A Book for Australia

Princeton-raised, Israel-residing political philosopher Yoram Hazony is the figurehead of the nascent Euro-American National Conservatism movement. Increasingly, his ideas are entering mainstream political debate. The 2022 National Conservatism conference in Miami opened with a speech from the now highly favoured Republican presidential hopeful, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Coalescing around him are a growing number of thinkers, young and old, intent on rejuvenating a movement which they acknowledge has largely failed to conserve that which it holds most dear.

This review appears in the latest Quadrant.
Click here to subscribe

I have attended two of Hazony’s conferences in the United States, and found them invigorating—earnest and open forums of debate, attracting public intellectuals and private citizens alike, all sincerely interested in building a better future for the nation.

Much of Hazony’s thinking has found its way into his latest book, Conservatism: A Rediscovery. Though I am sure he did not expressly intend it, I believe Hazony has written a book about Australia.

The book is about Anglo-American conserv­atism—that is, the instantiation, perpetuation, collapse and prospective renewal of an authentic conservatism in the British and American bodies politic. This does not mean Hazony excludes the rest of the world from his project. However, the scope of his inquiry is necessarily focused on the reception of conservative thought in the two world-powerful English-speaking nations. In Hazony’s telling, their historic narrative unfolds from the pre-Burkeans, through the American Federalists, and onwards to contemporary resonance in the political conservatism of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

Hazony, more than any other contemporary writer, has understood that in telling this story, there is an urgent concomitant task to be undertaken. That task is the disentanglement of Anglo-American conservatism from Enlightenment liberalism.

That is why I say that Hazony has written a book about Australia. Because it is Australia, more than any other polity in the English-speaking world, that has confused, and still does earnestly confuse, the central tenets of these two related but philosophically distinct schools of political thought.

It would be a disturbing read for any sitting conservative in the Australian parliament. Indeed, delving into Hazony’s 400 pages would require not just a confrontation with the last ten years of Liberal-National governance, but also with the quietly missed opportunities of the Howard years, and with the very foundation of modern Australian conservatism in the formation of the Liberal Party under Robert Menzies.

Hazony argues that, amongst other forces, the trauma of the two world wars drove Anglo-American conservatives to a rapprochement with Enlightenment liberalism. This optimistic marriage set off a chain reaction leading to the rapid delegitimisation of God, the nation-state, and the inherited wisdom of custom and historic experience. As Hazony lays out in meticulous detail, this marriage has spawned a problem-child ideological contamination in the West, albeit one that conferred some temporary benefits upon a traumatised world. To be sure, delegitimisation efforts against religion, custom and historic experience have been taking place on an industrial scale since pre-Revolutionary France. Hazony however shows how, in the twentieth century, purportedly conservative movements in fact accelerated that delegitimisation.

In the American experience, the marriage between liberalism and conservatism is perhaps best represented in the Cold War “fusionism” of William F. Buckley, Frank Meyer and National Review. Hazony acknowledges the effectiveness of fusionism in combating Soviet communism in both spirit and practice. He has little criticism for Buckley himself, or his project at National Review. However, in his chapter “Liberal Hegemony and Cold War Conservatism”, Hazony brings us to a compelling observation on the fusionist project:

Having been “fused” into a politically liberal movement, conservatives found that they were incapable of mounting an effective challenge to—or even an effective dissent against—the hegemony of liberalism that was established in America and other democratic countries in the mid-1960s.

Cold War conservatism, Hazony posits, became a service vehicle for the dominance of liberal thought.

In digesting Hazony’s work, elder Australian conservatives might consider that they themselves did not fight the Cold War. Not, at least, in a way as meaningful as the Anglo-American mother culture did. This means that although the Menzian amalgamation of liberals and conservatives under a “broad church” may have been electorally necessary, it is a more difficult task for Australian conservatives to look back and trace the far-reaching consequences of that unification. In turn, it has been more difficult for Australian conservatives to understand where a useful alliance with liberalism ended, and a disastrous assimilation began.

Hazony (above) succeeds brilliantly at sounding the alarm on where this assimilation of conservative energies into liberal aims has led. He succeeds also at illustrating how a subsequently debilitated Western culture lies as unguarded prey for the destructive impulses of cultural Marxism.

