R.R. Reno on the Future of Conservatism

This month’s Commentary Magazine includes a forum about the future of conservatism.  Fifty-two prominent conservatives opine on the best path forward for American conservatism in the wake of President Obama’s reelection.  As editor Elliott Abrams notes in his introduction, that future might not always seem bright.  “Some conservatives,” Abrams argues, “seem almost to frolic in their pessimism.”

In his short offering, R.R. Reno, editor of the conservative journal First Things, argues that conservatism must avoid a single-minded focus on free-marketism.  More important, Reno believes, will be a focus on moral values.  Since the 1960s, Reno writes, America’s “cultural revolution” has undermined its traditional values.  These days, according to Reno, “Round-the-clock irony and cynicism make old-fashioned values like working hard, paying your debts, and keeping your word seem, well, old-fashioned and even foolish.”

The solution, in Reno’s vision, is a conservatism that focuses on morals and culture.  Reno insists,

“Unless we reinforce and support clear norms for adulthood–marriage, family, work, community involvement, patriotic loyalty–then the disoriented middle of the middle, no matter how economically self-sufficient, will become increasingly dependent on bureaucratic and therapeutic support and guidance, which means more government.”

What does all this have to do with schooling and education?  Everything.  Though Reno does not make this connection explicitly, his call for a renewed morality serves as a pithy articulation of the educational ideology of many American conservatives since at least the 1920s.  After all, if conservatives hope to “reinforce and support clear norms for adulthood,” as Reno hopes, one obvious way to do this will be—has always been—to insist on clear moral standards in American schools.