American conservatism is in the middle of identity crisis. That crisis is thus: conservatism’s traditional elements are failing, and the movement faces an uncertain future. It is time for conservatives to embrace a new approach to governance, and become “republicans” instead.

The Present Collapse

Historians typically connect conservatism to two philosophical backgrounds. On one hand, conservatism has long been identified with Edmund Burke and gradualism. On the other, historians have placed American conservatism with anti-communism and preserving individual liberty

However, these definitions of American conservatism are conceptually defective, and hinder the success of conservatives’ political ambitions. 

For example, if American conservatism is identified with anti-communism, then it has become politically irrelevant. Reagan ended Russian communism abroad, but McCarthy couldn’t stop communism at home–especially in higher education. One thing has become abundantly clear: liberty is being challenged, and conservatives aren’t going to retake the Marxist-infiltrated universities anytime soon.

Viewed this way, anti-communism conservatism looks like the cultural artifact of a bygone era.

Likewise, American conservatism seems even more dated when justified on Burkean grounds. Burke’s advocacy of gradualist change–as a reaction to the French Revolution–feels out of touch with 21st century sensibilities. Today, young conservatives love rapid change. It’s the essence of our capitalist economy, and most have eagerly adapted along with the times. If you don’t believe that, try calling one to discuss the matter. Most have smartphones now, and many more are ready to respond to a DM on social media.

From Conservatives to “republicans”

In a word, these two popular definitions of conservatism are as defective as they actually are. This is because today’s American conservatives aren’t conservative. Today, conservatism actually means “republican.” 

A republican–small “r” republican, anyway–is a person who is generally concerned with the future of our republic. This is apt, as our republic is what is most American about America. For the distinguishing mark of America, versus all other nations, is the establishment of history’s first ever republic. (Not like Plato’s Republic, however. Plato’s republic is fascism donning the drag of an incorrect name.)

This upgrade in word identification is substantial. Conservatism sounds old, stuffy, and ordinary. Republicanism, on the other hand, seems youthful, modern, and dynamic. Because it is! The American republic is the world’s greatest sovereign innovation. And it’s the most up-to-date too. It’s like “democracy 2.0”: demagogue-free and guaranteed not to immediately crash! Unlike the original Athenian democracy, which was essentially wrecked under the will of Pericles’ despotism.

With this in mind, conservatives–I mean republicans!–would do well to retool their policies around republican values. These might include decentralization, state sovereignty, a limited national executive branch granted only the power of veto, prohibition of double and triple taxation, and even ending entitlements.

Those clinging to traditional notions of “conservatism” need to adapt. Otherwise, the conservative movement will end, leaving unchecked world history’s trend toward central government. That’s not republican–that’s oppressive.