For all Hazony’s capacity to paint the darkness of the times we live in, Conservatism: A Rediscovery is an invigorating, joyful read. It is the type of book in which one finds strong evidentiary support for the better inclinations of long-held moral, social and political instincts. Invigorating, too, is the veneration in which he clearly holds the American Federalists—the men who more than any others proved the modern, post-Enlightenment viability of historically inherited conservative ideals.

Hazony’s most powerful insights, I believe, concern the manner in which one should live a “conservative life”, particularly as it pertains to living in a traditional versus a nuclear family. For Australians, long used to being a geographically and ancestrally “isolated” nation, the absence of genuine traditional family practice is an assumed way of life—albeit one we seldom realise we perpetuate. Readers of Hazony’s book will recognise that much of what he highlights as a paucity of family experience is what most Australians consider to be a happy and healthy “norm”. The consequences of incomplete family hierarchical structures, as Hazony sympathetically illustrates, have been disastrous for the conservation of traditional values, and particularly harmful to women. There is a direct line, in Hazony’s reading, from the West’s abandonment of a traditional family structure, to women’s broad-scale adoption of Marxist-feminist critiques of family life.

There are critics who contest Hazony’s framing of both the American founding and of liberalism more generally. One I hear most often is that he downplays the role of Enlightenment liberalism as a generative force in the philosophical construction of the new world. I am willing to give Hazony more leeway here. In a world so unmoored from tradition that leaders will publicly countenance the tearing down of monuments to Churchill, Rhodes, Washington and Jefferson (and Cook and Phillip), I feel Hazony is simply giving fair due to a rich seam of intellectual, social and spiritual tradition that has for generations been shoved violently aside in favour of the revolutionary historical reading-de-jour.

Ultimately, Hazony’s philosophical gravitation not to the larger world of electoral politics, but rather, to the more foundational polity of the home and family, is greatly refreshing to find in a book titled Conservatism. For Hazony has understood that the reams of paper spent on espousing conservative solutions to national and international problems are all for nought if the essential truth of what it means to be conservative is lost. Theorising on “spontaneous order” or making speeches about “little platoons” often leaves prominent conservative thinkers seeing things “in a vague and confused way, like children whose thoughts have not yet attained the clarity that comes of experience”. That is why, perhaps, his book ends with a strident challenge not to politicians, taste-makers, philosophers or captains of industry, but to the individual: to the polity, perhaps, of man in his own soul.

Hazony’s reading itself is not revolutionary, but his analytical cunning in reaching beyond the boundaries of modern conservatism’s now all-but-abandoned Maginot Line certainly is. Australian conservatives would do well to read him, lest they lose the capacity to re-fortify their lines for battles ahead.

Conservatism: A Rediscovery
by Yoram Hazony

Swift Press, 2022, 480 pages, $49.99

Ben Crocker is a Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation Postgraduate Scholar, and a Research Fellow for Common Sense Society in Washington DC. His Substack is

7 thoughts on “A Book for Australia

  • IainC says:

    Ironically, given the directions the left has gone in since 1917, if you oppose the “progressive left”, being conservative means being anti-fascist, anti-racist, anti-Apartheid (certainly in Australia), pro-science (certainly with respect to the climate), pro-biology (you know what I’m referring to), pro-free speech, opposed to “the man” and oppressive government departments watching and controlling everything we do, treating people based on the content of their character and not their genetic characteristics, respecting the working classes, wanting the poor to have a better life through cheap energy and goods, demanding that the Third World attain our standard of living, valuing human life, and in general adopting all the programmes that the old left pretended to adhere to but were actually contemptuous of. In other words, Conservatives are what the Left should have been but couldn’t because they were sociopaths.

  • Sindri says:

    Excuse my abysmal ignorance, but I have not the slightest clue what Mr Hazony (or Mr Crocker) mean by “Enlightenment liberalism”.

    As to liberalism, I’m happy to accept the description in the Britannica: it is a political doctrine

    “. . . that takes protecting and enhancing the freedom of the individual to be the central problem of politics. Liberals typically believe that government is necessary to protect individuals from being harmed by others, but they also recognize that government itself can pose a threat to liberty. As the American Revolutionary pamphleteer Thomas Paine expressed it in Common Sense (1776), government is at best “a necessary evil.” Laws, judges, and police are needed to secure the individual’s life and liberty, but their coercive power may also be turned against the individual.”

