John Médaille at The Distributist Review has a thoughtful piece on the question of what the Republican party stands for and where the conservatives are.
So what is wrong with the Republican Party? Let me suggest that the problem is that they have no idea of what they ought to conserve; they have no idea of what constitutes liberty. Indeed, the only common theme among the factions is economic, and in that what they are trying to conserve is economic liberalism, the doctrine of laissez-faire capitalism. They have forgotten that this was the very doctrine that destroyed conservatism in the 19th century, and while it is now over 200 years old, it will never be conservative.Conservatives are out there; they're just not represented by a political party at the present time.
What conservatism ought to conserve is the proper scale of things; government at its lowest possible level, strong families as the foundation of society, small manufacturing, small farms, strong communities. Low taxes, to be sure, but taxes commensurate with the tasks we ask government to perform. We know that the key to lowering taxes is to localize government as much as possible and reduce its scale. But you cannot have localized governments in the face of commercial institutions that are bigger than most states—indeed, bigger than most nations. These institutions declare themselves “too big to fail,” when in truth they are too big to succeed without massive government support. Republicans since Reagan have tried to grow government, shrink taxes, and deregulate everything. Alas, they have been all too successful.
Distributists know that the key to shrinking government and ending oppressive taxation is to shrink the need for government. Great and global institutions require big government and large military and regulatory apparatuses. And these require big taxes. And while they create great wealth, for some, they create great dependency for the mass of men, a dependency that expresses itself as the welfare state. The small farm is better for food, but it is also better for community; the small manufacturer, tied by bonds of economy and affection to his locality is the basis of a sane economy
But because America has no conservative party does not mean she has no conservatives. Indeed, The left wing is scratching its head over the fact that the Black Obama voters in California voted solidly for a ban on gay marriage. At heart, America is a conservative country, not only in the South and Midwest, but in the Northeast, Northwest, and even in the great cities that are regarded as the strongholds of liberalism. Indeed, much of the new liberalism today involves a certain nostalgia for the land, for the community, and for a more human scale to the economy and to politics. It is a natural conservatism that spans race and age and gender. Indeed, the newcomers are more authentically conservative than many of the older population. But American conservatism lacks any real institutional support, and any real ideology. It picks up what older liberals have discarded and calls it conservative, and then is very surprised when it turns out liberal.The economic crisis may be the opportunity for recovering a more healthy social and economic model, if the recovery plan assists local economies rather than enabling the failures of supersized institutions. And the Republican party's defeat can be the occasion for a new direction, if it doesn't continue to favor large corporate interests and discredited economic theories.