Long time readers know I get a bit intemperate when the Old Confederacy is at issue. Here is more fuel for that particular fire with a modern spin. Sam Tanenhaus has an article in The New Republic that’s getting a lot of attention entitled Original Sin. He talks about the modern conservative’s roots going back to John C. Calhoun by way of William F. Buckley and the National Review.
The true problem, as yet unaddressed by any Republican standard-bearer, originates in the ideology of modern conservatism. When the intellectual authors of the modern right created its doctrines in the 1950s, they drew on nineteenth-century political thought, borrowing explicitly from the great apologists for slavery, above all, the intellectually fierce South Carolinian John C. Calhoun. This is not to say conservatives today share Calhoun’s ideas about race. It is to say instead that the Calhoun revival, based on his complex theories of constitutional democracy, became the justification for conservative politicians to resist, ignore, or even overturn the will of the electoral majority.
Calhoun was a voice of aggrieved elitism that seems to have characterized the planter class. As Samuel Johnson put it, “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes?” Echoes of Calhoun will end up hurting the modern conservative; just as his nonsense led to the ruin of the South when Gen. Sherman undertook to show them what oppression really looked like, if only for a time.
That said, however, I don’t buy the notion that the GOP is in any real danger (let alone “grave” danger) of ceasing to be a national party. They’ll re-calibrate sooner or later, and then the Democrats will be on the defensive nationally.