    As to the Enlightenment, couldn’t disagree with good old Wikipedia:

    The Enlightenment included a range of ideas centered on the value of human happiness, the pursuit of knowledge obtained by means of reason and the evidence of the senses, and ideals such as natural law, liberty, progress, toleration, fraternity, constitutional government, and separation of church and state.”

    The very principles the United States was founded on, surely.

    So, “Enlightenment liberalism” presumably refers to the widespread promotion and acceptance of liberal ideas at the time of, and informed by, the Enlightenment.

    How then could “Enlightenment liberalism” be in any way hostile to the ideals of conservatism?

    Perhaps, though, Mr Hazony means something else by the word “liberalism”. In American English, the word “liberal” has become a clunky synonym for “left-wing”. I don’t see anything very liberal in the views of modern Americans who self-describe as “liberals”. How to destroy a useful and subtle word!

    But that doesn’t help me understand what Mr Hazony means by “Enlightenment liberalism”. It would have been helpful to define it. If Mr Hazony, or Mr Crocker, are somehow saying that conservatives need to ditch the ideals of “Enlightenment liberalism” in the sense that my simple mind understands the term, well, it’s a point of view I suppose. That rumbling sound is Bob Menzies turning in his grave.

    • Paul from Sydney says:

      Hi Sindri he explains it pretty clearly in his book. Enlightenment liberalism always priviledges the individual in every case which becomes a wrecking ball sent against every tradition that might stand in its way. Individual freedom is a gift of the Anglo-American tradition, not its prior condition. It’s controversial, but that is his thesis. He further argues that because liberalism can never fulfil its promise – there is always inequality between individuals and groups- it is constantly open to overthrow by neo-Marxism which claims to deliver liberalism’s promise. Seems to be evidence of that (see the Voice). Worth a read.

      • Sindri says:

        I will have to read the book Paul, but the idea of ditching the principles of “liberalism” because they can take a destructive turn in the wrong hands, or because the principles are imperfectible as a system of government, like every other system ever devised, leaves me a bit skeptical.
        Of course, I am using the term “liberalism” in its proper sense, not as an American neologism for “progressive” or “left-wing”.

    • Benjamin Crocker says:

      Hi Sindri,

      What Hazony has tried to do, to put it very crudely, is to distinguish between the strands of thought which promote responsibilities, and those that promote rights. The nub of the thesis is that modern man, in leaving the state of nature through his powers of reason, derived both rights, and, (in order to hold those rights in check), responsibilities) The “responsibilities” belong more formally to a writer like Edmund Burke, and the “rights” to Locke, and as you say, Paine and others.

      There is no argument that liberalism vis a vis Rousseau, Jefferson, Menzies (add others), is an inherently GOOD thing. Hazony is simply arguing that, by its nature, a disproportionate resting on it as the central element of a modern conservative political disposition, leaves inadequate intellectual or spiritual defences against its attack, or worse, infiltration.

      Ask yourself why Conservatism has had almost nothing to say about art, literature, music, architecture, culture and even sometimes religion itself (beyond the bland recitation of ‘everyone has a right to worship’), for the past 30-40 years. Why? Because the “right” for others to be left alone of ‘traditional’ values in the public sphere has cannibalised the ‘responsibility’ of our culture to pass itself on, to protect its treasures and nurture its values.

      It’s precisely this blindness to the bleeding obvious obliteration of culture that Hazony is seeking to challenge.

      As Rod Dreher said, yes, this is a repudiation of Enlightenment thought. Some might be mightily shocked that Hazony could be so bold…

      • Searcher says:

        My ‘right’ is your ‘responsibility’; your ‘right’ is my ‘responsibility’.

        Or is my ‘right’ your shackle, and your ‘right’ my shackle?

  • Paul from Sydney says:

    Thanks for a great review Ben. This is a very exciting book for conservatives because it genuinely points to some tangible ways forward including how to live a conservative life as you point out. It also gets to the heart of what we are seeing now in so called liberal nations like Australia.

    My book club in Sydney is discussing Hazony’s book shortly for this very reason.

Leave a Reply