By Sigurd Neubauer
In July 2022, several prominent American conservatives affiliated with the Edmund Burk Foundation released a National Conservatism: Statement of Principles underpinning a new ideology popularly known as ‘NatCon.’
“National Conservatives believe that the public square can never be neutral, which is why they believe that Christianity should be restored as America’s principal religion,” says Josh Hammer, a conservative public intellectual who signed on to the document.
A few months after its release, the Edmund Burk Foundation – with the financial support of the Annenberg Foundation – hosted in September the National Conservatism Conference in Miami where Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (Republican) delivered a keynote address to rousing applause.
Referring to the weaponization of aspects of American education, DeSantis said: “We’re not going to teach kids to hate each other or to hate our country with your tax dollars. That is inappropriate.”
Florida’s two Republican U.S. Senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, along with their colleague Josh Hawley of Missouri, addressed the conference as well.
The Florida governor’s commitment to social conservatism has made him a leading contender for the Republican nomination even if it is uncertain whether former President Donald Trump will be running in 2024.
The role of Christianity in American life is, of course, a hotly contested issue. What is clear, however, is that Republicans are slowly but surely openly embracing Christian values as they’re seeking to establish an intellectual alternative to what has in recent years become known as the Woke ideology. Popularly known as Wokism, the ideology – which prioritizes sexual identity and race above everything else, including in elementary school education – has partially been embraced by the Democratic party. DeSantis, for his part, is now spearheading his political career to counter it. In the process, Florida has emerged as a center for conservative politics.
With the inauguration of President Joe Biden in January 2020, Wokism has proliferated across America, which is now, for better or worse, closely associated with the Democratic Party and the Progressive direction it has taken.
At the same time, Wokism should also be understood as a cultural response to the polarization of the Trump-era.
America’s cultural grounds, however, keep shifting between various liberal and conservative streams. In its current incarnation, the Republican Party is shifting away from its traditional pro-business policies to embracing social conservatism, including promoting Christianity in the public square.
National Conservatives believe that the public square can never be neutral: Hammer
The NatCon focus on restoring Christianity to public life resonates with a large segment of Americans, which has become evident from recent polling.
According to a new poll from the Pew Research Center, 60 percent of Americans believe that the founding fathers wanted the country to be a Christian nation. While it also found that 45 percent of Americans think the U.S. should be a Christian nation, 83 percent responded that they did not think that the Supreme Court justices should bring their own religious views into how they decide major cases.
The poll, however, shows that Americans hold differing opinions about what a Christian nation means, and two-thirds of U.S. adults say churches should keep out of politics.
Another topic that divides Americans is the role of education and whether parents have adequate influence over what their children are taught in public schools. According to a separate poll from the Pew Research Center (PRC), 44 percent of Republicans believe that parents don’t have enough influence; 35 percent believe that they have about the right amount of influence while eight percent say they have too much influence.
For Democrats, 23 percent believe that parents don’t have enough influence; 39 percent believe that they have about the right amount of influence while 19 percent say they have too much influence.
Meanwhile in Florida, DeSantis has positioned himself as the country’s leading anti-Woke crusader; he’s publicly taken on the Disney Corporation for opposing his family protection legislation for children.
The two recent PRC polls – which focus on the role of Christianity in American life as well as what is appropriate curricula for school age children – illustrate why the Florida governor’s popularity among conservatives is trending.
To better understand these dynamics, let’s return to our interview with Hammer who is becoming an increasingly important opinion shaper within the space of conservative intellectualism.
On the significance of the NatCon conference in September, which was the third consecutive annual of its kind, Hammer says that “it is getting bigger and better every year.” He describes the energy at the latest conference as “inspiring, youthful, and exuberant. It was clear that something is in the air and that things are happening.”
In addition to DeSantis speech, which rejected the cultural trajectory of Biden’s America, the major themes of the conference centered on the idea of the nation state, Hammer explains.
“Preserving the nation state is essential, including for economic policy as national conservatives reject the ‘free trade absolutist agenda’ which outsources everything. Traditional conservative support for this has been a mistake from a political economy perspective.”
Strengthening America’s manufacturing base is not only important for national security purposes as much of the country’s supply chain is based in China, but employment also provides human dignity to people especially those living in the ‘Rustbelt,’ Hammer adds.
The term ‘Rustbelt’ refers to regions and cities primarily in the Northeast and Midwest where domestic manufacturing has been on the decline since the 1960s. They include Allentown, PA, Buffalo, NY, Cincinnati, OH, Cleveland, OH, Columbus, OH, Jersey City, NJ, Newark, NJ, Pittsburgh, PA, Rochester, NY, Toledo, OH, Trenton, NJ, Youngstown, PA and other areas of New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and upstate New York.
Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull, 1806
A Hamiltonian Vision for America
To reverse this trend, National Conservatives are increasingly turning to the Hamiltonian vision for America. Alexander Hamilton’s (1755-1804) vision centered on establishing a strong central government that would lead an American commercial, financial, technological, industrial, and military revolution.
