June 16th, 2011
08:15 AM ET

How today's conservatism lost touch with reality

By Fareed Zakaria

Illustration by Oliver Munday for TIME

"Conservatism is true." That's what George Will told me when I interviewed him as an eager student many years ago. His formulation might have been a touch arrogant, but Will's basic point was intelligent.

Conservatism, he explained, was rooted in reality. Unlike the abstract theories of Marxism and socialism, it started not from an imagined society but from the world as it actually exists. From Aristotle to Edmund Burke, the greatest conservative thinkers have said that to change societies, one must understand them, accept them as they are and help them evolve.

Watching this election campaign, one wonders what has happened to that tradition. Conservatives now espouse ideas drawn from abstract principles with little regard to the realities of America's present or past. This is a tragedy, because conservatism has an important role to play in modernizing the U.S.

Read the full article over at TIME.

soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. j. von hettlingen

    The few outspoken exponents of the GOP have lost touch with reality, so much so that anybody with a solid common sense just scratches his head.
    It's time to be sensible and address the grievances in the country. Just spending cuts alone don't resolve the problem. Tax cut is suicidal. Where else should money come from, if not from tax revenues. The Greek government never bothered to collect taxes from the rich and has always had a dreadful yawning void in the treasury, Now we see what has become of the country!

    June 16, 2011 at 10:51 am | Reply
  2. Onesmallvoice

    Conservatism is no more, no less than a more dignified term for right-wing fanaticism. It took hold in both Germany and Italy after WW1 and eventually led to WW2. Here in America, Conservatives claim that they can balance the budget, give tax breaks to the wealthy and vastly increase our military spending at the same time. Does that sound credible to anyone?

    June 16, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Reply
    • JJ

      Perhaps the righty fanatics will canibalize themselves in their rage and fear before they do any more damage. One can only hope...

      June 17, 2011 at 7:36 pm | Reply


    June 16, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Reply
    • Mac Qurashi

      We can blame it on Bush because of the tax cuts while waging two wars and looking the other way when the fanancial houses created mirage mortgages. He also used up the $320 billion surplus that Clinton left. Policies take time to produce results. The house of cards that Bush Administration built fell just before he was preparing to leave the office leaving the mess behind.

      June 16, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Reply
      • Onesmallvoice

        Well said, Mac Qurashi. Thank you.

        June 16, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
    • oldboldgold

      Max Quarashi is correct. Bush set the country up for a big fall, which happened at the end of his presidency. We are still living with the results.

      June 17, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Reply
    • Ralph

      You're a complete moron. It's Bush's policies that got us in this mess in the first place. Under Clinton we had a surplus budget. Bush ruined that. Having no regulation on the banks and wallstreet is insane. And to not tax the rich is unbelievable. The rich are raping and looting this country and should be held accountable. Obama has just been trying to fix Bush's mess. Bush created a 20 year mess and no president can fix these problems in one or two terms. Get your head out of the sand. I was a former republican and realized that my former party left me and became radicalized.

      June 19, 2011 at 11:58 pm | Reply
  4. Zoglet

    How can conservatives expect to hold on to reality. Its not their fault that they live in a world in which the principles of honesty and accountability are resereved for use or critisim of others and are never applied introspectively. Its not their fault they refuse to acknowledge their huge and unpresidented blunder in supporting the march for war in Iraq and the continued desatablisation of the middle east. Its not their fault that Bush remains a free man, despite his lies to the US and the international community. In short, nothing is the conservatives fault- which is entirely why the conservatives are a spent force. Accountability starts at home.

    June 16, 2011 at 9:11 pm | Reply
  5. GOPisGreedOverPeople

    The GOP has no solutions. The only solution the GOP has is to turn the Old, Sick, Poor, Unemployed, and Gay people into slaves. Then whip them until they are Young, Healthy, Rich, Employed, and Straight. Or until they are dead. Then turn them into Soylent Green to feed the military. A self sustaining system.

    June 16, 2011 at 10:55 pm | Reply
    • oldboldgold

      I am a former Republican and I cannot disagree with this. I shifted to the Green Party this year, because after taking a long look at the Democrats, I see the same agenda. There are several third parties, folks. I suggest you change to one of them if you don't like the way our country is being run. D/R parties heel when their corporate masters command. Scary ride we are on. I will no longer participate in the destruction of this country. Evil/less evil is just not good enough.

      June 17, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Reply
  6. wallybob

    conservatism represents the darker side of humanity, call it reality if you want. it doesn't represent the potential of community.

    June 17, 2011 at 8:33 am | Reply
  7. Alexander

    No politcal theory is true, to say that one is true or even the best way is silly at best, and tyrannical at worst. if you want to develope a true political theory you must focus on the endgame of the theory. What is Conservatism's endgame? we know Marxism and Socialism. The state of nature is hard to come by, i cant see Conservatism's endgame or the late stages of play, thus it cant be true. (arrogant of me? i welcome your theory of Conservatism's endgame)

    June 17, 2011 at 9:49 am | Reply
  8. MikeBell

    Reality is a matter of perspective.
    It's not that conservatives lost touch; it's that it lost control of the narrative that popular culture embraces.
    What conservatism has not lost perspective of are the coming consequences of the narratives that are carrying the day.
    Liberalism an Liberal Politics is self defeating and destructive to civil order, family unity, and community.

