisms to recognize whether or not a country is engaging in harmful trade practices against the United States. The government has the means to act upon what it recognizes. The mechanisms and the means were developed through a mathematically rigorous process of creating a model of trade under certain assumptions, adding and removing assumptions to understand how this affects concepts of trade, and then using these assumptions (or lack of assumptions) to write a proof. This proof, which for the sake of an example we will suppose to be a proof of the optimal response by a government to dumping, then offers insight into what the government should do in a dumping situation. This rigorous explanation for dumping then makes its way to politicians (separate from bureaucrats at the federal trade agencies) who offer a solution to middle class communities that have been affected by dumping.
It is my understanding that the Conservative response to dumping, or any trade phenomenon for that matter, is to simply say something along the lines of “People are engaging in free exchange. If anyone tries to stop it, they are against freedom.” There is no proof that is offered. There is no deep and mathematically rigorous explanation. The framework does not exist to offer a policy prescription. Instead, Conservatives merely point to the musings of Hayek, Smith, Rand, or sometimes even Aristotle.
Now consider the above and apply it to any issues currently affecting the middle class. The Progressive can offer an explanation in quantifiable terms, with a policy based upon measurable outcomes. Conservatives can merely quote “great men and women” whose explanations for a particular phenomenon are no better than yours or mine (and often involve vague terms such as “freedom” and “virtue”). In so doing, they place many middle class issues and anxieties in a mystical twilight, seemingly beyond the realm of Man’s ability to measure. When Conservatives do this, they fail to assuage or confront the anxieties of their base, who ultimately turn to a bastardized version of Progressive explanations and solutions to their problems.
And that’s why you have Donald Trump.
And that’s why Conservatism lost.