This vision, Hammer explains, is being championed by American Affairs. The quarterly public affairs journal “was founded to provide a forum for people who believe that the conventional partisan platforms are no longer relevant to the most pressing challenges facing our country,” the journal states on its website.
As part of this vision, National Conservatives want to restore supply chain; support strategic terrifies; boost infrastructure; and establish a central bank.
“Hamilton and John Adams (1735-1826) understood how important this was for the American pollical economy,” Hammer explains.
Along with American Affairs, National Conservatism serve as an ideological rejection of what Hammer refers to as “institutionalized conservativism” and points to the old The Heritage Foundation in particular. Its new president, Kevin Roberts, also addressed the NatCon conference in Miami in September.
“Institutionalized conservativism is too liberal,” Hammer says but clarifies that he’s referring to classical liberalism and not America’s progressive left. “We believe that the focus on classic liberalism as a foundation for American conservatism was a mistake,” Hammer explains.
He adds that restoring Church and Synagogue communities, the nation state, and a moratorium on immigration – both legal and illegal – are more important than solely championing liberal rights.
According to Hammer, by outsourcing conservatism to John Stuart Mill’s (1806-1873) philosophy, who conceived of liberty as justifying the freedom of the individual in opposition to unlimited state and social control, the liberalism that the American Right has adopted for decades has allowed for Wokism to overrun public and private instructions – and now increasingly business and corporations.
“The National Conservative criticism is that the Rght has put one hand on its back in its political fight against the Left, which has allowed for the rise of Wokism. This was made possible by not creating an alternative vision. Several Supreme Court decisions have muted conservatives – such as rulings on Church and State – and because they have failed to counter it, conservatives have allowed Wokism to spread like a wildfire from private to public society,” Hammer says.
To make his point, the public intellectual reiterates that “the idea that the public square can be neutral is a lie.”
Referring to conservative philosopher Yoram Hazony, an Orthodox Jew living in Israel, who is also one of the key ideologs within the National Conservatism elite, Hammer notes that it is Hazony who argues that America’s public religion should be Christianity.
Hammer, for his part, identifies as a traditional Jew.
“The conservative status quo is ill equipped and unable to push back against Woke tyranny. Nat Con is what conservatism is. Value neutrality was never conservativism,” Hammer explains.
“We need to reboot what’s good and bad, which in practical policy terms should center on the tax code and legislation,” Hammer says. “The idea of agreeing to disagree” – “on what’s right and wrong” – Hammer equates “to one praying to God and the other worshipping Satan.”
When it comes to foreign policy, Hammer says: “America’s elite has taken [classical] liberalism and wanting to impose it on the rest of the world, including the neoconservative.” Under the National Conservative vision, America will no longer go abroad in search of “dragons to slay,” Hammer says but explains that its foreign policy is not Ron Paul isolation.
Hammer, however, rejects that the NatCon vision is de-facto call for establishing an American theocracy.
Citing the First Amendment, which stipulates that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” the conservative intellectual points out that the various states had established this practice throughout the Commonwealth, which was paired with the Free Exercise clause.
“The broader argument is that the public square cannot be neutral,” Hammer reiterates, which “the progressives always understood. They seize on that when they use gender ideology of children – which is rooted in pagan ideology – to impose this on society. America was established to be a holy and religious nation,” Hammer explains and points to George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation to drive home his point.
In it, Washington stated: “Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”
In a divided America, the cultural left and the Democratic Party appear unlikely to accept the National Conservative vision especially the restoration of Christianity to public life.
“Woke power gets civil society to do its dirty work for it. The Woke cultural ‘hegemony’ over institutions have coopted the tech companies, the banking sector as well as big business,” Hammer says, but quips: “What it has been unable to do is to kick conservatism out of the political process.”
Once elected, conservatives, Hammer explains, will have to be able to wield power in order to promote the cultural shift they desire. In practice this means anti-trust enforcement with a particular emphasis on breaking up the technology companies and pushing for common carrier regulations.
For conservatives, who are distrustful of businesses boycotting them because of their values, common carrier regulations is important as would essentially guarantee that companies must provide their services to anyone willing to pay fees unless they have good grounds to refuse.
Hammer is optimistic about the future, pointing to Ohio and Nevada Senate Republican candidates J.D. Vance and Adam Paul Laxalt; “they get what’s at stake,” adding that their ascent within Republican politics is “very encouraging,”
When pressed on what’s at stake, Hammer does not mince his words: “It is going to take a fundamentally new approach to political and judicial power in order to prevent the nation from being subjugated to corporate and private Woke tyranny. Fighting this requires a concerted effort.”
“Every society has elites,” Hammer says, which is why National Conservatives are building up their own institutions to foster future leaders. One of them is American Moment where Hammer serves on its board.
Ohio and Nevada Senate Republican candidates J.D. Vance and Adam Paul Laxalt understand what's at stake