    June 17, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Reply
  9. Brandon

    Both ideals bring important values and viewpoints of the stabilization of a society. When a nation thinks in only one "mode" or viewpoint then that nation becomes totalitarian, stagnant, and dead. Idealism for freedom and human growth must be balanced with objective viewing of present reality. We need to get away from this finger pointing. Get to uniting the positive qualities of each viewpoint to create a political system that actually addresses present reality without creating a system that is limiting, stifling, and totalitarian. Unfortunately that would require the majority of our elected officials to develop some emotional intelligence past their "viewpoint" or party's dogma to create something new. I'm not holding my breath...

    June 17, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Reply
  10. Schnitzel

    It's not just todays CONservatives. Reagan put the CON in CONservative years ago.

    June 17, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Reply
    • Sparky

      Schnitzel above wrote "It's not just todays CONservatives. Reagan put the CON in CONservative years ago".

      There truly has been a war going on against the working people (including middle class folks – they want your money and power taken away too) since Reagan got the WH.

      Workers need to all unite again before it is too late..please!

      June 18, 2011 at 1:58 am | Reply
  11. Brian

    What truely astounds me is the short memory of voters. Half the country wants to turn back to the Republican policies that got us into this mess because they somehow must have become better than they were two years ago when they started this recession, and somehow must be better than the Democratic policies that are working to get us out of the mess the Republicans made. People need to realize that it takes longer than 2 years to turn around an economic screwup as big as what Bush left us; there are no instant magic fixes. I swear, this electorate would have kicked FDR out in 1936 and reelected Hoover.

    June 17, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Reply
  12. John Kedison

    What Fareed Zakaria failed to mention is that while conservatism doesn't reflects today's reality partly because the society is being run by socialist who degrades the moral values of the people. Fareed is being pain by CNN to glorify Democrats but failed to look in the mirror that Liberalism is a mental disorder. Such mental retardedness that blinds their eyes from reality absorbing and propeling the Obama Administration's Marxist agenda to create a new world order. Grow up Fareed, for one day you will be doom for your shortsightedness...and you can only blame your liberal cancer for that.

    June 17, 2011 at 8:55 pm | Reply
    • Sparky

      Mr. Kedison,

      Your lack of basic spelling, grammer, and complete lack of knowledge has made me decide to quit the Republican party of Eisenhower and move to Vermont so I can vote for Sen. Sanders, a man who has it together. And of course I will vote for Pres Obama, the Republican party has lost it's way. Since Reagan the Republicans have brought this country to the brink if disaster, with Pres Obama I have to say we are very lucky to have a very smart, thoughful steady had running things.

      June 18, 2011 at 2:09 am | Reply
      • Daniel Ky


        When you bring up spelling mistakes, you should be attentive to your own mistakes. First of it is "its" not "it's", then it should be "Since Reagan,", and maybe at the end there "thoughtful, steady head"?

        Now, to focus on the real issue. I find it amusing that people are speaking of the Republican Party losing its way – yes, changes are being made but, if anything, look at the Democratic Party as well How has Obama been doing on his agenda? Now we are in another conflict with no solution in sight, and a president that raised the national debt by 35% already in his first term, with no idea of how to fund the debt. The Republicans are at least willing to look for solutions to put money back in the account that funds the national checkbook. How is that not being realistic? Obama led with a Democratic Congress for the first part of his term, and what exactly did they accomplish? By the way, I have a feeling the Democratic slogan in 100 years is still going to be, "Bush 'done' it."

        June 20, 2011 at 5:20 am |
  13. JJ

    Holy mixed metaphors and poor analogies, batman!

    June 18, 2011 at 12:58 am | Reply
  14. PithyMcGee

    Conservatism may have its roots in reality, but the solutions from the conservative camp for real "problems" are almost always regressive in nature – an attempt to deny or ignore or slough a problem off to other countries or future generations. Often the "problems" the cons try to regress away are developmental hiccups or tribulations. Understanding is needed for most problems; beating a "problem" into submission typically doesn't work. The ham-fisted approach of most conservatives has been to offer unrealistic "solutions" to intrinsic "problems" for the sake of feeling like they've helped eradicate some magnificent evil force – at least from their own lives.

    June 19, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Reply
  15. Wasabiwahabi

    Stick a sock in it, ya mealy-mouthed, granola-crunching-low-carb, left-wing nut, mamby-pamby-afraid-to-get-his-feet-wet, tree-hugger!

    June 19, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Reply
  16. Ronny Gidlund

    Fareed Zakaria....YOU ARE OUT OF TOUCH! The liberal Government is out of touch, and 51 per cent of U S Citizens are out of touch with the realities of LIFE!

    June 20, 2011 at 12:11 am | Reply
  17. Ronny Gidlund

    Bring home all U S Troops, savings 1Trillion; stop all Foreign Aid, savings hundreds of billions; take back the legal, constitutional printing of Debt Money back to the U S Treasury where it belongs, savings hundreds of billions in I R S collections; go to a flat tax with No Deduction, raises all the funds we need with a surplus; go to 100% reserve money system; re-institute tarrifs to protect American jobs, we cannot save and should not worry about saving the rest of the World! As George Carlin would say: "You're On Your OWN!" Common sense in Touch Solutions that, you, Mr Zarkaria will never project!!!!!!!

    June 20, 2011 at 12:16 am | Reply

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