It is becoming even clearer to me since the last election, as some of the
clutter has been swept away. Conservatism has to mean resistance to expansive
government power if it is to endure as anything vaguely coherent as a governing
philosophy. Believing in limited government does not mean loathing all
government; in fact, it means making a smaller government more effective, in
part by limiting its ambitions to what it can effectively do that no other body
can. The resilience of the anti-government thread - even in its least articulate
"tea-partying" variety - and the cogency of this critique in the long-term of
Obama's pragmatic liberalism make a small government Republicanism hard to kill,
however much some would like it.
The problem, however, for such a limited government conservatism, is
foreign policy. It is extremely hard to fit a multi-continent, Iraq and
Afghanistan-occupying war on terror into this rubric. It's just too utopian,
expensive and open-ended.
If you cannot cut taxes, and you will not make a dent on entitlements, then
the next big ticket item is defense. My view is that a successful future
Republicanism will begin to urge a dismantling of the empire and a limiting of
the war on terror just as it will do in the war on drugs. This doesn't mean
isolationism; it means a much more sober view of what a bankrupt America can do
effectively to advance its real interests in the world.
This is going in the direction of current libertarianism, which I'm not sure fits well into Sullivan's British, Burkean kind of conservatism. But it's an interesting evolution on his part, if I'm reading it at all right.